The Spanish love their coffee and it is as much a part of
everyday life as tapas or wine. A normal day for any typical
Spaniard will always begin with a coffee served with hot milk.
Similarly the day ends after the evening meal with a strong
espresso style coffee served in a tiny glass or cup with lots
of sugar. Throughout the day more cups will be consumed
served in a variety of different ways and each serving seems to
have a style of glass all on its own.
Café solo is the basis for all Spanish coffees. It is a small strong
black coffee served in a small glass, popular at around 11am when
workers come into bars for the main breakfast of the day.
If you like black coffee and feel the solo may be a bit too strong, then
try a café Americano which although not traditionally Spanish, is
similar to a café solo but served in a larger glass or cup with a bit more water.
Café con leche is the next most popular way to drink coffee, especially as
the first cup of the day. It is half café solo and half hot milk and can be served
in a small glass or a tall thin glass.
Another variation on the coffee with milk is a café cortado, in this case a strong
black coffee with only a drop of milk.
Café sombra or manchado is also coffee with milk but this time largely milk
with only a dash of coffee. The names sombra and manchado mean shade and
stained respectively and signifies the milk is shaded or stained with only a small
amount of coffee.
A truly delightful Spanish coffee is the café carajillo and if you watch it being
served correctly, it is a pleasure in itself. A very small glass is used and into it goes
a dash of brandy with a small glass of café solo waiting.
The bartender then sets fire to the brandy and with a teaspoon, spoons the brandy
slowly up out of the glass before letting it drop back down again and this is repeated
for a minute or so. When the alcohol has sufficiently burned off, the café solo is
poured into the glass resulting in a perfect morning tipple especially on cold days.
The more rustic variety of this is regularly seen most mornings in bars where a
café solo is served with a dash of brandy, aniseed, rum or whisky and more
fashionably, Baileys, Crema Catalana or a cream rum liqueur.
There is, however nothing quite like a proper café carajillo which must be
tried at least once in your lifetime.
For those with a sweet tooth there is café bombon which is a small glass of
condensed milk into which a café solo is slowly poured. The drink remains
separated half black and half white until it is mixed, lovely to look at and
deliciously satisfying but not so good for the teeth!
During the summer months there is of course the iced coffee or café con hielo.
The proper way to drink this is to have a café solo or café con leche, and a tall
glass filled with ice cubes on the side.
You should pour your coffee over the ice to drink it the Spanish way.
For me the true beauty of Spanish coffee is that whichever way you drink it
at whatever time of the day, you are always guaranteed to experience
a great cup of coffee.
by Gayle Hartley