Coffee-gifting bug strikes Canadians

Over 5,500 Canadian coffee drinkers got more than a little kick out of their cup this week when they found out their daily caffeine fix had already been paid for.

Over 5,500 cups of free coffee and counting

Tim Hortons employees sample various coffees from around the world. A coffee-giving bug has gripped Canadians this week, causing them to spontaneously buy coffee for large groups of people. (David Friend/The Canadian Press)

Over 5,500 Canadian coffee drinkers got more than a little kick out of their cup this week when they found out their daily caffeine fix had already been paid for.

The coffee-kindness trend started Monday when a mystery man walked into a downtown Edmonton Tim Hortons and paid for 500 cups of coffee — for no apparent reason.

Other customers present were baffled by the random act of generosity, wondering if the man had won a lottery. But the franchise’s managers didn’t ask, and the generous man didn’t tell, preferring to remain anonymous.

Two days later, a Calgary patron dropped almost $900 to buy coffee for everyone who walked into the Crowfoot Crossing Tim Hortons that Wednesday.

Manager Kelli Urquhart said the man had heard about someone buying coffees for people in Edmonton and wanted to pay it forward.

"We've been through so much here with the floods and everything else, and he just wanted to get some good spirits going here in Calgary," she said.

Sharing-bug contagious

The good spirits caught on, with more coffee outlets experiencing generosity outpourings. Come Thursday, and over $2,400 was spent in total on more than 2,000 coffee gifts in Red Deer, Alta., Ottawa, and Edmonton.

Monica Kavanaugh caught the sharing-bug Thursday when she walked into a coffee shop at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital, where her dad had spent the last nine months. She heard that a man had donated 500 cups at the hospital that morning, and was so touched by his gesture that she decided to do the same. Kavanaugh bought 800 more cups for hospital staff and visitors.

 "It’s a way to give back," said Kavanaugh , "They've (hospital staff) helped my father a lot and I just feel, why not give a little back to the hospital?"

Kavanaugh said she believes that what comes around, goes around — and asked for nothing in return, except a prayer for her dad, Clement.

Since Kavanaugh's 800-cup coffee gift, six more acts of similar generosity have been reported across Canada, including three at the same coffee-shop in High River, Alta.

Coffee gifting tradition

This week’s Canadian coffee-gifting trend resembles a post-war tradition from Naples, Italy, that has more recently spread to other countries. ‘Caffè sospeso,’ or ‘suspended coffee,’ describes a coffee purchased and set aside for someone who needs one later, but may not be able to afford it.

Perkin's Coffee Company in Nanaimo, B.C., have had a 'suspended coffee' program for two months, allowing their customers to buy a beverage for those in need. (Perkins Coffee)

Kevin Perry, a manager at Perkin’s Coffee Company in Nanaimo, B.C., said that his cafe started a suspended coffee program after hearing about the idea on television two months ago. Posters at the downtown store window and cash register explain the concept of purchasing an extra coffee for someone else when you buy one for yourself.

Perkin’s has racked up nearly 80 donated coffees from customers since the program launched, but staff is still waiting for a chance to hand them out to those in need. "Redemption has not been huge," said Perry, indicating that there may be more coffee givers than takers in the B.C. town.

Select coffee shops in Montreal do the same, and Tim Hortons staff said it is not uncommon to see customers buying a cup or two to help someone else out.

Coffee-cats spread the love


  • A mystery man walks into a Tim Hortons in downtown Edmonton and pays for his own, plus 500 cups of coffee.


  • An anonymous Calgary donor pays almost $900 to buy coffee for everyone behind him in queue at the Crowfoot Crossing Tim Hortons.


  • An Ottawa bus driver buys $850 worth of coffee to pep up his peers around the Ottawa Trainyards location.
  • A man buys 500 cups for others at the Tim Hortons in the Easthill Centre in Red Deer, Alberta.
  • A man picks up the tab for 500 cups at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital.
  • Later that afternoon, a Monica Kavanagh, whose father is admitted in the same hospital, buys 800 more cups on hearing about the earlier act of generosity.
  • A Saskatoon coffee-philanthropist buys 500 coffees for customers behind him in queue


  • Saskatoon radio station Rock 102 buys 500 coffee gifts. 
  • Another customer buys 285 more cups just after the station staff leave, making a total of  $1,375 worth of free coffee at that venue.
  • A patron at Northern Alberta Institute of Technology gives $500 worth of coffee to customers at the school.
  • A donor buys 500 cups in Chestermere suburb of Calgary.
  • Three anonymous patrons buy their fellow coffee drinkers hundreds of dollars worth of coffee at the same High River, Alta., coffee shop.