Coffee Decoded

Death_to_stock_Marzocco_Coffee_2I used to be a coffee addict. The sort that gets headaches when they don’t get at least a daily dose of caffeine – if not two. In my urge to lose weight over a year ago, I cut out my daily cappuccino (handily made by my mother’s eighth child, her Nespresso machine), and swapped it for green tea. However, in moving to Spain, where coffee is close to a way of life rather than a conscious decision, I resumed intermittently drinking coffee but tried to do as the Spaniards do. No Starbucks – god forbid I order a pumpkin spice latte within hearing of my sister’s boyfriend, he’d probably say something about a “typical Amerrrrican” (roll that ‘r’) – and limit the sugar, baby. Def Leppard is not your best friend and your cup, or shot, of coffee should not be sticky sweet from its head to its feet.

Coffee in Spain, much like every other word in Spanish, is not simply café. If you try to just order a café the likelihood of you being stared at a little odd skyrockets, and if you try ordering your normal Starbucks order (sadly, mine is a raspberry mocha, which is more chocolate than coffee) at a cafe in Barcelona they’ll tell you to leave. Let’s talk about these mysterious ‘other’ words, and what they mean in a coffee sense.


Café Solo. This is the smallest of the coffees, but it packs a big punch. It’s really just a shot of espresso, and it’ll wake you up in the worst of ways. People who hate milk, sugar, or happiness, well, this is their poison of choice. I got one once and dared to drink it like a Spaniard would – blacker than my soul – and it felt a little dangerous and also took me significantly longer than is necessary to drink a cup slightly larger than a thimble. 

Café Doble. The above doubled. So you get two rushes of adrenaline for the price of one. 

Café Americano. This is a little more of the standard American coffee. A café solo plus water, so a bit weaker and less of an attack on the taste buds. However, I like milk with my daily dose of caffeinated glory, so let’s get into the fun stuff. 

Café Cortado. Hello, my new friend. This is an espresso with a bit of milk or the perfect blend of “I have to drink this quickly.” and “I need caffeine now.” Whereas the cappuccino is to be savored, this can be downed in seconds. But DON’T DO THAT. Coffee in Spain – unlike America – is not to be drunk on the go. Sit down, relax, take a load off, etc. Sip your tiny version of a cappuccino and be happy. 

Actual cappuccino. Filtered, but not #filtered.

Café con Leche. This is probably one of the more popular coffee drinks in Spain. It’s espresso with steamed milk with a little bit of foam. Food drinks this routinely and adds an ungodly amount of sugar to it. This is known as a café au lait in France, caffe latte in Italy, or a flat white for you English coffee aficionados. 

Cappuccino. Like the above, but Italian and with way more foam. When I want a treat or I intend on spending a significant amount of time talking to and/or staring into the eyes of the person I’m with, this would be the order. Also any time I’m at Ten’s, but Food will explain why on Friday (the foam is so thick even Drake is uncomfortable). 

If you want to get fun with it, you can get a café Suizo, which has whipped cream (nata) on top of it – evidently the Swiss drink a lot of whipped cream – or a carajillo, or espresso with brandy, whisky or rum. Catalonia one-ups the carajillo by adding a bit of milk and calling it a trifasico. There are plenty of other coffees (see above video) for the adventurous, but you’ll get a long way with these basics and won’t feel half as uncomfortable the next time someone asks “¿Quieres ir a tomar un café? ” 

Stay tuned to see Food’s favorite places to get (hot) drinks in Barcelona, but check out some more tips and views in the city center in the meantime. XoXx Fernweh & Food

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