Who among us can’t start the day without coffee? We sure can’t, so we wouldn’t dream of sending you out in Madrid without a helpful rundown how to order coffee in Spain.
Whether you like it black or with more milk than espresso, iced or piping hot—we’ve got you covered! Without further ado, here’s how to order your perfect cup of joe like a local.
Whether you need it to beat jet lag, for a quick caffeine boost before you head out sightseeing, or just as an excuse to relax at a cozy cafe in the afternoon, chances are you’ll be enjoying plenty of coffee during your time in Madrid.
But no matter how much you remember from your high school Spanish class, un café, por favor just won’t cut it. Instead, you’ll have to get more specific—so here’s exactly how to order coffee in Spain like a local!
Coffee in Spain: The Basics
First of all, 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. As a result, 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.
Most 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 especially 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. But 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 to show you how to coffee in Spain.
Continue reading (or simply watch Madrid expert Luke break things down in the video below). Before you know it, you’ll be sipping the perfect coffee in Madrid!
How to Order Coffee in Spain: Types of Spanish Coffee Drinks
In general, coffee drinks in Spain are classified by how much milk they contain. Below, we’ve listed several of the most common Spanish coffee drinks, from least to most milk.
Coffees with Little or No Milk
- Café solo: A small cup of strong, black espresso.
- Café americano: If the intensity of a café solo is especially strong, try a café americano. This Spanish coffee drink contains the same amount of caffeine as a café solo but with more water, resulting in a milder flavor.
- Café cortado: 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. It comes with 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 harder than it sounds, but perfectly refreshing on a sweltering summer day!
- Carajillo: Interestingly, this coffee order doesn’t have a drop of milk—instead, it has alcohol! A carajillo is espresso served with rum, whisky or brandy.
Coffees with a Lot of Milk
- Café con leche: A coffee drink prepared 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!
- Manchado or leche manchada: Literally translating to “stained” (or “stained milk”), this drink consists of mainly warm milk “stained” with a splash of coffee. It’s a great option for the afternoon if you’re craving coffee but don’t want to be up all night.
- Café bombón: Espresso with sweetened condensed milk. An especially great choice for those with a sweet tooth!
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 decaf coffee.
However, some cafes offer descafeinado de máquina (machine-brewed decaf coffee). If it’s available, decide how you would like your coffee served, and be sure to clarify that you want it prepared with decafd 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 small clear glass with no handle. Most traditional bars in Spain will serve coffee this way.
How to Drink Coffee in Spain
Now that you know how to order coffee in Spain, 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 on a terrace in a beautiful public square or a quaint café, using the time to catch up with friends and family. You can use the moment 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 COVID-19 pandemic to aid social distancing and avoid overcrowding in cafes. You can order to-go coffee by asking for your preferred drink followed by para llevar.
How to Order Coffee in Spain FAQs
The most popular Spanish coffee drink is the café con leche, made with half espresso and half milk. Other common options are café solo (black coffee; a straight shot of espresso with no milk) as well as café cortado (espresso with just a splash of milk).
If you’re craving iced coffee, ask for café con hielo. Your server will bring you a glass of coffee and a separate glass of ice cubes. You’ll need to pour the coffee (after adding your desired amount of sugar) over the ice yourself—a bit of a DIY approach!
In Spain, many people will start the day with a quick cup of coffee at home before heading out for the day. Around 10–11 a.m., Spaniards head out to their nearest café or bar for a bite to eat and another cup of coffee. Some people will also enjoy coffee at a restaurant after lunch, or again at a café in the afternoon for merienda around 5–6 p.m.
In the morning, many Spaniards will have coffee with breakfast. This can be anything from a slice of toasted bread topped with olive oil, fresh crushed tomato, and ham; a slice of potato omelet; or a sweet pastry. Coffee is also commonly enjoyed with or in place of dessert in Spain—never as part of the main meal!
Many traditional cafés in Spain still serve coffee made with the torrefacto method. Popularized during the Spanish Civil War as a way to stretch the already thin coffee supply, torrefacto involves adding sugar to the beans during the final step of the roasting process. The high temperatures burn the sugar onto the beans, giving them a distinctly bitter taste.
Both drinks are similar in that they’re made with coffee and quite a bit of milk. However, lattes have slightly more milk than cafés con leche, and are also topped with a bit of foam.
While the above words and phrases will help you get a great cup of coffee in most of Spain, the city of Malaga notoriously has its own system! Here’s how to order coffee in Malaga:
café solo: black
café largo: extra strong
solo corto: espresso
mitad or “sol y sombra”: literally, “half” or “sun and shade.” Half milk, half coffee
entrecorto: semi short
corto: short—more or less the same as an espresso shot
sombra: literally, “shade” or “shadow,” used to refer to the amount of coffee vs. milk. Here, about a third of the glass is coffee and two thirds is milk. This is opposed to the “mitad,” or half and half.
nube: literally, “cloud.” This cute name refers to a lot of milk and just a splash of coffee.
no me lo pongas: This last one is actually a joke—it means “don’t give me anything.” In other words, if you don’t want a “nube,” you might as well not bother having coffee!
Update Notice: This post was originally published on December 17, 2014 and was updated with new text and photos on June 14, 2021.Want our insider’s guide to eating in Madrid? Just add your email address in the form below!