Caffè Sospeso – A Naples Tradition

Gran Caffè Gambrinus in Naples Photo by Margie Miklas

Naples is a city where coffee is woven into the fabric of everyday life, and the tradition of caffè sospeso is part of it. The custom of “suspended coffee,” may relate to the history behind today’s pay it forward practice; it involves buying a coffee for yourself, and then purchasing another one for someone else as an act of kindness. I love this Naples tradition.

Photo by Margie Miklas

Italians began this practice during a time of economic hardship, when those without jobs were not able to afford even the price of a coffee. Today, customers leave their receipt, which says sospeso, in a marked container. When others come in, they can take out a receipt and hand it to the barista. She is happy to provide each with an espresso that they drink standing up in true Italian style.

Photo by Margie Miklas

Many coffee houses in Naples adhere to this heartfelt tradition. I feel privileged to witness this Italian courtesy at its place of origin, the historic Gran Caffè Gambrinus.

Il Caffe` Sospeso photo by Margie Miklas

Established in 1860, this prominent coffee house in Piazza Plebiscito, near the Palazzo Real and the Teatro San Carlo is the place to go for caffè and pastries in Naples.

Caffe Sospeso in Naples Photo by Margie Miklas

Here, an oversized old brown Italian Moka coffeepot sits in a prominent location at the front of the shop. Its lid is open. I can see where customers leave caffè sospeso receipts. To make life easy, a sign explains about the suspended coffee ritual and how to donate a coffee. The instructions are in six languages, including the Neapolitan dialect.

This blog post is an except from a page in Colors of Naples and the Amalfi Coast, my recently published photo book.

Colors of Naples and the Amalfi Coast by Margie Miklas

If you like this post, you may be interested in my book, available either on Amazon.com, or directly through me. I’d be happy to send you an autographed copy for the same price ($24.99) plus shipping ($5.01).  International shipping costs are higher. Contact me at margieeee@comcast.net

Have you  ever paid it forward? I’d love to hear your feedback, so please leave a comment.

Ciao and grazie.

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8 Responses

  1. I know of something related to free coffees. I used to pay my son’s tab at the local galletoria (sp). He would stop on his way home from school and have a “negrito” or sugared, STRONG black cafe. He was seven and most adult gringos didn’t drink the stuff. My little blue eyed blond was the pet of the local shop and he truly looked very comfortable drinking coffee with the men while Mom lurked in the back ground to follow him home (he was rarely out of my sight). And these lovely Cuban men did not want me to pay the tab! They took turns paying it or the house paid for it! And yes, Rob saw adults drinking this treat in his home as I love it but I never dreamed my son would seek out a source for himself! And no, he wasn’t any more hyper than usual. Perhaps it is just the Universal latin temperment to take care of the other guy.

  2. It is really expensive thought! But it is a lovely idea!

  3. What a wonderful thing to do. I will definitely leave a receipt when I go there. We are hoping to go to Naples in spring

  4. Interesting and lovely concept! I’ve actually been to Gambrinus but I could not see beyond the glass cases filled with rows and rows of sfogliatelle!

  5. It is a lovely idea but I probably wouldn’t be able to afford two coffees in St Mark’s Square!

  6. Now, I must return to Napoli to see for myself!

  7. this happened to my daughter in our local WaWa (doesn’t have the colorful romance of Caffe’ a Napoli does but it’s a wonderful tradition..thanks for sharing it.

  8. I loved this the first time I read it in your book and love it even more now. It is very fitting in times such as this country is going through.
    Brava to the people of Naples they got it right and continue to do so. Love it!!!!
    Grazie Margie for sharing this wonderful reminder.

I'm always interested in your thoughts, so please leave a comment.