Coffee in Spain: How to Order and What to Try
Written by Nadia
When ordering coffee in Spain, there are a few key things to keep in mind.
Coffee types in Spain
First and foremost, you will need to know the different types of Spanish coffees available – café con leche (coffee with milk), café cortado (espresso diluted with a small amount of warm milk, somewhere between espresso and latte, though not quite either one), café solo (espresso), or café con hielo (espresso with a couple of large cubes of ice).
It is also important to note that when ordering any coffee in Spain, they typically serve it for drinking at the counter or the table. It is rare when they do it for taking away, like most places around the world.
How to order a coffee in Spain
Once you’ve decided which type of Spanish coffee you’d like, approach one of the baristas behind the bar (or wait at the table) and order your drink using its traditional name:
- Un café con leche, por favor
[oon kah-feh kohn leh-cheh, por fah-vohr]
- Un cortado, por favor
[oon kohr-tadoh, por fah-vohr]
- Un café solo, por favor
[oon kah-feh soh-loh, por fah-vohr]
- Un café con hielo, por favor
[oon kah-feh kohn ee-eh-loh, por fah-vohr]
If you want it to go, add “para llevar”
They also might ask about the sugar, with the question, “Sacarina? Azucar? Blanco o Moreno?” (Do you want sweetener or sugar? White or brown?)
You can add sugar if desired by saying, “Con azucar”. And sometimes they will not ask you about the sugar as many Spanish people prefer black coffee.
Helpful tips on Spanish coffee culture
- Don’t hesitate to approach the bar and ask for the coffee! Many Spanish cafés struggle with high taxes, so fewer people work, and the service is slower than you may expect.
- They sometimes can mess up with serving the correct type of coffee: I had several occasions when they brought coffee with mil instead of americano. So, feel free to ask for the proper coffee.
- They don’t have a wide variety of coffee (assuming you walk into the traditional bar or restaurant), as they are very conservative in Spain.
- Tipping for coffee is not customary.
- Try carajillo (coffee made with rum) or café bombon (sweetened condensed milk added to strong black espresso). The first is usually very strong, and the second is very sweet.
- If you are having coffee, breakfast, or whatever at the table – you can sit there as long as you want, even if you have finished with the food or drinks. In Spain, they will not ask you to free the table and will not hint that it’s time for you to order something else.
- Moreover, it is you who will have to ask for the check (“La cuenta, por favor!”). As long as you don’t ask for it, you can sit at the table.
- The Spanish people have a coffee break in the mid-morning as it is an integral part of Spanish culture. The morning coffee ritual serves as an important moment to relax and take a breather before they go back to their daily work. Even workers of public institutions have this custom of drinking coffee mid-morning!
The taste of Spanish coffee
It is a bit problematic – I found coffee in Spain is mediocre at best. I am accustomed to good coffee and rarely have a delightful taste of it in Spain.
In Spanish cafés, coffee tends to be less-than-optimal because it often includes a combination of roasted and sugared beans, which results in an unpleasant burnt caramel flavor.
I even have a friend who gave away drinking coffee in Spanish coffee shops, bought the necessary equipment to make it at home, and attended barista courses. Now, he is a “coffee rock star” in his district.
At the moment of writing the article, I live in Valencia, Spain. I can barely count decent coffee shops on the fingers of one hand:
However, many people believe that Spanish coffee is quite good, thick and flavorful without tasting that much burnt or bitter compared to the United States.
So, if you know some good coffee spots in Spain, please let me know in the comments below. I also appreciate suggestions for coffee shops in Madrid, Barcelona, or any other city 😉