So, let’s start with the basics, the most common coffee that you can pick up in Spain and the one that most locals drink

I don’t know about you, but when I think of having a drink in Spain, I think about a nice refreshing caña (small beer) or an even more refreshing doble (bigger beer) and of course the copious amounts of excellent cheap wine which flows like water. At a stretch, I would also say I think of large copas (spirit mixers) and chupitos (shots). 

However, it is fair to say I do not associate Spain with warm beverages. Far from it!. But how wrong I was! For you see café (coffee) in Spain is just as important as any of the drinks mentioned above. So I thought to myself, maybe our students studying Spanish here at Hablamos Spanish Schools in Madrid need an inside look at the right mezcla (blend) of language to help navigate the varieties of coffee on offer in the cafeterías (cafes) and bars. 

So, let’s start with the basics, the most common coffee that you can pick up in Spain and the one that most locals drink. It was uniquely described by the former mayor of Madrid, Ana Botella, in Madrid’s Olympic bid as “a relaxing cup of café con leche (coffee with milk)” Café con leche is a staple of Spain life and by far the most popular choice all over the country. It is as simple as it sounds but you will be asked how you want your leche (milk), caliente (hot) or templada (warm). What you will get is a no-nonsense shot of espresso with some milk no foam, no chocolate on top, just the basics! Even in places like Starbucks where café con leche isn’t on the menu, you can go in and ask for it and everyone knows what it is. 

Cómo pedir un café

There are of course some variations on the basic café con leche. You are also able to order a café cortado (literally a cut coffee) which is the same but with far less milk. Think of an espresso with just a dash of milk. Not to be confused with a manchado (stained) which is milk with just a drop of café.

Of course, if you like a black watery coffee you can just ask for un Americano. It is typically a weaker option and maybe good if you are concerned about being up toda la noche (all night). Generally in Madrid, you can pick up other typical favourites like a Cappuccino or Latte with varying levels of quality. 

Another variation could be a descafeinado – a decaf. And this could also bring a question from the waiter (camarero)  of: “¿De máquina o de sobre?, meaning, a packet of Nescafé or coffee from the coffee pot. 

They may also ask how you would like your coffee to be served: ¿en vaso o taza? and what size: ¿en taza grande de desayuno o mediano? (in a biger breakfast style cup or a medium one). 

If you are feeling more adventurous and want something to cool off on a hot summer’s day, why not try ordering a typical Spanish café con hielo (coffee with ice), which is exactly as it is described. Usually, a double espresso is poured over ice to give your caffeine hit a cooler more refreshing appeal. You can even ask for a little milk in this too.

Finally, if you are looking for something a little stronger that might counteract the caffeine you could always try a carajillo (coffee with a shot of liquor). Depending on where you are, the type of liquor could vary. However, here in Spain, the typical thing to have with your coffee is brandy. That being said, you can also ask for a café irlandés (a coffee with whisky).

Much more than coffee

Coffee is ubiquitous in Spain – everybody drinks it, much more than the typical British tea. Spaniards don’t usually drink té negro as they call British tea. They may have una infusión – a herbal tea like camomila o menta poleo (mint tea) if they want a weaker drink or they have a bad stomach but their go-to drink is, without doubt, café. 

And the good thing about it is that it’s really a cheap option to order. An average café would cost you about 1,50 – 2€ and you can usually get a breakfast deal of café con leche con croisán o tostada for about 2,50/3€.  ¡Ganga! (bargain) as they say!

When you buy coffee at a supermarket, you will be faced with two choices – mezcla or natural. Mezcla coffee is quite popular in Spain, heaven knows why as I find it quite bitter and a poorer quality but there’s no accounting for taste! (Or as the Spanish say: Para gustos, colores.)  It is a mix of coffee and torrefacto (a method of roasting the coffee previously with added sugar, which makes it cheaper) The tradition of drinking this type of coffee began in the past when the typical Spaniard had less money and then they simply seemed to have acquired a taste for it. 

So whether you are here for a short course in Spanish or just on your holidays, asking for a coffee is essential and knowing what you want even more so. You may get a little overwhelmed with all the choices available, so read this carefully first and hopefully it will help you at the moment of ordering! Next time you are out with friends or your Hablamos classmates, why not try ordering something from here and be a little more Spanish with your order. ☺

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