Although it’s one of the largest countries in Europe, when it comes to some things, Spain sometimes gets left out when talking about coffee. The French are known for their wine, the Germans for their beer, the Dutch for their…other things, and the Italians for their pizza and pasta, and all of them have a strong coffee culture ingrained into their day to day life.
But this silence is not reflective of what really goes on in the Iberian peninsula when it comes to quality coffee. Anyone who’s been to Spain or who has read up on it quickly discovers a few things. First, there is a robust culinary culture that varies from region to region (and sometimes even within a region). Second, Spanish wines are really some of the best in the world. And third, the only reason coffee is not on the first line in Spain is because everyone talks about tapas.
Coffee is an integral part of Spanish culture. The country practically runs on café con leche, and the act of sipping a coffee with friends or family after a meal, during an afternoon walk or early in the morning before heading off to work or school is a Spanish fixture. A local’s way to enjoy Spain.
Yet, as with anything, things are changing. The lifestyle surrounding coffee in Spain isn’t the same as it used to be, but parts of the past are still clinging on. So, what exactly does coffee lifestyle mean these days? Some of the trends are unique to Spain, but others represent an overall shift in the way people drink coffee around the world.
COFFEE QUALITY IS KING
One of the things that define Spanish cuisine is its ingredients. Spanish food isn’t necessarily known for being overly seasoned or for having a particularly strong taste. But because of Spain’s warm climate and proximity to the sea, fresh fruits, vegetables, and seafood are readily available nearly all year round.
This is why simple dishes such as “pa amb tomaquet” (toast with tomato) make it onto the list of foods you must try in Spain. Flavor-bursting red ripe tomatoes combine with pure olive oil, a little salt, and homemade bread to make a breakfast or snack that’s to die for.
Things are no different for coffee. Over the years, large chains such as Costa Coffee from the U.K., as well as Dunkin’ Coffee and Starbucks from the U.S., have made their presence known throughout Spain, especially in the larger cities. And while these spots will surely be busy, you’ll typically find locals hanging out in their neighborhood bar drinking a strong, fresh café sólo, or a frothy café con leche.
The coffee in these chains tends to be of lesser quality, even though they spend millions on advertising to convince you it’s not. The sheer amount they serve means they need to rely on mass-produced coffee, which is usually roasted way in advance, causing the flavor and nutritional benefits to diminish.
Drinking coffee at home is also very popular. Whenever a Spaniard invites you to his home, expect them to offer you coffee. And since the Spanish aren’t exactly known as morning people, many choose to make their first cup at home while they have breakfast. Services such as coffee subscriptions are making it easier for people to get great coffee without having to travel to specialty coffee stores, especially in small towns.
YOU WILL CERTAINLY FALL FOR GOOD COFFEE IN SPAIN, JUST LEARN HOW TO ORDER IT
One of the things that defines the coffee lifestyle, and that will continue to do so, is the variety of ways you can drink a coffee. Long gone are the days of only being able to choose between black coffee or coffee with cream and sugar. In Spain, it may have never been that way.
Here are some of the most common ways to order coffee in Spain:
- Café con leche: this is the standard in Spain; half coffee (espresso), half milk.
- Café sólo: Just a shot of espresso, sometimes a bit more than the regular Italian espresso.
- Café cortado: A stronger version of café con leche, cortados (¨cortaos¨ in the South) are usually two-thirds coffee and one-third milk.
- Capuchino: The Italian classic. Espresso with steamed milk and froth. You might not be able to get this at any old bar, but rather at specialty cafes.
- Café americano: There’s practically no filtered coffee in Spain. Instead, if you want something a bit weaker but without milk, get an americano, which is a shot of espresso mixed with hot water.
- Café con hielo: Spanish summers are sweltering, but that doesn’t mean you don’t drink coffee. Ask for hielo and you’ll get a shot of espresso and a glass with two or three huge ice cubes to help cool it down and keep you refreshed.
- Café bombón: This is a shot of espresso on top of a spoonful of condensed milk. For those with a sweet tooth, this is a great option for your mid-afternoon coffee.
- Carajillo: for the avid drinker, this is a shot of espresso combined with brandy, whiskey, rum or baileys that originated in Cuba, and somehow became famous in Spain. You must tell your barista which alcohol you want on your carajillo.
But these are not the only options you can find. Specialty cafes will serve all sorts of coffees, and you can also find places that will serve trendy cups such as the flat white or cold brew. And if you make your way down to Andalucía, no veas, there are so many different ways to order a coffee!
The bottom line is that there’s a coffee drink out there for everyone.
FIND ¨LOCAL¨ COFFEE IN SPAIN
There seems to be a real pushback from coffee enthusiasts so people drink quality coffee. We’ve all been to coffee chains, sometimes it’s the only option when we really need our caffeine fix. But coffee lifestyle nowadays will likely build on the trend developing over the past few years of turning away from these large chains in favor of smaller, boutique coffee shops that serve actually good coffee that comes from sustainable farming.
This isn’t necessarily anything new; these cafés have existed for years. But as the world globalizes, there’s an effort to try and keep some things local. By offering unique brews and blends, or by holding onto that “old world charm,” smaller bars and cafés have managed to survive the onslaught by big chains and their franchise army. And it looks like this will continue in the future as more and more people join the specialty coffee scene. Just go to Cafes El Magnifico in Barcelona, and you´ll get the point!.
¿TOMAMOS UN CAFE?
Sustainable coffee lifestyle is set to expand. As new options become available, and as people cling onto the old, there are sure to be lots of exciting things happening this year in the world of coffee, and things will be no different in Spain. So, all we can really do is seek out a nearby cafe, tomar un café con leche, and see what comes our way.
About the author: Cassie is a freelance travel writer. She’s spent the last few years globetrotting, and she always seems to find herself back in Spain. The culture, history, and people make it one of her favorite places on Earth. There’s always something new to discover, and there’s always some fun to be had. She likes to write about her different experiences in Spain to encourage people to visit this wonderful country.