This isn’t just an image of this country, it’s a reflection of my own soul, about halfway through the morning when I am still a few miles from fully joining the rest of the world. There are really two cafés in my life each morning. The first to get the motor running so that I can greet the day without punching the daylights out of anyone, and the second to allow the rest of me to join the civilized.
This is a picture of a café con leche, taken in the dusky environs of an old café in the center. This is the standard cup of joe inSpain. It’s not an espresso or a cappuccino, though it has espresso-style coffee as a base, and it can have a cappuccino style look to it.
Despite the surge of Starbucks in this town, most people stick to this kind of brew as their stimulant of choice. In Madrid it costs on average somewhere between 1.20 and 1.50. This place happened to stick me for two euros, but that’s because they give you an individually wrapped biscuit on the side, and charge for the charming atmosphere. That’s what I’m guessing. This is the kind of haunt where you get a hot coffee and plan on sipping on it for a while. That’s what cafés are there for. Cafeterías, on the other hand, which are less sophisticated and less literary versions, specialize in just about everything quick to cook and serve. At cafeterías, grabbing a cup of coffee can serve as a simple pit-stop. You stand at the counter, shout out your order, wait a minute for it to be served, down the drink, toss a few coins on the table, and head for the door in the time it takes to play a Sex Pistols’ song. It’s the mid-morning coffee break coffee.
Speaking of which, there are also different types of coffee:
Café solo – Your standard espresso. It’s small and dense and powerful, and is often heavily laced with sugar. It’s a quick picker upper, but a bit of a letdown for those used to those cups which accompany you throughout the morning. A few drops of brandy make for a nice alternative, but probably not at breakfast.
Café con leche – Your standard café au lait. Comes in different sizes, but nothing compared to what you find on the other side of the lake. I guess a kind of latte, or whatever you call those things, but about a tenth of the size. Many prefer to have it served in a “caña” glass. The fancier the coffee shop often the frothier the milk. In the frenzy of the mid-morning breakfast break, though, you are likely to get just the milky version.
Cortado – This is a café con leche but just with a splash of milk. This is the popular choice for after lunch or dinner. The Spanish almost never order a café con leche at these times.
Café Americano – This is the coffee with more coffee than the rest. It’s an attempt to produce a drink that resembles the American version, except for that it falls short by about ten ounces per cup.
Café con Hielo – Or ice coffee. This is a popular choice when the weather is hot. Its literal translation is “coffee with ice”, which more accurately describes the drink: you take a small cup of espresso café. Stir in a bag of sugar. Pour the coffee into a glass filled with ice, without having it spill out into the saucer of course…this is one of the more challenging eye-hand coordination feats of this country. Then drink it, usually in one gulp. This is not my favorite variation, I’ll have to admit, but it is a hit with the locals.
The flavor of choice for their coffee here? Coffee flavor, of course.