Ordering coffee in Spain can seem like a bit of a challenge. But if you know a few key phrases and names for different sorts of coffee, you’ll do just fine.
Spaniards in general are less picky about the time of day for their coffee than Italians. I’ve read that after breakfast, Italians never order cappuccinos and will think you are weird and foreign if you do so. I’m pretty sure that the last time I was in Rome, I order a mid-afternoon cappuccino. Oh well.
Anyways, back to Spanish coffee.
There are many different ways to order coffee in Spain, but three basic, common coffee orders. There are many variations of these basics, but these three basic orders should get you everything you need.
Café con leche — coffee with a substantial amount of milk, usually half to a third milk
Café solo — only coffee, like an espresso
Café cortado – coffee with a little bit of frothy milk
Café cortados and café solos are served in small, espresso-style cups while a café con leche is usually a bit bigger and, in many bars, is served in a glass. You won’t find a big cup of coffee unless you go to an American style coffee chain, like Starbucks, which I would definitely avoid.
Spanish coffee is quite strong and sometimes a bit bitter. Spaniards are not known for their coffee the way the Italians are, but coffee drinking is still a ritual and a regular part of life. Almost any bar will be able to make you a coffee. Bakeries tend to have good coffee as they are used to customers having a morning coffee with their pastry.
So what type of coffee should you order when? The general rule is that a café solo or café cortado is usually for after a meal. Café con leche is the common breakfast coffee or a common late afternoon get together drink.
While Spaniards are generally more flexible in the coffee area than their Mediterranean counterparts, they do have a one guideline — they never order a café con leche after meal. It’s too heavy with all the milk and isn’t good for digestion, or that’s the belief. After a meal, Spaniards typically have either a cafe solo or a café cortado.
If you want a café con leche after a meal, go right ahead and order one! Ignore any strange stares you might get.
One of my favorite things to do in Spain is enjoy a morning café con leche at a local bar while I people watch. Since any type of coffee will run you between 1 and 2 euros, it’s a habit I can easily afford. No one will ever try to run you out of a bar for sitting too long, even after you finish your coffee, so sit back, or stand at the bar, and enjoy!