Sylvia Poggioli, writing for the NPR’s The Salt blog:
The Neapolitan writer Luciano de Crescenzo used the tradition as the title of one of his books, Caffè sospeso: Saggezza quotidiana in piccoli sorsi (“Suspended coffee: Daily wisdom in small sips”).
“It was a beautiful custom,” he recalls. “When a person who had a break of good luck entered a cafe and ordered a cup of coffee, he didn’t pay just for one, but for two cups, allowing someone less fortunate who entered later to have a cup of coffee for free.”
The barista would keep a log, and when someone popped his head in the doorway of the cafe and asked, “Is there anything suspended?” the barista would nod and serve him a cup of coffee … for free.
It’s an elegant way to show generosity: an act of charity in which donors and recipients never meet each other, the donor doesn’t show off and the recipient doesn’t have to show gratitude.
Cool gesture — and, I agree, an elegant way to show one’s generosity.