The first thing to know about having a coffee in Spain is that the coffee is really the least of it. Having a Spanish coffee is a great excuse for stopping by your local bar, meeting for a quick 15 minute chat with friends who work in the same neighbourhood or simply sitting down and enjoying a quiet minute to yourself whether on the balcony, the local square or in the park – and the same goes for Italian, French and Greek coffee too.
Good coffee is almost ubiquitous – even beach shacks manage to rustle up a decent cup of Joe, and the overwhelming scent of Spain for many is freshly-ground coffee. It isn’t frowned upon to have a coffee when out late at night and the country’s bars and coffee shops have remained refreshingly free of the trend for increasingly complex (and frankly tedious) blends and brewing processes that have taken over some parts of Northern Europe and America (*cough* Shoreditch *cough cough*).
As with many aspects of Spanish culture, Gusto Guides‘ view is that traditional is best, and here is our guide to 10 different ways to drink the best Spanish coffee.
(This article is about Spanish coffee – see also our page about French, Italian and Greek Coffee)
1. Café Solo – Spain’s answer to the ubiquitous Italian espresso. Tending towards a saltier, more earthy flavour than its Roman cousin, a cafe solo is the way many Spaniards start the day, and is served in cafes and bars across Spain al volante – that is, any waiter worth his salt can serve you a brain-jangling espresso in less time than you can say ‘decaf’.
To recreate this Spanish classic at home, we’d recommend using something along the lines of Sacla’s Spanish espresso blend. Most Spanish homes still use a traditional stove-top coffee maker – we particularly love this dinky one – although something a little bigger might be needed to get you through a Monday morning. Nespresso machines are increasingly popular, but we much prefer the old way.
2. Café Cortado – A close relative of the cafe solo, the cafe cortado is a shot of espresso with added hot milk and a dash of debate – should you have it corto (with a little milk) or largo (with a little bit more)? Served in a small cup.
3. Café Bombon – This is a real treat for sweet-toothed coffee lovers: a shot of cafe solo floated ontop of a generous dose of condensed milk. The effect is a layered coffee served in a glass that is stirred up into sweet caramel loveliness.
If you’re making these at home, we’d recommend serving them in an insulated glass. Something like this set from Bodum will allow you to show off the layered milk without burning your paws.
4. Café con Hielo – Ideal for the hot and bothered coffee addict. When you ask for a cafe con hielo, you are served with a cafe solo or cafe con leche and a glass of ice. Add sugar to the coffee while it’s still hot, allow it to dissolve and pour the whole thing into the glass of ice and volia! You have a refreshing summer drink. Frappucino it ain’t, but the humble cafe con hielo is a great way to cool off and enjoy a caffeine hit without topping the 500 calorie mark. Special ice cubes – like these – give café con hielo an extra charm if you’re making it at home.
5. Café con Leche – A little gentler and milkier than the cafe cortado, the cafe con leche combines freshly-brewed coffee and a generous serving of steamed milk. Usually poured in front of the client to allow for individual taste and served in a slightly larger cup (this kind of size).
6. Café Carajillo – Oh mama, this is one for the grownups. It is increasingly difficult to find a real cafe carajillo, due in no small part to the intricate way this Spanish delicacy is produced – many bars interpret it as a simple case of pouring brandy into coffee. But no. Traditionally, brandy would be heated with a few grains of coffee and lemon zest, then freshly brewed coffee added to this mixture before filtering the coffee beans and lemon zest out. An excellent way to end a boozy lunch or dinner. We like to use a classic Spanish brandy like Soberano, or Carlos I if we’re splashing out.
7. Café Belmonte – A Mediterranean favourite, the cafe belmonte is essentially a cafe bombon with a dash of brandy.
8. Leche Manchada – Can’t take the caffeine? No problem! Order a leche manchada (‘stained milk’) – a cup of steamed milk with the slightest hint of rich Spanish coffee.
9. Leche y leche – Essentially a cafe con leche, but with half of the normal milk substituted for extra- sweet condensed milk.
10. Descafeinado – Spain is a surprisingly good place for decaf drinkers – even small bars will offer this option and blends are usually lovely and flavoursome in contrast to their cousins in the Anglo Saxon world. Saula do a decent decaff blend – get it here.
What do you think? Have we missed off your favourite coffee? Leave us a comment and join the conversation!
Cover Photo: Flickr / Robyn Lee