Coffee comes with a warm glow

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SOME customers at Civic’s newly reopened Smiths Alternative are electing to pay for two coffees and receive only one in return.

Barista Kaya Hinge
Barista Kaya Hinge

The other coffee is credited to a tally board and is there for someone who can’t afford it.

“We heard about suspended coffee like most people did, through Facebook,” say owners Domenic Mico and Jorian Gardner.

“I think we are just the type of place to start up the program in Canberra – and it started in Italy, so it’s perfect,” smiles Calabrese Domenic.

The “caffè sospeso” system originated in Naples and has spread around the world. The idea is that you pay for two coffees but only get one, effectively buying a coffee in advance for someone who can’t afford it.

Jorian says that people have been extremely generous since the program started – there are already more than 40 coffees waiting on the tally board.

“Some people don’t even buy a coffee for themselves,” he says. “Today we had someone come in and buy 14 suspended coffees. She said she’d had hard times and wanted to help others.

“But look, there’s no ‘do you want fries with that’ pressure on people to do it. It’s just something that makes us feel good, our customers feel good doing a nice thing, and someone in need gets a free coffee.”

Jorian says that of the suspended coffees redeemed so far, one stands out.

“A girl came in and sat in a booth reading a book – which is fine, we’re a bookshop, and it’s not a prerequisite that you have to buy a coffee,” he says.

“She said she had an hour to kill and she couldn’t afford a drink. We were able to say, well it’s already paid for, what do you want? She skipped out of here after sipping on a hot chocolate for half an hour with the biggest smile on her face. And the best thing was she said she’d be back to return the favour.”

Smiths has a “no judgement” policy, so anyone who feels they need a free coffee is welcome to redeem one.

“We’re not here to judge who’s in need,” says Jorian. “You could just be having a bad day, no cash on you, whatever. If there’s a coffee on the tally board and you want to claim it, it’s yours.

“We also approached the Uniting Church and offered to bring some coffees to their drop-in centre,” he says.

“It has to be a fine balance for us, and we don’t want to become a drop-in centre ourselves. We’re a business and we have to pay our rent, but if people want to buy a hot beverage for someone else, we can facilitate that.

“We’re facilitating the love.”

Smiths Alternative is at 76 Alinga Street, Civic.


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Kathryn Vukovljak
Kathryn Vukovljak is a "CityNews" journalist.

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