This blog post was originally posted on December 17, 2014, and was updated on July 27, 2018.
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, iced, with or without milk—we’ve got you covered in our complete guide to ordering coffee in Spain!
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. This results 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. Rather, you will 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 Devour Madrid expert guide Luke break things down in the video below), and before you know it, you’ll be sipping the perfect coffee in Madrid!
Coffees Served with Little or No Milk
A café solo is a small cup of strong, black espresso.
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.
A café cortado is a small cup of espresso with just a splash of milk. Other regions in Spain may refer to this drink as café manchado (coffee stained with milk). However, in some places, un manchado can mean the exact opposite: a glass of milk stained with a little bit of coffee, so be sure to specify!
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.
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 del tiempo (cold or room temperature milk). More on that below!
A café bombón is espresso with sweetened condensed milk. If you have a sweet tooth, you have to try it!
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 you see it on the menu, 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: Querría un café americano descafeinado.
Other Coffee Vocab
In 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!
Of course, 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! If you’re at a normal bar or restaurant, though, they might not have to go cups.
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!