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Coffee: A Whole New World

January 17, 2011

I have always loved the smell of coffee.  I could sit in a coffeehouse taking big ol’ whiffs all day, eat coffee-flavored ice cream and creamy coffee drinks till the cows came home, but I could never bring myself to drink a cup of the stuff.  Even with milk and sugar, it was always just a little too bitter for me to enjoy.

About a month ago, I started inexplicably craving coffee, and I have had at least one cup every day since.  In other words, life has changed for the better.

In light of my recent change of interests, I thought an exploration of the ins and outs of Spanish coffee would be appropriate.  This is especially true because coffee culture in Spain is probably even more important than that of wine, and ordering coffee in a bar can be traumatic if you don’t know the lingo.  The most widely-available coffee in Spain is espresso, and all bars and restaurants have big espresso machines.  You know it’s well-prepared when it is served with a reddish-brown foam, crema, on top.

Here you have a quick and dirty explanation of the basic variations on coffee in Spain:

Café con leche: the standard in most bars and restaurants, with a milk-to-coffee ratio varying from 2:1 to 3:1 depending on where you go.

Café cortado: with milk, but less than a café con leche

Café solo: plain espresso, no milk

Café doble: plain espresso, but twice the quantity as a normal café solo

Café corto: a café solo, but made with the same number of grounds and half the amount of water (that is, twice as strong)

Café largo: a café solo, but made with the same number of grounds and twice the amount of water (that is, half as strong)

Café americano: a café solo, but with water added to the fully brewed coffee.  Very few Spaniards will order this drink, and some have even described it to me as “coffee for the weak of character.”

On slightly safer ground, when you buy coffee grounds at the store, you have a choice between “natural” (ground from dark-roasted beans) and “mixed” (ground from Torrefacto-roasted beans, which are roasted with sugar, resulting in a glaze around the bean which is subsequently ground along with the beans themselves.)  I have yet to taste-test the difference between the two, but I think it would be an interesting experiment to perform sometime soon.

The final important difference is the manner of preparation.  Though drip coffee makers and single-cup Nespresso machines are becoming increasingly more popular, the traditional way to brew coffee in a Spanish home is in a cafetera, which, according to the ever-knowledgeable Wikipedia, is also called a Moka pot:

You pour cold, fresh water in the bottom half; in the middle sits a metal filter that you pack with coffee grounds; the top half is empty before brewing.  When the cafetera is heated, the pressure forces the water up through the grounds into the top half, where the fully brewed coffee stays until you pour it–with milk and sugar to your own specifications–to drink.  While it’s apparently possible to get a nice foam on top with a Moka pot–results I haven’t seen yet but will certainly try to reproduce–espresso made at home will never taste quite the same as espresso in a café.  And, of course, the Spanish schedule welcomes coffee at any hour, which means delicious espresso available at all times.

I can learn to live with that.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Fiona permalink
    January 23, 2011 4:24 PM

    My Italian housemate had a cafetera/moka pot 🙂 Lots of fun, good for small quantities and easy to clean!


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