Tracking A Meme: "Suspended Coffee"

5 April 2013. It came to me, as most memes do these days, via Facebook. And then it came back again.


  1. Update 3 January 2014 : it's in my Facebook news feed again. This time it originated from Scott Sonnon, "World Champion, Speaker, Author, Inventor, Thinker." 
  2. Photo and text exactly the same as last year's. Sonnon posted his on March 28, 2013; 465,821 people have "liked" it. More than a half-million people have been duped.
  3. == Begin original story ==
  4. The tug-at-your-heartstrings photo  was shared on the Facebook page of a company in New South Wales, Australia. Posted on 27 March 2013, as of this writing  218,248 people have "liked" the photo and 113,028 have shared it (stats updated).
  5. The photo, however, isn't of a man from Oz. It's a man from Montgomery County, Maryland, and was originally published in the Washington Post 3 March 2012. Lifted and reposted to "lee and me" down-under without credit.
  6. Fact-check failure!
  7. The meme: buy a coffee in advance ("suspended") for the next person who cannot afford a cuppa. And an entrepreneur is pushing the concept in Melbourne.
  8. The story, always in first person and often presented as though it is the poster's experience, also appears on these Facebook pages or websites:
    * Coffee Sharing (~April 2013)
    Democratic Underground (March 28, 2013)
    EndoRiot (FB, March 25, 2013)
    Exposing the Truth (FB, March 26, 2013)
    * Expression of Truth (March 28, 2013)
    * Google+ Kee Hinkley (March 26, 2013
    * Google+ Shara Jean (March 26, 2013)
    * KitEssence (N.D.)
    * Meditation Photography (March 27, 2013)
    * Service Space (March 28, 2013)
    * Tumblr (dozens)

    Not an exhaustive list!
  9. History of the practice

    The gift of charity supposedly began in Naples, and there is anecdotal evidence in support. Snopes found a 2004 reference to "caffe sospeso" in an online Florence paper which alleged that "everyone" in Naples was performing this act of charity. And The Accidental Tourist related such a story in 2011, situating the tradition in post-war Naples. (WWI or WWII?) A 2009 article from The Age (Australia) suggested the motivation was to share good fortune. (So does a 2011 post from The Roast.)
  10. Criticism

  11. "Suspended Coffee – or cafe sospeso – may work very well in an Italian village, in which the local pauper comes in, claims his coffee, and sits politely in the corner; but it may not work quite so well in the sprawling metropolises of modern Britain."
  12. The Consumerist criticized the meme more stridently.
  13. Logistics (a very real issue in metro areas) is one reason given in protest. Another: coffee isn't nutritious. Then there are food banks, designed specifically to help feed those who need help.  See more reasons to think twice from Starbucks Melody, a fan site.
  14. Why do people share this story/photo?

    I believe that the coffee meme resonates because it ties so neatly into another meme: Random Acts of Kindness. It also reflects my belief that most people are, at their core, generous.
  15.  But it's also impersonal and, if you are reasonably affluent, frictionless (for the person donating the coffee, not for the barista or coffee shop owner and manager). 
  16. If this story touched your heartdo as Melody suggests and carry a $5 McDonald's or Subway card with you that you can give to a homeless person. "This puts the momentum to give in your very own hands, instead of transferring that power to someone else."