As unseasonable cold weather set in and 'Please do not give to the beggars' pavement notices appeared around Old Street, it's no surprise that an idea allowing disadvantaged people to get a free coffee courtesy of anonymous, generous, paying customers went viral in London.
The idea started in the working class cafes of Naples. A customer would buy a cafe sospeso in addition to their own order. The 'suspended coffee' was paid for in advance and listed on a board so that a less fortunate person might later take advantage of the free hot drink.
The Suspended Coffees Facebook page was set up in January this year and already has 35k likes. On Wednesday, #suspendedcoffees started to trend on Twitter. People across the world are speaking to their local cafes and asking them to introduce the concept.
Starbucks UK had so many people leaving messages on their page encouraging them to introduce suspended coffees that they have put out a message saying:
When you pay for a suspended coffee, we’ll give coffee to that value to our longstanding charity partner, Oasis, which will then distribute the coffee to its community hubs across the UK, and we’ll match the value of each suspended coffee in a cash donation to Oasis. This will help provide warmth and comfort for those in need.
But is it really such a good and pure of heart idea? Karen Mercer of Enfield Chase station's My Coffee Stop thinks absolutely not. In this blog post she explains her reasons. Her coffee shop was established with community spirit and soulful ethics at its heart and wouldn't refuse a homeless person a hot drink, soup or snack if they couldn't afford it. Indeed, the shops has regulars that it helps out. There's no need for a scheme, people should do the right thing and not shout about it. If more customers supported their local businesses, those businesses would be able to do more good in the community.
In addition, as this article points out, the retail price of a cup of coffee isn't the price it costs to make. So well-meaning customers are inadvertently increasing the profits of the vendor. And are they sure their suspended coffee will get claimed and appreciated? If everyone did it, there would be surplus. Will cafe owners ensure the donated coffee money gets to a good cause?
You can see how this scheme could work in a small Neapolitan village, where coffee is cheap and good and the community knows who's in need. But will this really work in London?
Think about how much you might spend on a luxury coffee in Pret or your local deli. Wouldn't you be better using your extra Skinny Soy Latte money on a hot drink and toasted sandwich for an individual from a less expensive cafe, and make them feel human again through face to face contact?
It seems this could be more about making coffee drinkers feel good about themselves than really helping other people. And for Starbucks and other chains that follow suit, it's a handy way to boost their Corporate Social Responsibility credibility and get some good PR.
If you really want to help London's homeless with the value of your daily joe, charity, Shelter from the Storm — founded by coffee industry entrepreneur, Louie Salvoni — has boarded the suspended coffee bandwagon in a practical way. Don't put a coffee on the board, text a £2 cafe sospeso to them and they will spend the money on food and drink for their homeless users. Sounds like an excellent idea to us.
Just text CAFE13£2 to 70070.
What do you think? Have you asked your local cafe to get involved?
Photo by lazy_lazy_dog via Londonist Flickrpool.