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A Guide to Ordering Coffee in Spain Like You Know What You’re Doing

This blog post was originally posted on December 17, 2014, and was updated on September 4, 2020.

We don’t know what we’d do without our coffee, so we wouldn’t dream of sending you out in Madrid without a helpful rundown of the local java jargon.

Whether you like it black or with more milk than espresso, iced or piping hot—we’ve got you covered in our complete guide to ordering coffee in Spain!

RELATED: 5 Coffee Shops You Can’t Miss While in Madrid

Ordering coffee in Spain is sometimes more complicated than you'd expect! It pays to know what to say in order to get your coffee just how you like it, so we put together this infographic to help you know exactly how to order coffee in Spain.

Click to expand or embed this image on your site

Ordering Coffee in Spain: An Introduction

First, you should know the espresso brewing method is the most popular way to prepare coffee in Spain. This method forces extremely hot, pressurized water through finely ground coffee beans, resulting in a stronger flavor in a smaller amount of coffee. A cup of coffee brewed in this manner is often referred to as espresso.

Ordering coffee in Spain involves the barista taking a cup of espresso and then adding milk to your liking. They won’t add any sugar. Instead, you’ll receive packets of sugar to add to your coffee yourself.

Spanish coffee might taste more bitter than you’re used to, which can be attributed to the torrefacto method of preserving roasted coffee beans. The story of torrefacto is interesting, and linked to the Spanish Civil War.

If you’re looking for non-torrefacto coffee in Madrid, you should head to a specialty coffee shop. If you just want a regular cup of joe, you can get one in most every bar and restaurant.

Sounds simple enough, right? Well, there’s a little more to it, which is why we’ve created this trusty guide for ordering coffee in Spain. Continue reading (or watch Madrid expert Luke break things down in the video below). Before you know it, you’ll be sipping the perfect coffee in Madrid!

Ordering Coffee in Spain

Coffees Served with Little or No Milk

Café Solo
A café solo is a small cup of strong, black espresso.

Café Americano
If the intensity of a café solo is a bit much, try a café americano. This coffee contains the same amount of caffeine as a café solo but with more water, resulting in a milder flavor.

Café Cortado
A café cortado is a small cup of espresso with just a splash of milk. The Spanish word cortado means “cut,” so think of it as coffee cut with a small amount of milk.

Café con Hielo
This summertime favorite is simply coffee with ice. The barista will give you two glasses: one containing black espresso and another containing ice cubes. To enjoy, add sugar to your liking, stir to dissolve the sugar in the hot coffee, and pour your coffee over the ice. It’s a feat of physics if you can get all the coffee into the other glass without spilling any!

This coffee order doesn’t have a drop of milk—instead, it has alcohol! A carajillo is espresso served with rum, whisky or brandy.

Espresso coffee, known as cafe solo in Spain
Café solo is the perfect way to start your day.

Coffees Served with a Lot of Milk

Café con Leche
A café con leche is coffee served with equal parts espresso and milk. Sometimes when you order this, the waiter may ask if you want hot or cold milk. If you’re in a bit of a hurry and can’t wait for the steamed milk to cool, you can ask for leche fría o leche templada (cold or lukewarm milk). More on that below!


Literally translating to “stained,” a manchada consists of mainly warm milk “stained” with a splash of coffee.

Café Bombón
A café bombón is espresso with sweetened condensed milk. If you have a sweet tooth, you have to try it!

Drinking cafe con leche and eating churros and chocolate
Café con leche consists of equal parts milk and coffee for a milder taste that still delivers on the caffeine front.

Decaffeinated Coffees

Fresh decaffeinated coffee isn’t very popular in Spain, and many cafes may only have it in instant form. If you order a café descafeinado de sobre, you’ll receive a cup of hot milk and a packet of instant decaffeinated coffee.

However, some cafes offer descafeinado de máquina (machine-brewed decaffeinated coffee). If it’s available, decide how you would like your coffee served, and be sure to clarify that you want it prepared with decaffeinated coffee.

For example, if you want a decaffeinated café americano, simply say: Quiero un café americano descafeinado.

Other Spanish Coffee Vocab

In some parts of Spain, including Madrid, the barista or waiter will often ask you how you’d like the milk in your coffee. Your decision will affect the temperature of your coffee when it’s served to you, so decide based on whether you like a scalding cup, a cool one, or something in between! Here are your options:

Caliente: Hot, steamed milk

Fría: Cold milk

Templada: A mix of hot and cold milk

If you have a preference on the vessel you’d like to drink your coffee out of, you can also specify:

Taza: A mug with a handle

Vaso: A little glass with no handle

Enjoy Coffee the Spanish Way

Now that you’ve got ordering coffee in Spain down, the last thing to note is that the traditional way to drink coffee here is not on the go. Do as the Spaniards do: drink your coffee in a beautiful public square or a quaint café, using the time to catch up with friends and family. You can use the opportunity as a short respite from exploring Madrid!

If you’re on the go, Madrid’s specialty coffee shops will be happy to send you on your way with your delicious cup of Spanish coffee. Normal bars and restaurants haven’t always offered to-go options, though this has started to change during the 2020 pandemic to aid social distancing and avoid overcrowding in cafes.

SEE ALSO: Spain for Everyone: The Coffee Lover’s Guide to Spain

Our last tip about ordering coffee in Spain is that it's best to take it slowly and enjoy the coffee in the café or coffee shop where you ordered it.
You can enjoy your coffee while relaxing, or while on the go.
If you're coming to Spain, you're going to need your caffeine fix. But do you know all the necessary vocab—and all the different kinds of coffee in Spain? Take a look at our guide and ordering coffee while in Madrid or elsewhere will be a breeze! #coffee #firstmealoftheday #breakfast #travel #spain #europe

Want to learn even more secrets of Spanish food and culture? Check out our lineup of online food and wine experiences and bring Spain into your kitchen! 

49 Responses

    1. Hi Sam! Thanks for the question! We’d say a cafe cortado is going to be the best fit! It might have less foam, but the milk-to-espresso ratio is the most similar!

  1. Hey! I would more useful in you added how to say hot and cold in Spanish. Especially here:

    Sometimes when you order this, the waiter may ask if you want hot or cold milk.

    Many thanks! 🙂

    1. Hi Kirill! Thanks for your suggestion! The word for cold in this case would be fría, and the word for hot would be caliente! Hope that helps!

  2. Great article! I know what I like and now I know how to ask for it.

    Another unusual feature of coffee in Spain is their habit of adding sugar to the beans while roasting (Torrefacción). If you search online you’ll find articles complaining about how it ruins the coffee, but other people (including me) rather like it. Apparently the practice is routine in Spain and Portugal, but not even legal elsewhere in the EU.

    This is the reason for the words ‘Torrefacto’, ‘Natural’ and ‘Mezcla’ on bags of coffee beans in Spain.

    1. So true, Richard, and such an interesting bit of Spanish history that affects how we drink our coffee today. Those who don’t like the bitter torrefacto taste will have to head to specialty coffee shops.

  3. Hola team.

    We are opening a cafe in brisbane and were just talking about spanish style coffee.


    1. Let me know where you are opening in Brisbane. My Dutch daughter in law has specialised making and serving coffee for years and her employers’ just closed due to re-development. At the least she’d love to try yours!

  4. Nice post … How would you describe a strong, black coffee with nothing added? Maybe bitter, but not too bitter.

    1. Café solo is coffee with nothing added! The bitterness will depend on the beans and how they are preserved and roasted. Spanish coffee is often bitter due to the torrefacto method of preserving beans that we mentioned.

  5. How do you order a double espresso in Spanish? Everytime I try to order an espresso doble, or cade doble, and then I recieve a ristretto

    1. Hmmm that’s very strange! Un café doble should do the trick. There might be some confusion with the espresso doble, so maybe avoid that one.

  6. Hola! My Mother is Madrileña & I Grew Up Spending Time With Family All Over Spain & Europe. As Children, We’re Given Leche Manchada & “Graduate” To Café Con Leche. Early On, We Develop A Love Affair With Café lol. My Fave Is & Will Always Be Café Cortado But When I’m Feening For A Rich Espresso, My Go To Is A Simple, Sweet, Dark Café Solo. Olé

  7. Hello! Carajillo is made with Licor 43 as opposed to brandy and whiskey. It is a sweet liquer often used as a digestif.

    1. Hi Jorge! Like most things in Spain, this probably varies by region. Wikipedia suggests that Licor 43 is popular in carajillos in Cartagena. Thanks for your comment!

  8. Hello – we have guests coming to our corporate office from spain and we were told they like brown sugar in their espresso. Is this raw cane sugar or actually brown sugar?

    1. Hi Sara! Raw cane sugar. “Real” brown sugar like we use to bake with in the US is actually pretty hard to find in Spain.

    1. Hey Randa! At specialty cafes you can order a flat white, and at normal bars a café con leche is the closest.

  9. Some say taste is relative but torrefacto coffee is horrendous. It tastes like yesterdays wine steeped with cigarette butts. The claim that it is conservation method is rubbish. In Spain, it is still used to mask the taste of the low quality robusta coffees used and as an excuse to add 20%+ weight in sugar to increase profits at the expense of consumers. There is a reason this practice is banned in some coutries: it’s a scam.

  10. I’m going to Madrid soon and I think I’ll fit in pretty well because I don’t like sweetness in my coffee anyway! In most cafes are all drinks based on espresso or is it easy to find drip coffee too?

    1. Hi Alice! Most traditional cafes in Spain serve mainly espresso-based drinks, but some specialty coffee shops do serve drip coffee. You can find V60 drip at Hola Coffee and Toma Café (both of which roast their own), as well as The Fix, Ruda Cafe and ACID. We hope this helps—enjoy Madrid!

    1. Hi Brendan—most traditional cafes here in Spain serve coffee in smaller portions than in other countries. However, some specialty cafes do serve larger amounts. Unfortunately, most cafes generally don’t serve varying sizes, unless it’s a chain. We hope this helps!

    1. Hi there! While to-go coffee isn’t available at all cafes in Spain, you can ask for “café para llevar.” Some places may be able to accommodate you by pouring it into a disposable cup. We hope this helps—happy traveling!

  11. In New Zealand a ‘Long Black’ coffee is a shot of hot water then a shot of espresso – in that order. Is such a thing possible in Spain?

  12. What a wonderful post! Thank you! Heading for Spain at the end of summer and this will be a great help. Now, what about tea? (For my husband)

    1. Thanks for reading, Margaret—we’re glad to hear you found the post helpful! Many cafes will have a tea menu, which you can ask for by saying, “Hay carta de tés e infusiones?” If they don’t have one, many cafés will at least have black tea (té negro), green tea (té verde), red tea (té rojo), and chamomile (manzanilla). You can see some of our recommendations for tea rooms in Madrid here (these places will have a wider selection):

  13. I prefer a manchado. I believe this is a ‘stain’ of coffee. Mostly lots of lovely steamed skimmed milk. Spanish coffee, for me, is very strong and only for mornings but a manchado is ok for an afternoon hot beverage.

    1. You’re right, Chris—”manchado” literally means “stained” in Spanish! Coffee here in Spain can definitely take some getting used to, but we like the way you think—a manchado is perfect for something lighter in the afternoon, especially if you don’t want to drink as much caffeine later in the day.

    1. Good question, Cate—not all traditional cafes will serve cappuccinos, but they’re becoming more common throughout Spain. Just ask for “un capuchino, por favor”!

  14. I believe this is a ‘stain’ of coffee. Mostly lots of lovely steamed skimmed milk. Spanish coffee, for me, is very strong and only for mornings but a manchado is ok for an afternoon hot beverage.

    1. Correct! “Manchada” literally means “stained” because the milk is “stained” with a splash of coffee—and it is a perfect low-caffeine option for the afternoon!

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