“Once upon a time in Naples, in the Sanità district, when a person was happy because something had gone well for him, instead of just paying for one coffee at the bar, he paid for two and left the second coffee, the one already paid for, for the next customer. This gesture was known as “the pending coffee.” Then, every so often, a poor person passed by and asked if there was a “pending coffee.” It was just another way to offer a coffee to Humanity.”
This is what you can read in “Il caffè sospeso,” a book by the archetypal Neapolitan, Luciano De Crescenzo. Few writers have been able to depict Naples as well as he has, and, this custom, which started in Naples, and has now spread all over the world. Whether it be delicato, forte or even decaffeinated , coffee remains a pleasure to be tasted and enjoyed, and in this way, shared!
History of the pending coffee in Naples
We cannot know for certain in which bar of Naples the custom of the pending coffee first originated or in which historical period it began to spread to other areas, but there are several hypotheses.
According to some, in particular the writer Riccardo Pazzaglia, the tradition started in the early 1900’s in that moment of the “battle,” or rather, when within a bar, there were arguments over paying the bill. In the heat of the moment it was possible that the number of cups was mis-counted and if any had been paid for but not consumed, the extra credit was left in the till of the bar. Thus, a poor person could have a coffee, drinking to the health of the unknown benefactor who had been to the bar before him.
Others believe that this custom, which has now become a real tradition, came about in one of the most difficult moments in history of Italy, the Second World War. During the years of conflict, certain “luxuries”, such as coffee, were difficult to get hold of and human solidarity manifested in this way, creating a virtuous circle.
Coffee is not the only thing pending!
The idea of the pending coffee has gone far beyond the boundaries of Naples and Italy. Many countries, including Spain, France, Belgium, Russia and Argentina have adopted this tradition, born in the name of solidarity.
But coffee is not the only thing in this world to be pending: this practice is extending to include other types of products too, such as books. It all started in 2010, thanks to two small bookshops in Palermo and Polla (in Cilento), where it is possible to find books which have already been paid for by generous literature enthusiasts!
Have you ever drunk a pending coffee? Or on one of your visits to Naples, have you ever paid for two and only drunk one? Tell us about your experiences!