How coffee in Spain is different to coffee in other countries?
It is very easy to expect Spanish coffee culture to be the same as Portuguese or Italian coffee culture because they are all neighbors. However, this is simply not true, let’s see why…!
There is a colorful and varied array of coffee preparations, including countless regional preparations! Here are some of them:
Spanish coffee is usually bitter
An interesting thing that you should know about Spanish coffee is that it often has a bitter, burned aftertaste. This is because coffee in Spain was preserved adding sugar at the final stage of the roasting process. The late stages of roasting are typically the hottest and so, rather than adding sweetness, the sugar burns and coats the beans in a shiny, black film. This coating slows down oxidation, preserving the roasted coffee for longer. This process results in that burnt or bitter flavor you can often taste in Spanish coffee. This method became popular during the Spanish Civil War to better preserve the beans, and the tradition has since stuck.
What you should know about Spanish coffee culture
A typical coffee order in Spain might be anywhere from a café solo (which means single espresso) to a café con leche or coffee with milk. In the middle you’ll find coffee such as a cortado (espresso with a touch of milk) or a manchado (a cup of milk with a touch of espresso). If you think café solo is too small, you’ll have to ask for a Café doble (double espresso). If you find it too strong, ask for an Americano (Café Solo with more water added), and finally, if you think none of these is your type, but you still don’t want milk, try a Café Vienes or Suizo – café solo topped with whipped cream, or a Carajillo – the same café solo with brandy, whiskey or other spirit.
And there is more…
For those who don’t tolerate caffeine, you should ask for a descafeinado de maquina. Otherwise, you will get an instant coffee poured into a cup of hot milk. If you have a sweet tooth you can ask for a café bombón, which is made with equal parts espresso and condensed milk.
In the summer, you can order a café con hielo. You will get a cup of coffee and a glass filled with ice cubes. Add the sugar in your hot coffee, stir until melted, and then pour the cup over the glass of ice. Enjoy!
How people drink coffee in Spain
Spaniards prefer to begin the day with a café con leche and then have a café solo around 11 a.m., while most countries would do exactly the opposite. Locals drink their coffee at the café or bar, and if meeting with friends they are also more likely to sit outdoors in a terraza. It’s one of the simple pleasures of the day to be able to enjoy your delicious coffee and relax for a moment!
How coffee is served
Pop up in a Spanish bar mid-morning and you’re surrounded by a cosy, comforting atmosphere. Likewise, giant to-go cups are not common here so don’t expect to find them unless you are in a touristic place.
Coffee in Spain is brewed the espresso way. That means that the amount served is generally smaller and less watered down than in other countries; but often is a lot more stronger, and is usually served in small glasses or cups rather than in the kind of mugs used by Starbucks.
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 practice is for the milk to be almost boiling hot.
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 Torrefacto. Opt instead for natural if you want unadulterated coffee.
If you are a rum lover, you will definitely enjoy quemadillo, a combination of rum, coffee beans, milk, cinnamon and sugar. As with carajillo, we have another -illo ending. We use this ending when we want to add kindness and affection to a word, like the English little or wee.
I hope you enjoy your café, whichever way you’ll have it!
I’d like to end this post by asking you a question…
¿Cuál es tu café favorito?
What’s your favorite coffee?
Let me know in the comments below!