The Caffè Sospeso Edition

On Naples, espresso, and charity

Colin here. I’ve been watching the new Stanley Tucci Italy series on CNN. He’s got big shoes to fill with the show, and the first few episodes I watched didn’t really click for me. Lots of meandering around, eating delicious things, being a famous actor in Italy. He tends to subsume the scenes: it’s his star power and familiarity paired with a delicious regional dish. The show got off on the wrong foot for me, as it lacked the depth, cultural nuance, and color in the writing that Bourdain had throughout the many iterations of his show. 

However, the producers and talent redeemed themselves and found some footing with the recent Naples edition: they didn’t get lost in pizza wormholes without at least looking at some of the dark corners, quirks, urban planning, and, of course, organized crime the city is famous for. As Tucci joins a cop for a coffee to talk about how the city really works, the cop buys a third espresso, even though there’s no one else with them. 

It was what is called a “suspended coffee” which is evidently a deep part of the culture in Naples. It is a simple gesture of buying one for those in need. According to Fodors:

The practice of caffè sospeso is a Neapolitan tradition that was born in the late 1800s in the center of the city and that boomed during World War II. Originating in the many working-class cafés of Naples, where someone would order a sospeso—paying the price of two coffees but consuming only one, leaving the other to be suspended until later. Anyone could then ask whether there was a sospeso available and would be served a coffee for free.

...“Caffè sospeso is the first step of solidarity to those who don’t get a chance to have coffee,” says Pino De Stasio, the owner of Bar 7Bello, a coffee shop along the Via Benedetto Croce in the historic center of Naples that has been offering sospeso coffees since 1969. “It is the symbol of a network of solidarity between citizens who can afford it and those who need it, like the homeless or underprivileged immigrants.”

Why is this interesting? 

Citizens of Naples have an innate problem-solving talent, especially if they don’t have the means. And I thought this was a particularly elegant and longstanding gesture to help those less fortunate. COVID was a catalyst for this idea to extend into other areas as well. According to Fodors, “since the pandemic struck Italy … Naples, and particularly its impoverished residents in the historical center, were hit very hard. It’s since seen the spirit of the caffè sospeso evolve and adapt into something new. During the first lockdown, running from March to May, those who could work left pizza, pasta, and sweets to doctors, nurses, and COVID patients.” 

There’s even the concept of suspended baskets, where poorer residents would leave baskets hanging from their homes in hopes of some kindness from a stranger. The concept is of course, nothing new, but there’s something poetic about the idea of suspended charity and giving, hanging in the ether (or on an espresso bar) waiting for someone in need to come along and take it. (CJN)

Pretzels of the day:

As you may or may not know, I love hard pretzels. One of my favorite brands is Martin’s, who sells out of the Union Square Greenmarket in NYC amongst other locations. Unfortunately, Martin’s had a big fire in their brand new factory and supply was pretty low for a while, so I was happy to pick up a bag of brokens last week while passing through Union Square. If you aren’t in NYC you can also buy them online. (NRB)

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)

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