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I Wonder Why...?

I will be writing about aspects of Spanish history and their traditions. I am a very curious person and have always needed to know "why" they do it, and "how" it came about. So over the years while living in Spain I have made a conscious effort to discover "el porque de las cosas" and I will be sharing them with you. I hope you find it as fascinating as I do.

Coffee in Spain - How do you like yours?
16 May 2019 @ 21:06

One of Spain’s greatest pleasures is sitting outside and enjoying a relaxing cup of coffee. Coffee plays an important role in many countries and Spain is not different with a very strong coffee culture. The weather all year round makes for an enjoyable coffee sitting out under a clear blue sky soaking up the sun even on a chilly winter day. However, customs as always have been engrained on how and when coffee is enjoyed. For example, it is unthinkable for a Spaniard to order a café con leche after a meal, that is reserved for breakfast or maybe the "merienda" – the afternoon snack. After a meal, it would be a ‘Cortado’ or a ‘Bombón’ or a ‘café solo’ or a "Cortado tocado de Baileys" or a Carajillo if you prefer something a little stronger.

As you can see the options are endless and whichever region you go to they will have a name for a certain type of coffee. For those coming to Spain for the first time, this can get a little confusing as the options are endless. It all comes down to offering the customer the opportunity to enjoy a coffee as they like it, allowing them to personalise their coffee as they wish. This can get extremely confusing for a waiter who is not experienced, as a simple table of 4 can become a real tongue twister when repeating the order. In the summer it is common to hear: 

I want a ‘Cortado del tiempo, Descafeinado de máquina, corto de café y tocado de Bailey’s con la leche muy caliente en vaso de cristal’ 

And that’s just one order, multiply it by 4 and ask the guy to repeat the order without taking note and it requires a little practice, especially if everyone has their own way of ordering coffee. But that’s the beauty of Spain, don’t be afraid to ask for it the way you want it. In some places like Málaga they have established a system of 9 variations for the combination of coffee and milk, originally designed to avoid wasting coffee in times of need when coffee was very expensive such as after the civil war; some like it stronger and some prefer it weaker, but who would have thought that you would need to establish nine variations to content the customers, have in mind that we are talking about a small glass here of about 120ml so there isn’t much room for error. Throughout my time in Spain I have come across many different ways of having a coffee and I thought I would pull together all the ones I can remember, I am sure there are many missing from the list but maybe you can help to add to the list by kindly leaving a comment at the end of the post. So here goes, the first list are established names, some particular to a region and the second list are the different ways to personalise how you coffee is served :

1.    Café Solo: Same as an espresso
2.    Café Americano:  Half a glass of coffee and then topped up with hot water
3.    Café con Leche:  Standard white coffee normally 50/50 coffee and milk. Normally for breakfast/mornings. Served in a cup.
4.    Café con leche corto de café: White coffee with slightly less coffee in it 30/70   coffee and milk. 
5.    Café Cortado: Coffee with milk served in a small glass, normally for after meals. 50/50 Coffee and milk

In Málaga and areas in the region, these are the 9 variations established originally by the bar Café Central -



6.    Café Bombón/Biberó/Goloso: Served in a small glass. Condensed milk is poured into the bottom of the glass and the coffee is added on top. Same glass as a Cortado. You mix it with the spoon.

7.    Carajillo / Café Brulé: Coffee with a dash of Brandy – the proper version of this involves heating up the brandy with a lemon zest and 4 coffee beans, it is then passed through a small sieve and added to the black coffee.

8.    Asiático: Typical in Cartagena and other areas of Murcia. It is a black coffee with Condensed milk, Brandy, Licor 43 and cinnamon.
9.    Belmonte/ Trifásico: Black coffee with condensed milk and Brandy
10.  Barraquito: Popular in the Canary Islands. It has Coffee, milk, and condensed milk. It can also include, cinnamon, lemon and liquors.
11.    Manchado: in Murcia this is a Bombón with less coffee.
12.    Suau: A Catalan summer drink – Coffee, Soda, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. Served with ice.
13.    Café Granizado – Iced coffee with crushed ice in a slush drunk with a straw



Personalising your coffee:

Del tiempo ó con hielo: served with a glass of ice to pour the coffee into and drink it cold.
Descafeinado de máquina: Coffee machine decaffeinated 
Descafeinado de sobre: Nescafé in a sachet.
Tocado de ………… – add any liquor/spirit such as Bailey’s or whisky
Temperatura del leche – leche caliente / leche natural
Corto de Café – Just over a half measure of coffee.
En vaso (de cristal) – served in a glass
En taza -  served in a cup

So you can see how easy it is to order a : 

‘Cortado del tiempo, Descafeinado de máquina, corto de café y tocado de Bailey’s con la leche muy caliente, en vaso de cristal, por favor’ !

How do you like yours?



Like 2


nancybenn said:
18 May 2019 @ 08:44

Gracias! Most useful

watchmanager said:
18 May 2019 @ 10:25

Una café, con un poco leche por favor.
Seems to work for me - a coffee with a little milk please!
Or - Americano con un poco leche .

Jen said:
18 May 2019 @ 10:40

Usually I have cafe solo or americano....unless I know it's likely to be very strong - in which case "con un poco leche". In summer it'll be solo/americano con hielo....very refreshing!

I like the Malaga coffee guide!!

migueldelnorte said:
18 May 2019 @ 18:04

A very interesting article, Thomas and something I've also found fascinating over many years. As you say, the names can vary from region to region. In Malaga, many years ago, Cafes Santa Cristina popularised the chart you illustrate and indeed attributed it to D. José Prado of the Cafe Central. But away from Málaga, the names may be completely different.
For example, If you like your coffee black but not too strong, ordering a Cafe Americano is often not understood. "Un cafe solo, largo de agua" - black coffee with lots of water (or even adding "hasta arriba - up to the top" to make sure) will always get you want you want.
A cafe cortado should be much stronger than a cafe con leche, as it literally means the coffee is "cut" with the milk. Also, in much of Spain, a cafe manchado is even stronger than a cortado, being cafe solo "stained" with milk; Black and a dash, we used to call it in UK. Leche manchado however is a very little coffee in milk, also called a Lágrima especially among South Americans.
Something else to bear in mind of course is that generally the Spanish taste is for strong coffee. So an English style cafe con leche would be more like a Sombra. 50/50 coffee/milk or Mitad is normally found to be too strong.
Another coffee for the list, even if it is an import, must be the Irish Coffee, cafe irlandés, well known over most of Spain. Then there is the Capuchino, the really frothy coffee with cocoa or cinnamon on top, Cafe Moca, with chocolate powder or syrup on top, Cafe Vienés, with whipped cream instead of milk, and Cafe árabe, black with ground cinnamon.
In the Balearics and Valencia region, a carajillo is known as a rebentat and in Catalonia as a cigaló, while a cortado is called as Ebaki in the north of Spain.

However, no matter what name you give it, the coffee machine and its operator can make the difference between a good and a bad cup of coffee, so it pays to check out all the bars where you live to find your perfect cup!

Alec Morrow said:
13 March 2020 @ 23:30

No mention of a carajillo?

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