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How to order a coffee in any Spanish region
Thursday, October 7, 2021 @ 7:39 PM

PRACTICALLY every expat or regular visitor can remember their first words in Spanish. They may not be the first you were taught, or learned from a self-teaching course pack, but the ones that most stuck in your head, or the first sentence you were able to pronounce without hesitating.

There's more to coffee than coffee - and most of Spain's regions have their own types, and their own vocabulary (photo: Pinterest)

Often, it would have been something completely pointless – no doubt at least one vegetarian will tell you their first words were, Una hamburguesa, por favor ('A hamburger, please'), or a person who never drives, ¿Se puede aparcar aquí? ('Can you park here?')

Most will remember, forever, a minimum of one occasion where their mispronunciation or incorrect vocabulary raised a laugh and left them red-faced, but that's good: Whenever anyone starts to learn a language, their biggest fear is making themselves look silly, but given that absolutely everyone who is fluent in a non-native tongue has, indeed, made themselves look silly in the past, you can reassure those new to it, and tell them it will always be a quirky anecdote they can dine out on later and, for that reason, they should be grateful for the opportunity of creating them for another day in the future.

In practice, most expats will probably say their first words in Spanish were much more run-of-the-mill. Me llamo X, being one ('My name is X', or literally, 'I call myself X') or Vivo en [insert location], to reveal where they live. Quite often, the first time you spoke in public would be when you order a drink from a café to chill out after the journey to Spain: Una cerveza, por favor ('A beer, please'), or a café con leche ('coffee with milk').

Later, you might have found out there were other types of coffee you preferred, such as a café solo (similar to an espresso), a cortado (like a macchiato, or short cup half-and-half very strong filter coffee and steamed milk).

But one thing most of us would agree on is that, however alien the language once sounded to you, there was a time when all of us were confident that, if nothing else, and even if we never drink it, we were capable of ordering a coffee in Spain.

Until we started travelling around the country and realising we probably couldn't. 

Who knew that a café bombón (short cup with half filter coffee and half condensed milk) would be a café biberón in Catalunya? What do you say when you're in the Comunidad Valenciana and they ask you if you want it del tiempo

For info, that one is a coffee like any other, the one you've just ordered, but with a glass full of ice on the side. Pour your drink into it, and your caffeine fix becomes a summer refresher.

Or you can just say, , and take the glass of ice and then use it for the bottle of water in your handbag.


In this southern coastal region, where a caña (half-pint or third-of-a-litre glass of beer) is actually a tubo (because it tends to come in a tube-shaped glass), and where some bars still, even today, give you a free tapa or saucer-sized snack with your drink – usually unsolicited, making it twice as welcome – the coffee vocabulary culture has evolved to such an extend it needs its own dictionary.

For example, if you request a café con leche, you'll probably be asked, “¿Un mitad?” ('A half?')

This is particularly the case in the province of Málaga, and is considered logical there, since a café con leche is typically half a cup of filter coffee and half a cup of steamed milk.

This picture by Café Central, of one of its most-photographed display pieces, gives you full instructions for ordering coffee if you're in Málaga

Here, also, it's common to specify the exact dimensions of the café con leche – largo means lots of coffee and not much milk, manchado means very little coffee with lots of milk (it means the same as macchiato in Italian, or 'stained', but is the opposite way around: Here, you're asking for the milk to be 'stained' with coffee), or corto, where the coffee-milk balance leans more towards the the latter than the former.

This works elsewhere in the country, too – corto de café or largo de café means, as you'd expect, 'short on the coffee' or 'long on the coffee'.

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Like 4


tonyl said:
Saturday, October 9, 2021 @ 10:02 AM

Here in Murcia, a café manchado is a coffee made with condensed milk. My wife used to work with a Spaniard from Alicante, only 80 miles away, and he used to call the same thing 'un café condensada'. (I'm fairly sure it was condensada, presumably referring to the milk, rather than condensado.)

dontknow said:
Saturday, October 9, 2021 @ 3:12 PM

I love different languages. My preference with coffee is black filter coffee. In Spain, France and Italy, one would ask for an americano. Also, if you ask in these countries for an americano sin leche/sans lait/senza latte, you will be told that an americano is always black and never served with milk. Whilst, in the UK, when you ask for an americano, you will often be asked if you want milk with it. Ain’t language grand! Thanks for this intersting blog,

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