Anne's Blog

From Naples to Milan: Christmas Solidarity in Italy

Date: December 11, 2020 - categories: , , , , , - 5 Comments

Glorious Naples is not only the Italian capital of pizza but also of espresso;  in fact, here in Umbria if we wish to compliment the coffee of a local coffee bar, we might say, “veramente buonissimo – come a Napoli!” (“Really very good- as if from Naples”).

Neapolitans are not tea-drinkers, for they see tea as a sort of medicine to settle one’s stomach. And they’re particular about that espresso: it most certainly must be “corto,” i.e., “short” or not filling more than half an espresso cup:

If a barista anywhere in Italy can tell by my accent that I am americana, he (or she) will frequently ask if I wish the espresso  “lungo.”  I smile and reply, “No, corto per favore,” adding that I am American in every way except the way I like my espresso.

Many an espresso-fan orders it al vetro:At a local coffee bar, I recently asked an Italian, Caterina, drinking her coffee (in a cup) why some prefer the espresso al vetro: she thought it was for the cooling of the coffee more quickly in glass than in a  ceramic cup.  A local barista indicated that the choice was an aesthetic one,  that is, the pleasure of seeing the foam and coffee through the glass. A woman drinking her espresso al vetro this morning told me that she felt the dishwasher cleaned glass more thoroughly than ceramics…..!

For the napoletano, an espresso  is a marker throughout the day: to start off the day, for a break at work, and after a full meal at lunch.

And if you meet someone on the street, you’ll probably ask, ” andiamo a prendere un caffe’?”

Many legends link the presence of coffee in Italy to Naples although the drink arrived in Naples long after it was being sipped in Paris and Vienna cafes. Legend tells us that the wife of King Ferdinand of Bourbon, Queen Maria Carolina, brought coffee to Naples in the late 18th-c during Bourbon rule.  Coffee was soon enjoyed by the nobility and aristocratic napoletani, spreading to the masses with the street peddlers at he end of the 19th-century.

The street peddlers are no longer a part of la vita napoletana but il caffe sospeso certainly is. The usage of the “suspended coffee”   – or “pending coffee” – started during those devastating post-World War II years of economic difficulties for  many.  Those who were able started paying two cups of coffee at their bar:  one for themselves and the other for someone unable to afford a cup.

In 2010, to celebrate 150 years of business, the famous Gambrinus cafè on Piazza del Plebiscito restored this act of kindness,  re-introducing one of the most treasured Neapolitan customs. il caffe’sospeso.

In his book Il Caffe Sospeso, the writer and philosopher Luciano De Crescenzo wrote:

“When someone is happy in Naples, instead of paying a cup of coffee for himself, he just pays another one for someone else; it’s like offering a cup of coffee to the rest of the world..”

The tradition of the “suspended coffee”represents compassion, kindness, understanding of the needs of others and those positive feelings that unite a community and certainly must be preserved.

The generous tradition of a goodness “sospeso” has spread North:  again this year, 15 bakeries and cafes’ of Milano will adhere to the panettone sospeso initiative, backed by the city of Milan.  Known for its splendid Duomo, Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper,”  and top fashion houses, Milano is also linked to Italy’s traditional Christmas cake, il panettone.

The name of the this dome-shaped Christmas cake filled with candied fruits, raisins, and lemon zest derives from the milanese dialect term, “pan del ton,” meaning “cake of luxury”  or “cake of value.”  The Italian Christmas cake probably has centuries-old origins, though it becomes famous and available to many thanks to baker/entrepreneur Angelo Motta in the early 20th- century.

From December 7th to 22nd in any one of  the 15 Milan bakeries adhering to the initiative panettone sospeso   – inspired by the Neapolitan caffe’ sospeso –  a customer can purchase and set aside a panettone to be donated to the less fortunate.  For every purchased panettone sospeso, the bakery or caffe’ will donate  another panettone as well, thus doubling the donations.  Just before Christmas, all these “suspended” or “pending” panettoni will be delivered to the chosen associations – in time for Christmas.

Two associations have been chosen as recipients: Casa Jannacci, offering shelter to homeless adults and Milano Aiuta (“Milan Helps”), an association started by the city of Milan to help all those in difficulty since the onslaught of COVID-19.

Care to donate a panettone? Just click here for information (in italiano!) and go the “Donate” button.

Buon Natale – and do enjoy these photos of the participating milanesi bakers and cafe-owners right  beneath their”suspended”panettoni:


  • Jenny Hannan says:

    I live in Italy, but always learn so much from Annie. I love the story of the Panettone Sospeso. Beautiful. Always knew about the espresso sospeso, but this was new. And what great photos. It all goes to show that Italians have big, big hearts!

  • Janet Eidem says:

    This is a lovely Christmas story. Italians are big hearted people. When the Panettone appear in our American shops, I purchase mine knowing I am sharing a tradition with many friends across the pond. Giving one as a gift is sure to spread love, heart to heart.

  • Judy Pusateri says:

    Annie, this is a lovely story. Thank the Lord there are people like you who spread this news so that others can give.

  • Judy, glad you enjoyed and hope you can join in my Dec 19th ZOOM with more on Italy at Christmas!

  • Janet, wish we could share panettone together this year…hope to see you
    virtually in my Dec 19th ZOOM – with more on Italy at Christmas!

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