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Suspended Coffees: When PR Meets Philanthropy

13/05/2013 12:26 BST | Updated 13/07/2013 10:12 BST

Suspended coffees are a recent phenomenon, atleast etymologically. Large hearted coffee house and restaurant patrons have been leaving behind 'suspended' meals and drinks for eons.

Tax avoidance

Before we term this post as super-hipster balderdash, let's consider a few sobering truths. Starbucks played so truant with Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) that even Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to dish out a little cautionary word to the company. Cameron said that tax-avoiders "need to wake up and smell the coffee". How poetic.

You know you have over-stepped your tax-avoidance quota when the Tories lash out at you. Starbucks has certainly done that. According to BBC News, it paid all of £8.6 million in corporation tax in its 14 years of trading in the UK.

It sold £400 million worth of overpriced coffee, muffins and pretentious thingamajigs. However, I am preaching to the choir. We all know the big bad wolf that devours independent coffee shops, we all know of the poorly paid baristas and the insufferable patrons who frequent the Starbucks of our world.

In comes suspended coffee next year.

Suspended coffees are the planking of philanthropy. They are the carbon credits of the coffee business. They are a fad. And we have all fallen for them. We have been had.

By giving an act of kindness a name and a setting such as Starbucks cheapens the goodness. All of Tumblr, Facebook and Instagram are abuzz with posts about old weather-beaten homeless chaps in grimy jackets and week old stubbles supping on the cup of coffee. Cue boastful philanthropy.

Yes, it might do the odd down and out the good, and yes I might be seen as beating the very Piniata of all that is good in the world but happened to good old altruistic do-gooding. What next; The Society for Getting Frail Old Ladies Across the Street, The I Sent a Penny to Poor Africans when I Bought a Bottle of Mineral Water Society?

It is not the act of goodness that rankles; it is reframing of it as a fad. Because fads don't last. Oh, and the very sanctimonious lot that think they are doing a world of good by leaving behind suspended coffees on the counters of Starbucks, Café Neros and of Costa Coffee are not only stuffing in money in the coffers of companies that avoid tax but are also giving them free publicity.

The Perfect PR

It is by far the most perfect PR strategy ever. Nay, not a penny spent on it and you actually rake in money as the Che' crowd leave behind 'suspended' coffees. The corporations must be having a larf.

Your coffee houses tended to be a place for the disgruntled hatching plots. They tended to be furnaces filled to the brim with hot-blooded young and old with stabs of strong caffeine jabbing one and all to frenzied action. Today, they are boring monochrome monstrosities. The coffee is liquefied cardboard served in cardboard meant for a facsimile clientele.

Give me back the Italian espresso bars in Soho with their formica topped tables speckled with gum, where coffee was cheap and the caffeine content jarring, where failed actresses wore bootcut jeans with failing hems. Give me back my Pellici's and my Alfredo's. Give me back my messiness, my grubbiness, my coffee tinged darkness and dankness.

And never mind the suspended coffees.