How to order coffee in Spain

cafe cortado

While I’m not much of a fan of coffee in France, I love coffee in Spain. I particularly adore it when a matronly waitress comes to my breakfast table with two giant, steaming pots, one filled with dark coffee and the other hot milk, and then performs a delicate balancing –and dangerous- act of pouring both at once into a waiting coffee cup. I wince every time, but I’ve yet to see a spill. Quite extraordinary really! That particular style of coffee is called Café con Leche, coffee with milk, quite likely the most popular breakfast beverage in Spain.

My other favorite –especially to drink in the afternoon- has a bit less milk, and is called Café Cortado. It’s basically an espresso cut with just a little bit of milk. Even better than Café Cortado is Carajillo, espresso spiked with liquor (often brandy or whiskey), which comes in quite handy after a long and full night of tapas crawling.

In Barcelona, our friend Marta taught me to love another coffee drink called Trifásico, a Carajillo with milk. Trifásico
means three phases, an apt name for a drink with three ingredients:
leave it to the Catalan to come up with such a poetic title for a
simple drink.

Here’s the rest of the coffe terms I’ve learnt. Let me know if I missed anything.

Café Solo – single espresso
Café Doble – double espresso
Café con Leche – coffee with milk, usually almost half and half proportionally
Café Cortado – espresso cut with just a bit of milk
Café con Hielo – espresso served along side a glass of ice
Carajillo – espresso spiked with brandy or whiskey
Trifásico – a Catalan specialty, basically a Carajillo with a bit of milk

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40 Responses to “How to order coffee in Spain

  • bruce bauer said:
    June 1st, 2007 at 4:13pm

    I don’t have any other Spanish coffee terms, but your post took me right back to the counter at Bar Pinotxo at La Boqueria market in Barcelona and morning coffees before shopping when I was there last year. Soooo good! And don’t even get me started on Pinotxo’s fabulous, legendary garbanzos. Thanks!!

  • faustianbargain said:
    June 1st, 2007 at 4:29pm

    leche manchada…that would be equivalent of the american latte’. cafe con leche would be way too strong for the latte crowd.
    and..churros with coffee?

  • Ryan said:
    June 1st, 2007 at 4:36pm

    My coworker used to tell me about how when she lived in Spain she used to get espresso with a shot of whiskey. I keep hoping someone will open an espresso “bar” here along those lines. Why not a Spanish cafe focusing on these coffee drinks you just listed?
    What is the pastry?? Yum.

  • Rose Kelley said:
    June 1st, 2007 at 4:39pm

    Deja vu.
    I could have sworn you posted this exact picture and comment before, but I am too lazy to search for it.

  • Rose Kelley said:
    June 1st, 2007 at 4:40pm

    Deju vu.
    I could have sworn you posted this exact same picture and comment before, but am too lazy to search for it.

  • mingoumango said:
    June 1st, 2007 at 5:23pm

    It’s the same in Austria, you easily get lost in their coffee terms 🙂

  • foodette said:
    June 1st, 2007 at 8:52pm

    Yum! I love coffee, and I love drinking coffee in other countries. I am jealous, but happy for you. I would love to have a Carajillo right now!

  • pisto said:
    June 2nd, 2007 at 2:21am

    I find really interesting that you enjoy coffee in Spain when my experience (I am a Spaniard) is that coffee in our country is horrible.
    I have yet to find a hotel (even 4 and 5 star hotels) with a good breakfast coffee. The typical (99%) scene is that you pay 15 or 20 euros for a breakfast buffet and when you ask for a “café con leche” a waitress comes with two jars, one with diluted coffee that was brewed at 6am and has been kept in metallic jar over a hot surface to keep it warm, the other being a half-skinned industrial milk that has suffered the same treatment. So you get a perfect mix of reheated diluted coffee and burnt milk. Sounds delicious? Not to me.
    On the typical “cafetería” which Spain has plenty, coffée is usually “torrefacto” (toasted with sugar) and it is difficult to make a good coffee with this raw materials.
    Ask any waiter at a “cafeteria” and he/she will tell you that the coffee brand is usually selected by the patron based on price or the delivering of sugar included in the coffee price. They get what they pay for.
    Now, do not take me wrong, there isfantastic coffee in Spain, it is just that it is not easy to find it. In my town (a midsize town in Northern Spain), I really know where they do great coffee with raw milk that is served every day (which makes the “café cortado” or the “café con leche” even better). Moreover, they spend a 10% more in a good coffee brand from a local roaster that roasts small batches and delivers to them once a week, natural toasted beans. And they charge 1 euro for a cup of cortado!!! So it is possible.
    About nomenclature, I would like to add that we do have “café cortado” and “café con leche” but the meaning of the names can change from one town to another. For example, in my province (read “State”), a café cortado is the smallest cup of a dark concentrated coffee with just a tiny bit of milk (3 sips). A “café con leche” can be served in a slightly bigger cup or even in a small glass and is usually 50% coffee and 50% milk. No more than 5-6 sips.
    But, in other regions such as Castilla-León and Madrid, if you ask for a “cortado” you get a 50% coffee – 50% milk and if you ask for a “café con leche” you get a breakfast bowl with 200ml of milk and some coffee. To get that in my town I would have to ask for a “café de desayuno” (breakfast coffee).

  • radish said:
    June 2nd, 2007 at 6:49am

    that donut looks amazing!!

  • Sean said:
    June 2nd, 2007 at 8:27am

    Ah…we spent a month in Spain back in 2001. How I treasured my morning cortado with a buttery pastry or pan tostado. I love the chocolate-y notes of Spanish coffee.

  • stella said:
    June 2nd, 2007 at 1:27pm

    the bean discussion is very interesting, but what of that divine thing on the plate to complement coffee?
    kind of donut?

  • Pim said:
    June 2nd, 2007 at 1:53pm

    Thanks everyone.
    Churros? I don’t see too many of those in Spain actually.
    The pastry is called Rosquilla (ros-kee-ya). It’s basically a donut. There are a few types of rosquilla, this one -not sure what the specific name is- is just a simple fried donut rolled in sugar. I just love it.
    Faustian and Pisto, thanks for the other terms. Pisto, well, you’re right I guess. Spanish coffee is not nearly as good as Italian coffee for sure, but compared to what you get in France it’s way better -IMHO and all that.
    P.S. Rose, well, you’re half right. The photo was taken a year and a half ago in San Sebastian, and was posted here then. I happen to like this one better than the newer shots of coffee from Spain. The post, on the other hand, is not recycled. You’ve got (half) a good memory! –Pim

  • The Apprentice said:
    June 2nd, 2007 at 4:12pm

    Cafe con Lecce was a great morning start when I was in Spain.
    Unfortunately the spanish in my opinion do not have the pastry
    side of things down…Im sorry Churro deep fried in the a.m is
    nothing on the brioche

  • faustianbargain said:
    June 3rd, 2007 at 7:21am

    if its fried dough(usually unsweetened) and dusted with sugar, its the same as churros..churros by any other name etc. the mexican version did come from spain afterall..
    but i think you are right..different shapes(and those made with different nozzles) have different names. altho’ i am really surprised that you havent seen churros in spain.

  • faustianbargain said:
    June 3rd, 2007 at 7:36am

    got it..rosquillas is made with sweetened batter and can be spiced with anise/cloves. thanks for the name. now i know.

  • Maninas: Food Matters said:
    June 3rd, 2007 at 2:53pm

    I adore coffee! Thanks for the info, and great pics as usual!

  • Roselyn said:
    June 4th, 2007 at 9:31am

    Wrote about the different ways coffee is served in Spain –
    You might find the list interesting.

  • Sheelagh said:
    June 26th, 2007 at 4:29am

    Another way of serving coffee I have come across in the Alicante region is cafe bonbon – a small glass a third filled with condensed milk topped up with cafe solo. This makes for an intensly sweet shot of caffeine. Churros are usually served with hot chocolate and can be purchased from a mobile shop in most weekly markets. They are fried and then drenched in sugar before being handed to you in a paper cone to eat while you are wandering around the market.

  • Alexandra said:
    June 29th, 2007 at 10:51am

    Ahhh, coffee in Spain… how I miss it! It’s funny, but during my year in Barcelona I never once saw brewed coffee or any kind. Everywhere I went all the coffee was espresso based. A cafe con leche was sort of like a small latte in north american terms – a long shot of espresso with steamed milk. Cortado is what I had all the time and what you describe – an espresso with a bit of hot milk. Usually served in an espresso cup of a small glass. In the summer I would often order “cortado con hielo”.
    My husband – who was a latte person before leaving for Spain – became addicted to cortados. We try to relive the experience here in Canada by ordering “wet” macchiatos – an espresso with hot milk.
    Nice post!

  • Alexandra said:
    June 29th, 2007 at 11:24am

    PS: have you seen the coffee terms in Portugal?? Even more prolific…

  • Michel Fulano said:
    July 3rd, 2007 at 8:50am

    Cafe Borgia (Borja) – Is somewhat similar to a cafe mocha but has the addition of lemon flavour (grated peel). Though the recipe requires a just bit more I find it well the effort. Delicioso!
    Ingredients :
    2 cups strong espresso coffee
    2 cups hot chocolate
    Add cream & grated orange peel

  • Kristi said:
    July 9th, 2007 at 11:51am

    That sounds heavenly.

  • nanni said:
    July 10th, 2007 at 2:20pm

    Great articles! Very inspiring.

  • John Hollimon said:
    November 16th, 2007 at 4:25pm

    I just returned from a visit to Las Palmas Gran Canaria where my wife and I discovered a wonderful drink they call leche-leche. evaporated milk in the bottom of a small glass (about the size of a double shot glass) topped with espresso and foamed milk. Stir together, drink while its warm. Delicious.

  • Marc Hudson said:
    January 24th, 2008 at 1:43pm

    Cafe bonbon: a solo over a shot of condensed milk. Disgustingly good.

  • Marc Hudson said:
    January 24th, 2008 at 1:45pm

    Cafe bonbon: a solo over a shot of condensed milk. Disgustingly good.

  • Gabriella Campbell said:
    April 13th, 2009 at 7:01pm

    Málaga is famous (or even infamous) for it’s amazing variety when it comes to asking for coffee. Thought you might like this:

  • Gabriella Campbell said:
    April 13th, 2009 at 7:03pm

    Oops! Just realised Roselyn linked the exact same picture, sorry!

  • sfb76mix said:
    February 15th, 2010 at 9:31am

    Gourmet Coffee Roasting Company
    100% Arabiga Coffee beans

  • Awatson said:
    November 29th, 2010 at 12:18pm

    Hi. nice post. It may interest you to know that often Spanish coffee is a blend of natural roasted coffee and “Torrecfacto” (sugar roasted). This is a Spanish specialty and is often blended 85% natural 15% sugar roasted. That might explain the taste difference.

    I know this because I work for one of the largest coffe roasters in spain who is always looking for distributers for this special coffee. People can also buy it direct online at (our online store).

    • Tom said:
      January 15th, 2011 at 12:45pm

      I wonder if these capsules fit into the Nespresso citiz?
      Nice comments and explanation – tnx

    • Pam Trueman said:
      August 5th, 2012 at 12:23pm

       Thanks for the information.  I always wondered why Spaish coffee tasted better than Italian coffee.

  • espresso said:
    February 23rd, 2011 at 4:29pm

    I can give you some:
    – Leche manchada ‘Stained milk’, a little coffee and a lot of milk.
    – Café descafeinado Decaff coffee. You can ask for it from the machine or from a sachet

    • Donna Kat said:
      May 29th, 2011 at 8:04am

      And machine is Spanish for this usage? (I often find google translates really goes not get it) Gracias

      • Anonymous said:
        December 23rd, 2012 at 1:16pm

        Decaf from the machine is descafeinado de maquina. If you just ask for descafeinado it will be from a sachet of instant coffee.

  • Gastheturksnow said:
    March 13th, 2011 at 9:17pm

    kiss my arse

  • CafeOle said:
    May 9th, 2011 at 2:58pm

    Don’t forget about “Café Bombón”!!

    It’s quite popular in many areas, however it is not fully widespread in Spain as not all bars/restaurants have condensed milk.

    Taste is very sweet, so many people prefers it cold (served along a side glass of ice) specially during the warmer months.

    Any coffee served along a side glass of ice, it is called “del tiempo” (kindda meaning “seasonal”), so for a Bombón and a glass of ice, you would just ask for “Bombón del tiempo” 🙂

  • Clw01628 said:
    July 17th, 2011 at 8:50am

    hi thanks for that……..ive not learnt much about the spanish language yet but i do know that i also love their coffee and the fact that i can relax anytime of day in a cafe and order one to my table…however although i adore cafe con leche i also would like to have a larger cup of coffee made in the same the way but they always only seem to arrive in a small cup and saucer
    am i right in thinking that ‘cafe en basa’ is a cafe con leche but in a glass which is my fav? and a cafe sombre? what is that? thanks for your information we have just come home from the costa del sol where we have friends and im missing the coffee almost as much as the people! claire

  • Pam Trueman said:
    August 5th, 2012 at 12:21pm

    Worth remembering that if you ask for cafe con leche in any bar frequented by Austrians or germans you will get condensed milk

  • Hugo said:
    July 22nd, 2013 at 3:02pm

    Nice post, but the “Trifásico” is not a catalan speciality. Not even the name (Trifásico) is in catalan language.

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