Puzzled by what to order and how to order it when you want coffee in Spain? This guide should help you get the coffee you’re craving!
In Spain, it’s very common to order coffee at bars and restaurants at all hours of the day. Coffee isn’t just for breakfast but can be ordered as a snack between meals or as a dessert after meals.
When visiting Spain, you might feel a bit intimidated about what to order and how to order it. So, today, I’ll be focusing on the main types of coffee that you’ll commonly find in all bars and restaurants. I’ll also explain how you can customize your coffee to suit your taste.
Coffee in Spain is generally made in an espresso-type coffee machine, at least in most bars and restaurants. At home, people may have an espresso machine, a French press, or a coffee maker made on the stove (sometimes called a moka coffee maker or an Italian coffee maker).
Sugar or sweetener?
When ordering coffee, while you should order it with milk if you prefer it that way (see the various options below), there’s no need to ask for sugar. Sugar and other sweeteners are usually provided in packages in a small container that’s brought out with the coffee. You can choose whichever one you prefer and add as much as needed.
In some bars and restaurants, they’ll bring out your coffee with a package of your preferred sweetener on the saucer instead. When you place your order, they’ll generally ask you “¿Azúcar o edulcorante?” meaning “sugar or artificial sweetener?”
Sometimes they’ll say “sacarina” instead of edulcorante. While they may call it sacarina (or saccharine), it’s generally a mix of saccharine and cyclamate, sometimes with other added sweeteners.
Sometimes, they’ll also give you a cookie with your coffee. (Just like they did in the photo above.)
If you want your coffee decaffeinated, ask for your preferred coffee type below followed by “descafeinado.” So, for example, if you want a decaffeinated “American coffee,” ask for a café americano descafeinado.
Most bars and restaurants should have the option to make your decaf from ground decaffeinated coffee beans, but don’t assume that you’ll always get a freshly brewed decaf coffee.
¿De sobre o de máquina?
These days, if you order a decaf, it’s likely you’ll be asked, “De sobre o de máquina?”
Years ago, it wasn’t as common to find ground decaffeinated coffee beans here for making decaf in the coffee maker. So, instead, bars and restaurants would automatically give you a package (sobre) of instant decaf coffee if you asked for decaf.
These days, most bars and restaurants will have both options available. If you ask for a decaf “de sobre,” you’ll be given warm water or milk with a package of instant coffee. Inside the package of instant coffee, you’ll find granules that you can add to your coffee or milk. Just stir them in to dissolve them into your liquid of choice.
If you ask for a decaf “de máquina,” you’ll get a decaf coffee brewed in a coffee machine that looks just like regular coffee.
If you’d prefer a cooler coffee, perfect for those hot summer days, you can ask for your coffee “con hielo” (with ice).
In the Valencian Community, it’s more common to ask for your coffee “del tiempo” instead. (Café del tiempo is also often accompanied by some lemon zest.)
In either case, they will serve your coffee accompanied by a separate glass with ice in it. After you add your desired sweetener and stir everything together, carefully pour the warm coffee into the glass of ice and stir it all together to get a delicious iced coffee.
At ice cream parlors and certain other restaurants and bars in the summer months, you may find “café granizado” as an optión. Café granizado is pre-made, pre-sweetened coffee slush. In the Valencian Community, it’s often served with horchata and called a blanco y negro.
Now that you know how to customize the different types of coffee somewhat, here is a list of the main types of coffee that you should be able to find at just about any Spanish bar or restaurant.
Literally translated as “American coffee,” don’t expect this to be what you’re used to getting in most American restaurants. Spanish coffee is generally made in an espresso-type machine and not a filtered type coffee maker. So, it’s more concentrated than what you’d normally be served in an American restaurant for breakfast (with free refills).
The café Americano is made by diluting the “normal” Spanish espresso-like coffee with added water. The resulting coffee is a taller, less concentrated drink. It’s normally served in a mug that is larger than the one used for other common coffees here. A typical ratio consists of 40% espresso and 60% hot water.
Café solo is just black coffee. It’s closest to what you’d think of as an espresso, basically just a shot of Spanish coffee without any milk or other additives. The amount of coffee you’re served can vary a lot from place to place. If you want something closer to a double espresso, you can try asking for a “café solo largo” or a “café solo doble”. As it isn’t commonly asked for, results may vary from restaurant to restaurant! 😉
If you want an especially small, concentrated coffee, ask for a café solo corto (not to be confused with a café cortado).
Café con leche
Café con leche is made by adding warm milk to a shot of black coffee. Most places will serve it with a similar amount milk and coffee, but it could vary by restaurant and cup used (usually a ceramic or porcelain cup with a handle). For café con leche and café cortado, the milk is generally steam-warmed using the vapor frother of the coffee machine. While it will normally have some milk foam on top, it’s generally not as frothy as a cappuccino.
If you’d like more milk than the standard amount, ask for a “Café con leche largo de leche”. If you would prefer the milk on the shorter side, ask for it to be “corto de leche” instead. (You can also increase or decrease the amount of coffee in the same way: corto de café or largo de café.)
Café cortado is similar to the café con leche, but it uses less milk. It’s made by adding a touch of warm, steamed milk to a shot of black coffee. It’s normally served in a small (around 60ml) glass (not a porcelain cup with a handle). The amount of added milk can vary from place to place. It’s similar to a macchiato, but usually has a bit less foam.
In Catalunya and the Valencian Community, it’s also known as a tallat.
Café con leche condensada (Bombón)
If you like your coffee sweet, perhaps you’d enjoy your coffee with some sweetened condensed milk. Here in the Valencian community, coffee served with a bit of sweetened condensed milk is called a bombón.
Not understanding the regional differences, my husband asked for a “bombón del tiempo” at a restaurant in Andalusia. He was surprised to see how much sweetened condensed milk they added in comparison to the Valencian Community. They did understand the “del tiempo” part, though, and served it with a glass of ice.
My cousin told us that in Andalusia, a bombón is made with almost equal parts of sweetened condensed milk and coffee. If you’d prefer less condensed milk, ask for café con leche condensada instead. It’s also probably best to order it “con hielo” instead of “del tiempo” outside of the Valencian Community and Catalunya. (I’m guessing that the Balearic islands use similar terminology to Valencia and Catalunya.)
Un quemadillo (cremaet)
The quemadillo, also known as cremaet in the Valencian Community and Catalunya, can vary slightly by region. It’s a sweet, warm, coffee cocktail made by spiking plain coffee with a sweet flambé of alcohol and sugar.
To make the cremaet, sugar, citrus zest, cinnamon, and coffee beans are added to rum or brandy. The mixture is then lit on fire and allowed to cook until some of the alcohol has burned off. The flambé is then added to the bottom of a (generally clear) coffee glass. Then, the coffee is layered over it.
Just like with the carajillo, you can normally request the alcohol type you prefer. Keep in mind, though, that a high proof alcohol must be used so that it can be lit on fire easily.
The carajillo is a type of spiked coffee made by adding a liqueur to coffee. If you don’t specify your alcohol of choice, it’s generally made with brandy. You can, however, specify what you want. My husband’s favorite is a carajillo de Tía María. (Tía María is a coffee liqueur similar to Kahlúa. It adds just the right amount of sweetness to a dessert coffee!)
One waiter once told us that a carajillo technically should have almost equal parts of alcohol and coffee. If you just want a dash of alcohol, you should ask for a café tocado (or tocaet in Valencia and Catalunya) instead. In our experience, though, most places will serve the coffee with the same amount of alcohol no matter how you order it.
Try ordering the following:
carajillo de ron (with rum)
carajillo de whiskey
carajillo de Tía María (coffee liqueur)
Specialty (international) coffees
Over the years, many bars and restaurants have added new coffee styles to their menus including coffees that are popular in other parts of the world.
A cappuccino is similar to a café con leche but with more milk froth. Some bars have both options on their menu. (The Cappuccino is usually more expensive for some reason. It’s sometimes served in a slightly bigger and fancier mug to make room for the extra foam.)
Café Irlandes (Irish coffee)
Café Irlandes can often be found on the dessert menus of restaurants here in Spain. It’s another type of spiked coffee that includes espresso, Irish whiskey, and sugar. It’s then topped with whipped cream.