How to Order Coffee in Spain

Coffee is not just café con leche

If you are a coffee lover, be prepared as it seems the coffee lingo varies throughout Spain.

Read on and we’ll show you how to order that perfect cuppa joe like a local.

Coffee Culture in Spain

Drinking coffee is a big part of Spanish culture, including drinking a cup while sitting together after a meal, known as sobremesa. The Spanish people will typically have a coffee first thing in the morning with their breakfast (a sweet roll or pastry) to get them started for the day. This is when they usually drink a cafe con leche (coffee with milk).
Then at around 11am, they stop for a short break known as the Almuerzo. They order another coffee and eat a snack like a bocadillo (a type of sandwich served on a baguette). This is when they usually order a cafe solo (strong, black coffee) served in a tiny glass.
Spaniards drink coffee mainly in bars and cafes rather than at home. If at work, Spaniards will pop out for a coffee break with their colleagues and if meeting with friends they would most likely sit outside on a terraza instead of inviting someone over to their home for a cup of coffee.

History of Spanish Coffee

Coming from North America, we often think of Spanish coffee as a piping hot mug of coffee with rum or other spirits and topped with whipped cream. This is only partially true.

Historical facts

According to The Spanish Coffee Federation (FEC – Federación Española del Café), the very first Spaniard to drink coffee was a Jesuit missionary named Pedro Paez. He was enslaved in Ethiopia in the early days of the 17th Century and in his memoir, “História da Etiópia”, he describes the drink as a dark, bitter infusion. It then took another 100 years before the Borbon dynasty brought coffee to the country, formally introducing Spain to coffee.

In 1764, Italians known as the Gippini brothers opened the first café in Madrid. The Spaniards were quick to recognize a good thing when they saw it, and more cafés quickly sprang up in the cities of Barcelona, La Coruna, Bilbao, Valencia and Cartagena, eventually sprouting all over the country.

As of January 2022, various studies have shown that Spaniards drink 2.2 cups of coffee per day on average. What surprised me the most while doing my research is that capsule coffee has become the coffee of choice for Spaniards. Seven out of ten households use a coffee capsule machine, and more than half (56 per cent) use it every day or almost every day, as 84 per cent of those interviewed think it is cleaner and 89 per cent think it is quicker and simpler. Despite this love for coffee, 79 percent think it necessary to change their coffee capsule consumption habits to protect and maintain the environment.

Useful vocabulary for ordering coffee

 

  • big – grande
  • oat – avena
  • small – pequeño
  • honey – miel
  • to-go / take-away – para llevar
  • ice – hielo
  • with – con
  • please – por favor / por fa
  • without – sin
  • thank you – gracias
  • sugar – azúcar
  • very hot coffee – café muy caliente
  • brown sugar – azúcar moreno
  • hot, steamed milk –leche caliente
  • milk – leche
  • cold milk – leche fría
  • lactose-free – sin lactosa
  • a mix of hot and cold milk – templada
  • plant-based milk – leche vegetal
  • bottle of water – una botella de agua
  • soy – soja
  • the check, please – La cuenta, por favor

 If you have a preference on the whether you drink your coffee from a mug or glass:
Taza: A mug with a handle
Vaso: A small clear glass with no handle. Most traditional bars in Spain will serve coffee this way.

para llevar – Normal bars and restaurants didn’t use to offer to-go options. This started during the COVID-19 pandemic to aid social distancing and avoid overcrowding in cafes. You can order your coffee to-go by asking for your preferred drink followed by para llevar.

16 Different Types of Coffee

*NOTE* Coffee in Spain is hardly served piping hot. It is usually served at a temperature that is hot without burning your tongue. smile

Café Solo – the most commonly ordered type of coffee in Spain. Café solo is a small and very strong black coffee usually served in a small glass, slightly larger than a thimble! A real espresso.

Café con Leche – is the next most popular way to drink coffee, especially first thing in the morning. Usually made with 1-2 shots of espresso. It is the Spanish version of a latte – milk is poured into a metal jug then steamed using the steam wand of the espresso machine.

In Andalusia, it is called a Mitad (meaning ½ coffee ½ milk).

Café Bombon – this is similar to a café con leche. Usually served in a small glass with condensed milk at the bottom and a shot of espresso slowly poured in. Some places will serve an espresso in a cup with a packet of condensed milk for customers to add themselves.

Café Americano – similar to a café solo but served in a larger glass or cup with more water.

Café Cortado – a strong black coffee similar to café solo but with a drop of milk. Usually made with 2 shots of espresso. Much like a cappuccino.

In Andalusia, this is known as a Largo.

Café con Hielo – a usual summertime variation and sometimes called café frio (iced coffee). If you are like me and need to add some sweetener in your coffee, ask for a cafe of your choice “y un vaso de hielo” (glass with ice cubes). That way, you can melt your sugar or honey then pour your mixed coffee over ice.

Café del Tiempo – a favorite summertime drink in la comunidad Valenciana. It is black coffee with ice and lemon slices.

Café Sombra or Café Manchado is mostly milk with just a splash of coffee. This is my personal favorite because I find most Spanish coffee too bitter.

In Andalusia , this is called a Nube (cloud).

Cafe Templada – coffee mixed with hot and cool milk, making it “templada” or “temperate” – ready to drink.

Café Suizo – a café solo topped with whipped cream.

Café Carajillo – this is the famous ‘Spanish coffee’. A traditional café carajillo is a café solo with a small measure of brandy. Make sure you specify which alcohol you want (whisky, anisette, rum or Bailey’s) when you order or ask the café which they recommend. Some ice cream shops also offer this type of coffee.

Café Trifásico – a specialty coffee with alcohol from Catalonia. It is an espresso shot layered with milk and a splash of alcohol.

Café Perfumat – another specialty coffee with alcohol from Catalonia. This time, a shot of anis is added.

Café Asiático – a specialty coffee with alcohol beverage from Cartagena. Its origins are traced back to the early 20th century when sailors coming in from Asia would order a coffee with condensed milk and brandy on their arrival. Somewhere during this time, the drink evolved into the modern version of this coffee cocktail. Licor 43, a Spanish liqueur, now makes up a Café Asiático, along with a touch of cinnamon, lemon zest and topped with a coffee bean. Served in a special shaped glass.

Café Descafeinado – a decaf. coffee, either from the machine (de maquina) or sachet (de sobre), served black (solo) or with milk (con leché). So if you´d like a machine-made decaf coffee with milk, you need to ask for a “café con leche descafeinado de maquina”.

Affogato – I decided to include it in this section because although the debate continues, I consider the affogato as a beverage. It is basically vanilla ice cream and espresso althoug the best is really a scoop of vanilla gelato. Originally invented in Italy, the word “affogato” literally translates as “drowned” in English. This is fitting, as the affogato is no more than a scoop of ice cream “drowned” in espresso.

How we drink our coffee

We have faithfully used a Bialetti for the past 9 years and can’t see changing our habit. No plastic waste (except for the bag the coffee comes in) which helps the environment. Like some Spanish households we have 3 different sizes that suit our needs. 3-cup, 6-cup and 9-cup. That sounds extreme but the 3-cup is really 1 American size cup of coffee.

For breakfast, I use the 6-cup Bialetti to make 2 coffees for John and I. I servie it in a 500 ml size cup which leaves plenty of room for frothed milk.

Bialetti

Our friends in Rome gave us our first Bialetti 11 years ago. We now have it in 3 sizes and carry one with us wherever we know we can brew our own cup of coffee.

Lavazza Espresso

This is our favorite store-bought blend. When brewed in a Bialietti, weare guaranteed a perfect cup of coffee.

Nespresso Aeroccino

The best gift anyone has ever given us! We use this at least 2 times a day (for the last 6 years) and take it with us wherever we know we can make our own cup of coffee. Another reason I can’t travel light.  laughing

Postcards from the Road

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