Jonathan’s Card: A successful experiment in social media and coffee culture

Here’s a nice little story.

A guy named Jonathan Stark came up with a beautiful little crowdsourcing project, whereby people from around the globe (well, in a limited range of countries) could share the one Starbucks card, via a picture on their smart phones, to get free coffee. It was a pay-it-forward type scheme. Jonathan started by topping up the card whenever it was used, and then allowed people to donate funds to the card to keep things going. The balance of the card was updated on Twitter.

It all worked pretty swimmingly. Until some turkey thought this was some sort of illegitimate first world charity of the upper-class bourgeois set and wrote his own piece of code to syphon the donations into a fund feeding children in Africa. His name is Sam Odio. And he’s the coffee equivalent of the Grinch. He doesn’t see the problem, so Jonathan has written an open letter, and now there’s a conversation happening on the card’s Facebook Page. Now Starbucks has killed the card. And things are moving forwards, by moving backwards, we’ve mentioned the caffe sospeso before. The great little tradition where people paid for coffees for other customers who were behind them in the line. It’s a nice way to brighten somebody’s day. Well. Jonathan has called on disgruntled card scheme fans to get in on that action…

The worst bit about Odio’s douchebaggery is that Jonathan was already planning to use the popularity of the card for charitable purposes, according to the profile piece the Guardian ran

“Starbucks is working with him to find the best way to use his card benefits, which allow him a free drink after every 15 purchases. “Initially I thought the free coffee would be added to the card but that’s not the case,” he explains. “They send you a postcard. At one point I had over 1,000 coffees owed so the plan is to wait until it dies down a bit, take a month of transactions, work out what the money equivalent is – it could be $10,000 or more – and give it to charity.””

This would be a really cool scheme for the specialty coffee industry to pick up and run with… then people get the benefit of altruistic coffee of a high quality, rather than overroasted dirty water that is served too hot.

That is all.

The caffè sospeso: a “pay it forward” challenge

This little coffee gem was buried in a relatively uninformative story about coffee in Italy from a couple of years ago:

“On average, Italians make two to three daily espresso runs to their local bar, often inviting a friend or work colleague. They go for a quick pick-me-up, but inevitably spend a few minutes exchanging soccer results with the barista, bar owner or other customers. In Naples a visit to the caffè might end with an act of charity. According to Luciano De Crescenzo, novelist and expert in Neapolitan social customs, it is not uncommon for a contented patron to pay for two cups of espresso when he gets to the cashier—one for himself and one as an offering to humanity, or to the guy lucky enough to be next in line. This extra coffee is commonly referred to as a caffè sospeso, or a dangling espresso.”

I love it. I plan to do this at the next cafe I visit. Maybe. If I remember. A caffè sospeso. It so perfectly picks up everything that I love about coffee culture.

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