Top Rated Food Tours! 100,000+ Happy Guests Since 2012

How to Order Coffee in Spain: The Complete Guide

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.

Infographic showing different styles of coffee in Spain

Click to expand or embed this image on your site

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.
Overhead shot of espresso in a small white cup against a dark background
Café solo is the perfect way to start your day. Photo credit: Matt Hoffman

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!
Pouring milk into glass of coffee
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 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.

A person's hand holding a white takeaway coffee cup inside a brightly lit cafe
To-go coffee is getting more and more common in Spain. Photo credit: Daniel Hooper

How to Order Coffee in Spain FAQs

What kind of coffee is popular in Spain?

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).

How do you order iced coffee in Spanish?

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!

Where do Spaniards typically drink coffee?

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.

What do Spanish people eat with coffee?

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!

Why is Spanish coffee so bitter?

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.

Is café con leche the same as a latte?

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.

How do you order coffee in Malaga?

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
semilargo:
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!

EXCLUSIVE FREE GUIDE

TO EATING IN MADRID

Sign up for our newsletter full of travel tips and receive our guide to eating in Madrid!

Unsubscribe at any time. Terms and conditions here.

51 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.

    Gracias

    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): https://madridfoodtour.com/trendy-cafes-and-tea-rooms-in-madrid/

  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!

  15. One of my pals runs a hookah & coffee place in Valencia. Now I know what to do when I get to visit them 🙂 “Get loose of your weird accent first” his wife would say to me ahahah. Thanks for the guide!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Related Posts

PLAN THE PERFECT

FAMILY TRIP

Sign up for our newsletter full of travel tips and receive our ultimate guide to family travel in Madrid!

Unsubscribe at any time. Terms & Conditions here

EXCLUSIVE FREE GUIDE

TO EATING IN MADRID

Sign up for our newsletter and we’ll share everything we know, starting with our guide to eating in Madrid!

Our newsletter is full of delicious, insider tips (plus the occasional discount!), and you can unsubscribe at any time. See our Terms & Conditions here.