You have not had coffee until you have had coffee in Europe. An Irish coffee in Ireland or a cappuccino in Italy, now that is a surreal experience. Spain is explicitly a gorgeous country with so many different things to experience, from tapas to siestas to coffee.
One of the most important things to know is that Spanish coffee is in fact espresso. “Café” means coffee in Spanish, but what they consider coffee is what we consider espresso. It is possible to get a standard “coffee,” but it is not very common. The best part about this is that because they make so much espresso, they know their espresso. No matter where you go, it is bound to be some of the most quality espressos you have ever had.
The following guide describes different Spanish coffee drinks in typical English terms but keeps in mind that the standards for coffee are a bit different. Let us know which one of the following drinks is what strikes your fancy the most!
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This one is as simple as espresso. Even if you know nothing about Spanish, the translation makes a lot of sense. It is going to be a single shot of espresso, which is quite a small serving. Believe it or not, a lot of coffee shops in America already pull a double shot of espresso for most standard drinks. Ask for a “café doble” for a double espresso, but most of the following drinks will contain a cafe solo. You will need to specify if you are someone who needs that double espresso boost.
Check out our guide to every espresso drink here.
Americanos are espresso with water, so it is essentially watered-down espresso. The flavor is a bit different, but it might be the closest that you can get to black coffee as it is served in America.
Depending on your sense of humor, you may find Americanos funny. There is this unconfirmed idea that the name came from the idea that Americans like their espresso watered down, or that we cannot handle straight espresso. There is no denying that a large handful of Americans do not appreciate the magic of a perfect espresso, but an americano can still be an excellent option for anybody.
Cafe con Hielo
“Hielo” translates to ice in Spanish, which is helpful to know if you want to try to cool down any other drinks with some ice. This is not an iced coffee or an iced latte option. This is not an iced americano either, so expect simply espresso with ice.
Of course, over time, the ice will melt and give you a more watery espresso. Consider ordering a “cafe doble con hielo” if you do not want the espresso to get too down by any melting ice.
Even people who take their regular coffee black do not always enjoy espresso. That is where a cortado comes in when those people try Spanish coffee. A lot of places in America are starting to hop on the cortado train, but that does mean that a lot of places have variations of the drink. A cortado is an espresso with a bit of milk.
Americanized cortados use steamed milk, and are similar to a small cappuccino but with less foam. Check out our coffee inspector on flat whites versus cortados if that strikes your fancy. All of these classic Spanish coffees do not include steamed milk, so devout latte drinks will need to find a new go-to order.
Cafe Con Leche
If you do take your coffee with milk or cream, cafe con leche is going to be your go-to when it comes to Spanish coffee. “Leche” means milk in Spanish. The only difference between cafe con leche and a cortado is the amount of milk, with the prior have a bit more milk. There is about as much espresso as there is milk when it comes to a cafe con leche.
“Manchado” means stained or spotted in Spanish. It turns to “manchada” when placed with the female noun leche (if we had a quiz, that would be on it). There is always that person who likes a little bit of coffee with their milk, or just a whole lot of milk in their drink. A leche manchada is mostly milk, so the name makes sense. It does still have a single espresso in it. It might take some trials to figure out which milk-to-espresso ratio is what you are looking for when it comes to Spanish coffee, but now you know the three main options.
Descafeinado De Maquina
Not every café is going to have this option, but if you are someone who needs decaf always be on the lookout! This specifies a machine (or, “una máquina”) that has the option to make decaf coffee. This is similar to how American coffee shops usually have a separate grinder for decaf espresso. This machine will allow you to order any drink but with decaf espresso.
A similar option to this is café descafeinado de sobre, which is hot milk served with a packet of instant decaf coffee. We usually like to associate decaf with coffee that is not about the caffeine but the flavor, but that seems not to be the intention in Spain. Decaf coffee does have its benefits, so keep that in mind if someone gives you a look for ordering it.
Bombón means chocolate in Spanish, but this is not a mocha or a latte with syrup. Café bombón is espresso with condensed milk (or, leche condensada in Spanish). The condensed milk is ordinally milk without water. It is common to use condensed milk when baking because of the thick consistency, and it often has sweetener in it. These are excellent characteristics make for a great addition to espresso.
Condensed milk might be too much for those of us who often use milk alternatives anyway. Still, it seems like an excellent option for people who like those sugary creamers. It is even surprising that this is not more of a common combination in the states!
Ireland has Irish coffee, and Spain has carajillo. It is merely espresso with alcohol, typically whiskey or brandy. Spain has several whiskeys or brandy distilleries in the country, so there is a fantastic opportunity for her to taste local alcohol through the coffee. It is just enough to add flavor to the coffee and take the edge off during the day, without going overboard. If this seems a bit intense for you, ask for a “Trifásico,” which is a carajillo with a splash of milk.
Now that you know what the drinks are, it is time to talk about brands! There are not a whole lot of coffee brands in Spain, but we like to think that they prefer quality over quantity. Considering that most, if not all, of the brands need to cater to espresso, you know the beans are going to need to be top-notch quality. From there, local roasting needs to maintain that quality. The two following brands encompass what it means to make Spanish coffee, and all of the coffee that it entails, plus can be shipped to the states.
The beans themselves are from countries in Latin America and Africa, but the art of combining those beans and roasting them properly is all done in the southern region of Andalusia in Spain. They take pride in this so much that they are considered the “coffee of Andalusia.” Catunambu offers a variety of blends. Juan Ferrer founded the brand over 100 years ago, and it is incredible to think that his work to have the best combinations is now possible to be enjoyed in the states too.
Having been around since 1897, Tupinamba is extremely impressive for the quality that they continue to produce so this day. Their tagline is “working alongside baristas since 1897”, so they know who they want to market to and have stuck to that. They have a range of coffee brands that they are in charge of, all offering Spain great coffee. Their brand site also offers barista tutorials so you can make coffee how they do in Spain!
Thank you for reading our definitive guide to Spanish Coffee! Do what you wish with the information, but if I were you, I’d take this information and run all of the ways to Spain with it! The pure pleasure of sitting at a café with “un cafe solo” is almost unbeatable. If you are one to stick to more domestic adventures, check out the five most popular coffee drinks in America.
One of the best parts about our coffee community is how it brings people together from all over the world! Be sure to share by following @coffeesesh. Also, if you want to learn more about making coffee from people just like you, be sure to join our private Facebook group here at Daily Coffee Talk. What country or region of coffee would you like to learn about next? Let us know!
We’ll brew ya later! ☕️