On a recent trip to Dublin, I saw it on a coffeehouses's menu board. Along with lattes, mochas, and teas, there was "suspended coffee." Thinking it was a new way of brewing, I asked.
Suspended coffee is neither a method nor a flavor. It is a movement. Basically, you order a suspended coffee as you would anything else on the menu. But after paying for it, you receive nothing. Instead, the little you paid for your coffee goes into a "suspended" transaction, to be saved for someone who doesn't have the money.
When that person comes in, he or she is given the beverage you paid for in advance. It's a formalized pay-it-forward.
Suspended coffee programs actually started in Naples, Italy, more than a century ago, but without structure, the idea petered out over the years. Now, the movement is being revived in Ireland, where the Suspended Coffee Foundation has been formed.
Suspended coffees are a thing on the Emerald Isle, but not so much in the United States. At the moment, there is only one location listed in South Florida, at a performing arts space in Kendall called Talents Unleashed. The spot sells refreshments at performances and participates in the suspended coffee program at those times. There are no coffeehouses or restaurants, in the true sense of the word, that participate in Miami, although Tongue & Cheek sets out an urn of American coffee on weekends, allowing anyone who would like a free cup to help themselves.
I went to Panther Coffee for a midday java a few days ago and happened to catch owners Joel and Leticia Pollock at the Wynwood location. I asked Joel about suspended coffee, and he said it seemed like a good idea, but wasn't sure it would work in Miami.
Leticia was more optimistic about the good people of Miami buying a cup of Joe for an unseen stranger, but thought maybe there should be less structure. "I prefer when people just help other people in a more organic way," she said.
That being said, asking people for money at a point-of-sale transaction has been around for a while. You've probably donated a few dollars to buy a paper heart or shoe for a children's hospital or organization. In fact, most people don't think of donating money to a charity or helping someone out until they're asked. Which is why a formal suspended coffee program would probably work.
Until suspended coffee becomes more mainstream, there's always the pay-it-forward method, where you just pick up the tab for someone -- be it a toll, a coffee, or a soda. In a world that's increasingly more cynical and disconnected, we need more people performing random acts of kindness.
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So, if it's a formal program or just leaving a box on the counter for people to place a few bucks in for someone in need, I hope Miami embraces the concept. Because, whether you left your wallet at home or you don't have a wallet (or a home), at some point we could all use a free coffee -- and the knowledge that someone cares.