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COFFEE

Where, when and how to drink coffee like a Spaniard

Spain’s café culture is crammed full of regional idiosyncrasies that make ordering your coffee of choice harder than you might expect. Here’s everything you need to know to get your caffeine fix 'a la española'.

Where, when and how to drink coffee like a Spaniard
The Andalusian City of Malaga has its specific vernacular for ordering coffee. Photo: Café Central Málaga

Spanish coffee habits

Spaniards may not be the biggest coffee consumers in the world (a 2017 study by the International Coffee Organisation found they weren’t even in the top 20), but they certainly have the same passion and tradition for café as their Mediterranean counterparts.

In fact, breakfast (first thing rather than mid-morning) for many in Spain consists of only coffee rather than adding any food to the mix. So much for it being the most important meal of the day!

Spaniards tend to prefer to have milk coffee to wake up in the morning and then wait for a stronger brew after lunch or during the afternoon. 

It’s also worth noting that coffee is drunk by and large in bars and cafeterías rather than at home. If they’re at work, Spaniards will pop out for a coffee break with their colleagues and if meeting with friends they’re also more likely to sit outdoors at a terraza than invite each other round to their homes for a brew.

It’s fair to say that the ritual and socialising that comes with coffee counts more than actually getting a caffeine fix in Spain.


Photo: Evan Bench/Flickr

What kind of coffee do Spaniards drink?

Coffee in Spain is brewed by and large the espresso way. That means that the amount served is generally smaller and less watered down than in northern European countries, but often packs a lot more punch.

That means it’s usually served in small glasses or cups rather than in the kind of big mugs used by Starbucks.

Spanish coffee is unique in that most of it is torrefacto, which means that the coffee grain has 15 percent of sugar added to it before it is roasted.

This gives it a distinctively bitter and stronger taste, even though one might think that it would end up tasting sweeter, as the sugar burns and coats the beans giving them a black sheen. 

The torrefacto tradition dates back to the Spanish Civil War as the cost-cutting practice meant the coffee beans were preserved for longer and increased the roast volume.

Even though there are critics who argue it spoils the taste, Spaniards are so used to torrefacto coffee that they’ve come to expect it as the standard.

How do I order a coffee in Spain?

If you’re new to Spanish coffee, don’t assume that the fact that it’s mainly torrefacto will mean you only get a dark, thick and bitter brew every time you order.

There’s a colourful and varied array of regional coffee preparations which we’ll go over in the next section, but you’ll be able to make yourself understood all over Spain with the following general terms:

Café solo: A small cup of strong, black espresso without milk.

Americano: Same as a café solo but with more water to make it less strong

Cortado: A small cup of espresso with a dash of milk

Café con leche: Coffee with milk served in equal amounts

Cappuccino: Same as everywhere else around the world, many bars in Spain will serve them

Carajillo: Coffee with alcohol

If you don’t speak any Spanish, don’t worry too much about uttering anything other than the coffee you want. Saying me pone (give me) before your order will suffice, but no need even to say por favor (politeness isn’t too important among Spanish waiters).

How about ordering coffee in Spain’s different regions?

If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous and want to delve into the coffee culture of your particular region in Spain, here are the most distinctive cafés in different Spanish regions.

Madrid

Café manchado: literally meaning coffee stained with milk, espresso with a dash of leche

Mitad y mitad: Coffee with half hot milk and half cold milk

Café bombón: Espresso with sweetened condensed milk

 

Canary Islands

Cortado largo: A long short one is the literal name but it’s actually just a cortado with more milk or more coffee, so you have to specify what you want more of. 

Barraquito: A cortado with milk and extra condensed milk commonly drunk in Tenerife. It can also be served with cinnamon, a slice of lemon peel and a splash of Licor 43 or Tía María liqueur. Sometimes a barraquito is referred to as zaperoco. (Photo: Erik Streb/Wikimedia)

Leche y leche: It’s a cortado largo with more milk and condensed milk (hence the double leche), similar to a barraquito but usually without the alcohol.

Nunca Mais: On the island of Lanzarote, this coffee references the slogan Nunca Mais (Never Again), used in Spain since the 2002 oil spillage disaster in Galicia. The Nunca Mais is a double dose of expresso, with the moniker no doubt referencing how its dark colour resembles oil.  

 

Murcia

Belmonte: Milk coffee with condensed milk and brandy.

Café asiático: Black coffee with condensed milk and flambéed brandy or rum and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Balearic Islands

Café caleta: a carajillo coffee with rum and brandy as well as lemon and orange peel. Served in Ibiza.

Rebentó: Carajillo coffee with local rum, served on the island of Majorca.

Valencia

Blanco y negro: Despite it’s simple name (black and white) it’s anything but. It combines iced or frapped espresso coffee with Spanish ice cream or leche merengada (a milkshake made with milk, egg white and sugar).

Mixto: Hot coffee with ice cream, either vanilla or strawberry flavour. It’s also served with horchata, a Spanish tiger nut or almond milk drink.

Nacional or Ruso: Iced coffee topped with vanilla ice cream.

Suspiro horchata: Horchata drink with a splash of coffee.

Tocaet (tocado) Valenciano: Coffee with a few drops of brandy or other liquor.

Suspiro de limón: Iced lemon drink with a dash of coffee.

Photo: luisbaldo.com

Galicia

Café con gotas or tocado gallego: Coffee with a splash of orujo grape liqueur.

Celta: coffee with brown sugar, orujo liqueur, a few whole coffee beans and a slice of lemon.

Catalonia

Catalán: coffee with crema catalana, the regional version of crème brûlée (pic below).

Trifásico or tricolor: coffee, brandy and milk.

Cigaló: Carajillo coffee with rum served in a tall glass, somehow gets its name from the word for langoustine, cigala.

Honorable: Coffee and Pujol brand rum.

Perfumat: Coffee and aniseed.

Photo: gastronomiavasca.net/

Castilla-La Mancha

Resolí: Local aguardiente moonshine, brandy, sugar, dried orange peel, cinnamon and lastly coffee

Castilla y León

Completo: One coffee, one brandy and one cigar. Lock, stock and barrel.

Basque Country

Ebaki: The Basque name for a cortado coffee. In San Sebastian it’s served as a tall milk coffee with lots of sugar.

Aragón

Soldao: Coffee with Cointreau orange liqueur and soda. Soldao is a shortened version of soldado (soldier in Spanish), presumbably because the concoction is traditionally popular among Zaragoza’s regiments. 

Quemadillo: Three coffee beans, rum, cinammon, sugar and milk. Quemadillo, meaning ‘a bit burnt’ in Spanish, refers to the process of burning the whole coffee beans with a flame as they sit in a shot of rum. 

Andalusia

Sombra: Translating to shadow, this coffee served in Malaga contains 80 percent milk and 20 percent coffee. In fact, Malaga has its own vernacular for its coffees, so this cheat sheet should help you along.


Photo: TripAdvisor

Watch out for…

If you’re buying coffee at a Spanish supermarket, be aware that some packets are labelled as mezcla (mixture), which basically means that the coffee is blended with chicory or torrefacto. Opt instead for natural if you want unadulterated coffee.

 

When ordering coffee with milk, ask for leche del tiempo (room temperature milk) or leche templada (warm milk) unless you want it to be piping hot, as the standard practise is for the milk to be almost boiling hot. 

Member comments

  1. A leche-leche in Canarias is just a normal cafe cortado served in a short glass but with added leche condensada. A leche-leche largo is the larger version, usually served in a taller glass.

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FOOD & DRINK

The best vegan and vegetarian Spanish dishes

These are two words that don’t often go together – vegetarian and Spanish, as most vegetarians and vegans will only know too well, however, it may come as a surprise to discover that there are a few Spanish dishes that naturally do not contain any meat or fish.

The best vegan and vegetarian Spanish dishes

Whether you live in Spain or you frequently travel here, if you’re a vegetarian or a vegan you’ll know that finding traditional Spanish dishes can be tricky. But if you don’t want to have to eat international food all the time, you will discover that there are several meat and fish-free dishes that are Spanish classics. 

Espinacas con garbanzos

A dish traditionally found in southern Spain in Andalusia, this is essentially exactly how it’s translated – spinach with chickpeas. The dish has a long history dating all the way back to the Moors, who ruled southern Spain for almost 800 years. Completely vegan, the spinach and chickpeas are made into a type of stew with herbs and spices like paprika and cumin. Often pine nuts and raisins are added to the mix too.

READ ALSO: What did the Moors ever do for us?’ How Spain was shaped by Muslim rule

Spinach and chickpeas is a classic Andalusian dish. Photo: Xemenendura / Wikimedia Commons
 

Escalivada

A classic vegan dish from Catalonia, escalivada is a mix of slow-roasted vegetables, usually onions, peppers and aubergines. It can be eaten as a type of topping for large toasts called torradas and can sometimes have goat’s cheese melted on the top.

Calçots with romesco sauce

Another much-loved Catalan vegetarian dish is calçots with romesco sauce. Calçots are like a cross between a spring onion and a leek and are only available in the winter or early spring seasons. They’re typically grilled over an open fire until blackened. You must then remove the burnt exterior with a pair of gloves before dipping them in the romesco sauce. The sauce is a concoction made from toasted almonds and hazelnuts, tomatoes, garlic, toasted bread, olive oil, vinegar and dried ñora peppers. They can be a bit messy to eat, so restaurants will often give you a bib to wear too. 

READ ALSO – Recipe: How to make, eat and enjoy calçots

Try some calçots at a traditional calçotada. Photo: Esme Fox
 

Gazpacho

A dish that many are familiar with, this cold soup is traditionally from Andalusia, although it’s likely you’ll find it all over Spain in the summertime. It’s made from blended tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, bread, olive oil and garlic. 

Gazpacho is a cold tomato soup. Photo: Ирина Кудрявцева / Pixabay

Paella de verduras

Ordering paella in Spain can be tricky for vegans and vegetarians because the most traditional either contain seafood or rabbit, chicken snails and butter beans, like the ones from Valencia. Many places, however, now offer a paella de verduras, featuring only vegetables. Restaurants will use whatever is in season, whether that’s artichokes, green beans, peppers, asparagus, mushrooms or courgettes. The only difficult part is that many places will only do paellas for two or more people, so you have to hope your companions are willing to eat the vegan version too. 

A vegetable paella is completely vegan. Photo: Corophoto / Pixabay
 

Berenjenas con miel

This simple tapas dish translates as aubergines with honey and is essentially deep-fried aubergines usually dipped in bread crumbs or battered and then drizzled with molasses or treacle which is actually miel de caña, not the type of honey from bees. Although you can find it in many places in Spain, it’s typically from Andalusia and is very popular in Granada and surrounding areas.

A plate of berenjenas con miel is always a veggie favourite. Photo: Esme Fox
 

Patatas a lo pobre

Poor man’s potatoes might not sound very appetising, but this dish of fried sliced potatoes with onions, peppers and garlic is actually delicious. Again you’ll find it mostly in Andalusia, particularly in the Alpujarras mountains, just south of Granada.

Try some patatas a lo pobre in the Alpujarras. Photo: pxhere

Pisto

Similar to the French ratatouille, pisto is a stew made from cubes of aubergines, onions, peppers, courgettes and tomatoes. It comes from the region of Castilla-La Mancha and is often served with a fried egg on top. To make it vegan, simply ask for it without the egg.

Pisto is similar to the French ratatouille but is often served with an egg. Photo: Arnaud 25 / WikiCommons
 

Ajo blanco

This white garlic soup is a tasty combination of almonds, garlic, olive oil, bread and white wine or sherry vinegar. It comes from the areas around Málaga and Cádiz and like gazpacho is served cold. It’s sometimes served topped with grapes too. 

Ajo blanco is often served with grapes. Photo: cyclonebill / WikiCommons

Croquetas de boletus, ceps or espinacas

Croquetas are a favourite tapas dish throughout the country, and while many of them are filled with jamón (ham) or even squid ink, there are several vegetarian varieties too. Unfortunately, they are not vegan because they’re made with bechamel sauce, which contains dairy. The bechamel is mixed with various flavours and then covered in breadcrumbs before being deep-fried. Vegetarian varieties come in varieties such as boletus or ceps (types of mushrooms), espinacas (spinach) or cabrales cheese – a blue cheese from Asturias. 

READ ALSO – MAP: How well do you know your Spanish cheeses?

Try croquetas filled with spinach, mushrooms or cheese. Photo: Ralf Gervink / Pixabay

Salmorejo

Salmorejo is a cold soup similar to gazpacho, but it’s much thicker and creamier. It’s typically made from just four main ingredients – tomatoes, bread, olive oil and garlic. You can find it all over Andalusia, but it’s actually from Córdoba. Often it’s topped with ham and boiled egg, so simply ask for it sin jamón y huevo for it to be vegan. 

Ask for your salmorejo sin jamón for it to be vegetarian. Photo:Javier Lastras / Wikimedia Commons

Tortilla de patatas

One of the two only non-vegan dishes on our list is the classic tortilla de patatas, which you can find all over Spain and is definitely a meal you can rely on if all else fails. It is of course made from eggs and potatoes, but Spain is very divided on whether you should add onions or not. The Local is firmly on the onion side! 

Do you like your tortilla with or without onion? Photo: Luis MGB / Pixabay
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