Pay it forward, coffee edition

You’ve probably heard of people who go through a fast-food drive through and pay for the meal of the person in line behind them.

Something similar is now happening with coffee: People are paying for future coffee customers’ drinks in an act of goodwill that originated in Italy and is catching on around the world. When you buy a cup of coffee, you pay the barista for an extra “suspended coffee” or two, which will be given to people who are homeless or otherwise cannot afford the luxury of a cup of coffee.

The movement has reached Bulgaria, Canada, Britain and Australia so far, and I won’t be surprised if it comes to the U.S. soon. The movement has become an email forward and even has its own page on, so you know it’s hit the big-time.

In the latest iteration of the trend, Starbucks has embraced “the spirit” of the idea in Britain — whenever you pay Starbucks for a “suspended coffee,” the coffee giant will donate the equivalent in cash to a British charity that works with homeless people.

To me, Starbucks’ version just isn’t the same: It doesn’t feel quite as organic or spontaneous. It doesn’t allow you the pleasure of knowing that someone else will actually receive your extra coffee in the same physical coffee shop location. But still, it’s nice to see the gesture catching on. It’s also a testament to the strength of people’s emotional attachment to coffee — we prefer even our anonymous giving to be caffeinated.

Photo of person with coffee by Dmitry Barksy, Flickr Creative Commons.


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