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Customers not warm on charity coffee

By WU NI (China Daily)

08:40, April 24, 2013

A charity program in Shanghai allowing people to buy an extra cup of coffee and reserve it for those who cannot afford to buy a drink has gotten off to a slow start.

Chiato Coffee, which operates in a corner of the Pudong Library hall, began offering the so-called suspended coffee on April 16 — the first participant in the city to respond to the charity program.

As of Monday, the shop had sold 31 cups of suspended coffee but only four were drunk, according to the manager, Xu Hang.

The suspended coffee initiative originates from small cafes in the Italian city of Naples and has gained popularity in Europe.

"Many students come to the library to study or prepare for exams. Some may need a cup of coffee but cannot afford it, so we want them to have the chance to enjoy coffee," Xu said.

Customers pay 12 yuan ($2) for a cup of suspended coffee — an Americano — and can buy a maximum of five cups.

Wooden plates marking suspended coffee hang in front of the cashier counter.

"People can fetch one plate to buy a suspended coffee, and if all plates are taken it means there is no suspended coffee left for the day," Xu said.

The manager said the first customer for suspended coffee was a man in his 40s who felt it was a novel idea and worth trying and the second was a girl who lacked enough change for a coffee.

"She promised to buy a cup for other people the next time she came to our shop," Xu said.

Cao Jie, the shop owner, expects more people to drink the coffee as the news spreads. She dismissed doubts that the program is not practical in China.

Cao said she read on the Internet about suspended coffee being introduced in Naples and decided to go ahead with the concept in her shop.

Ma Lingling, a tea specialist and the first buyer of suspended coffee at the shop, said she had been "touched" by a photograph illustrating the suspended coffee story — a white-haired beggar sipping a cup of coffee.

"It's true that coffee and tea are not necessities of life, but they bring people happiness. Compared with donating money, food or clothing, I feel that helping people to drink coffee is a kind of spiritual care with more respect and dignity," Ma said.

Ding Jie, who works for a media agency, said she is more than willing to join such a charity event but hopes the process can be given more transparency.

"I think the shop should make more effort to convince us that our donations reach those people really in need," Ding said.

Cao, the owner, hopes the concept can be extended to other businesses. "Maybe we can have suspended soybean milk, bread and porridge."

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