Italians are masters of many noble traditions, inventions and deeds, many of them taken from unnoticed customs in other countries where they did not receive much attention, evidently. True: we did not invent pizza, pasta, coffee. But we certainly invented the way the rest of the world conceives, serves and drinks coffee, starting from the linguistics of it (espresso, cappuccino, latte macchiato, etc) to the steam-driven espresso machine (first pioneered by Angelo Moriondo in 1884), to the more stylish brands (Illy and Lavazza, my favourite). If coffee has a spiritual home, this is it. Italy.
Today 🙂 let me delight you with some curious Italian coffee traditions: the pending coffee.
In Italy, having coffee is a form of art: is a ritual that may be practiced more times in a day depending on the need, before a meal, after lunch, a work break, etc. Come to a bar and live the full coffee experience. A bar, normally very crowded and noisy coffee house, is where people gather to have coffee and meet friends, discuss politics and sports. It’s where they start their day and, at times, where it ends along with an aperitivo.
The barista, the man or woman behind the bar who prepares the coffee, is a key element to this tradition. He or she joins random conversations, debates, is normally friends with the regular customers. Coffee gives us morning boost, helps digest our food, avoid nappy desire and open the evening together with aperitivos. In few words: coffee rules our lives.
But let’s go deeper into Italian culture and tradition and explore a very unknown term to most foreigners: a pending espresso. Else known as caffé sospeso (suspended coffeee) or caffé pagato (paid coffee).
What is a pending or paid coffee?
The caffé sospeso is a concept mostly unknown to rest of the world. A very old Italian tradition that enchants many because of its romantic simplicity: gifting an espresso to somebody.
Born in Naples during the Second World War, this habit came to symbolise solidarity in a very critic moment in Italian history. Those who could afford an espresso at the bar normally would pay for a second coffee to pay for a coffee many times they would pay for another one which would be left pending. This pending coffee would later be given to anyone who wished to have it (normally it would be someone poor or homeless).
In that very moment of our history, coffee became a sympathetic and philanthropic gesture that anybody who was happy made when entering a bar.
Precisely because a person was happy, he or she would decide to have an espresso at the bar and pay for an additional one to be assigned to anyone. In few words, an espresso was offered to a stranger, any stranger coming into the bar later on.
This person, aware of the tradition, would go to bartender and ask if there were any pending coffees.