Ordering Coffee in Spain
Ordering coffee in Spain can be a complicated thing. Forget ordering a “coffee” like you might in some countries, in Spain you have to know some basics.
*Note: when I first arrived I would ask for the standard and safe “Café con leche”. I’ve since gotten more adventurous with my coffee-ordering, I’ll sometimes throw in a “Café Cortado” if I want something a bit stronger or a “Carajillo” if I want something that packs some alcoholic punch. Knowing the various options gives you more variety!
The below covers the main types of coffee you’ll order in Spain. Get to know them… and just know that you can have fun with them and throw in some variables if you want to confuse your waiter.
The basics of ordering coffee in Spain
The most popular way of preparing coffee in Spain is with an Espresso machine. Almost all bars and restaurants in Spain have one and there will be a barista or waitress working the machine and producing your cup of coffee.
The “Café solo” is the starting point for almost all coffees. In most countries they call it an “Espresso” and I’m sure if you call it as such in Spain they’ll understand perfectly what you want (I’ve never tried it. The usual term is “Café solo”)
From there it’s all about what you want in your coffee and the proportions of the additions.
Note that they’ll never put sugar in your coffee in Spain. You’ll usually always get a couple of sachets of sugar on the side of your cup so that you can add the amount that you want to your cup.
Coffees with no milk
The first row above shows you the most common coffees with no milk.
Café solo. As described above.
Café Americano. If a “café solo” is too strong for you, you might want an Americano which is a solo plus more water. It’s in effect just a diluted solo.
Café con hielo. Spaniards like to add ice cubes to their coffee in the summer. When ordering a Café con hielo you’ll receive 2 cups: one being a Café solo, the other being a cup containing ice cubes. You’ll usually add sugar to the cup of coffee and then pour the coffee/sugar into the cup containing the ice cubes. You can of course just take the number of ice cubes you want from the cup of ice cubes and put those in the coffee cup…in the end it doesn’t really matter.
Carajillo. You’ll see this coffee on the last row. It’s a Café solo with alcohol, usually rum, whiskey or brandy.
Coffees with milk
Café Cortado. This is a café solo with just a splash of milk. “Cortado” means cut, so it’s a coffee “cut” with a bit of milk.
Café con Leche. A coffee with equal parts (50/50) coffee and water.
Manchado, also called Leche Manchada. “Manchada” means stained, so in the case of this coffee it is warm milk “stained” with a bit of coffee.
Café bombón. This is a café solo mixed with sweetened condensed milk instead of regular milk. A good option if you want something sweet.
You won’t always find decaffeinated options at your local restaurant or café. If they do, make sure it’s descafeinado de máquina (machine-brewed decaf coffee) and not decaffeinated instant coffee (often referred to as descafeinado de sobre).
If they do have that, you basically have all the options summarized above: you can have a Café solo descafeinado, a Café Cortado descafeinado etc etc…
If you have milk in your coffee, you’ll often be given the choice of having it heated. You can have cold milk added to your coffee (frio), hot (caliente), or a mix of the two (templada).
You can have different sized cups, for example if ordering a Café solo, you might want it served as a Café corto (about 15 mm) or as a Café largo (40 to 50 mm). The dose of coffee is the same but it is stretched out making it more diluted. Or, if you need to wake up, you can order a Café doble which is a double shot of a Café solo (about 30 mm of strong espresso).
Don’t forget you can play with options:
You can order a “Carajillo descafeinado” for example if you don’t want the caffeine but want the alcohol…
If you want to give your server a headache, how about a “Cortado descafeinado corto de café, con leche templada descremada” – a decaffeinated cortado served in a concentrated small cup, with mixed hot/cold skim milk.
You can also often order international classics like Cappuccino, Café vienés (Vienna coffee which is whipped cream instead of foamed milk) and Café irlandés (Irish Coffee with coffee, whiskey, and cream).