Coffee Like You Like it



En vaso / desayuno / mediana / cortado*



Having trouble getting the exact caffeine fix you crave? Feel you are lost in the world of words describing coffee? Here are some tips that will get you what you want, at least in Madrid; there may be some minor regional differences.

Café con leche: The well-known expresso coffee with milk. To fine-tune this basic term: largo de café for more coffee than usual, corto de café for less coffee than usual. Usually in the morning, cups will be taza desayuno, a bigger size for dunking churros; you can ask for taza mediana to get a smaller cup or vaso to get coffee in a glass. If the amount of caffeine kick is important for you (or if you don’t like milk), taza mediana is best, as the larger cups or glasses usually have more milk but not more coffee.  Check out what other customers are getting—some places always give vasos unless you ask otherwise, other places only if you ask specifically. If you want more quantity and that extra kick, your solution might be café con leche doble.

A cortado is black expresso coffee “cut” with just a bit of milk For some reason, this is rarely seen at breakfast, perhaps because there’s not enough quantity to accompany toast or churros. Saying just cortado is more frequent than café cortado

Café solo is just that, black expresso with no milk. Café solo can also be fine-tuned to taste: try con hielo in the summer (expresso on ice) or café americano (watered-down expresso, fairly close to weaker non-expresso coffee). For the brave or perhaps the foolish, a carajillo (expresso coffee with a splash of brandy) might do the trick.

Café americano is the not-expresso coffee usually found in the USA.

And there’s more:  at some coffee shops in summer café granizado gets you coffee ice-slush, blanco y negro coffee ice-slush with ice cream. Descafeinado is decaf, but you probably should specify and ask for de máquina—otherwise you might get a packet of instant Nescafé and a cup of hot milk. Some regions do café bombon, a coffee with condensed milk on top, sometimes with liqueur.

If coffee isn’t your drink of choice, you can get chocolate, though most places don’t have the thick Spanish hot chocolate and will offer ColaCao (powdered chocolate mix to dissolve in milk) or will heat up chocolate milk in single-serving bottles. Té is usually black tea; it’s still difficult to find green or red tea outside urban areas. If you want té con leche, it’s probably best to first ask for tea, then for a bit of milk in your cup with the brewed tea or else you might receive a tea bag steeping in a glass of hot milk.

Go herbal: Chamomile (manzanilla) tea is usually available and is a nice way to relax or settle your stomach after a stressful day. Poleo or poleo menta  is mint, another nice way to end a meal if coffee will keep you awake later on.


* Left to right:  Usual glass for cafe en vaso (umm. this is standard beer glass for draft beer, too), breakfast-size (desayuno) cup for dunking croissants or churros, middle (mediano) if you don’t dunk, small cup for cortado or solo. Thanks to friends at Cabaña Senen on west side of the lake in Casa de Campo.