07/26/2013 08:07 EDT | Updated 09/25/2013 05:12 EDT

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.

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.

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.