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Caffeine and a shot of kindness


The Italian tradition of 'suspended coffee' - or buying an extra cup anonymously for someone who can't afford it - is gaining steam.

There's a new kind of coffee in town. It isn't made from rare beans nor does it have an exotic aroma. What it does have is a generous spoonful of goodwill.

Over the past few weeks, an Italian tradition has become a worldwide phenomenon, thanks to people sharing notes on Facebook. 'Suspended coffee' - or caffe sospeso in Italian - is a long-standing tradition from Naples. It spread to Bulgaria after World War II, where 150 cafês have reportedly established it as a formal scheme.

The idea is simple: Every time you buy a cup of coffee or a plate of food, you buy an additional one - not for yourself but for someone who struggles to make ends meet. The cafê keeps these on a tab and anyone who walks in asking for a "suspended coffee" gets one. The Facebook page was launched on January 11, 2013, and with more than 60, 000 people talking about it, cafês in the US, Russia, Canada, Australia, Europe and even India have signed up for the goodwill initiative. Some have created their own spin-off suspended coffee pages and the movement is on Twitter too. Corporate coffee chains like Pret-A-Manger and Starbucks have applauded the initiative, and last week Starbucks UK announced on its Facebook page that it was adopting the programme on customer demand. Two cafes in India - Flipside Cafe in the creative and gastronomic maze that is Delhi's Hauz Khas Village and Cafe LOLZ in Ghaziabad - have opened their doors and counters to the idea. Flipside co-owner Raavi Chou was familiar with the concept but the idea of introducing it struck him only when he read about it online. Last month, he asked patrons if they thought it was a good idea and the response was encouraging enough to try it. The very next day, someone bought a 'pending coffee'. "It seemed like a good idea. On the very first day, we had two or three pending coffees, " says Chou.

Apart from renaming it, Chou tweaked the initiative a bit. Instead of waiting for someone to walk into the cafe - "people might not be comfortable walking into a coffee place" - Chou and his staff take whatever is 'pending' to the streets. Instead of coffee, they offer chai since it's what most Indians like to drink. "A cup of coffee becomes two cups of chai or lemonade, depending on who needs what. People have been buying pizza slices as well, " Chou says. Canadian actor and TV host David Rocco who was shooting at Flipside for his TV show, bought a pending coffee too.

Loca La Zona or Cafe LOLZ is just a few minutes off the highway and gets none of the smart crowd that throngs Haus Khas Village but that didn't stop Kama K M from introducing the concept at his newly opened cafe. "Every organisation has some social responsibility. I'm not in a posh market. In fact, I have a lot of rickshaw-wallahs around. My coffee costs Rs 45 a cup and if that much can feed someone then why not?"

The coffee shop has to keep track of the coffee credits. "I have allotted a tab in my accounting system for this, " says Kama. Flipside has declared on Facebook that it takes personal guarantee every time someone buys a pending coffee or dish.

Both Chou and Kama agree that this is an easy way for people to feel good. "It's charity without doing the dirty work, " says Chou. But what about freeloaders who might just waltz in? "There will always be some bad eggs but we can't stop because of them, " says Kama, who is also one of India's busiest bar and beverage consultants.

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