I crammed my bloated carry-on into an overhead compartment with the help of a man with dark hair. I checked my seat number on my boarding pass and saw that I sat in the middle of the middle aisle, otherwise known as the worst seat. I lamented the lack of televisions while the woman seated to my right disinfected her entire seat with a wet wipe. The pilot announced the plane would be delayed half an hour, which turned into an hour and then two hours. In between fears of falling out of the sky, I thought about my upcoming adventure.
I was excited to speak Spanish everyday, eat lots of yummy food and maybe even become a part-time Madrileña. I couldn’t wait for the bocadillos (crusty baguettes usually filled with salty ham) I ate everyday in Barcelona on vacation the previous year. Sorry Madrid, but Barcelona’s tomato and garlic rubbed bocadillos are better. However, one thing you can count on everywhere in Spain is coffee. So if you arrive at the Madrid-Barajas airport pining for a Dunkin’ Donuts, follow this guide to ordering coffee. You won’t miss Dunkin’, I promise.
Café con leche
Simply, this is a latte. Sometimes the barista will ask if you would like hot milk, to which I always reply “sí, por favor.” In the US, no one usually takes the time to warm up milk for coffee drinks. It’s the simple things and Spain has lots of small, simple pleasures.
I remember I used to drink these in Barcelona all the time and I loved them because of their small size. I ordered one at Diesel Café near Tufts University and was disappointed to receive a latte. A true cortado is an espresso “cut” with a small amount of milk. It comes in a small cup and has a deep caramel color. I usually pour an entire tube of sugar into mine to offset the bitterness. Unless you want cavities, you should probably not do this.
Confession: I have never actually ordered one of these. As a kid my grandmother would give me small cups of black coffee after a day of elementary school alongside a bowl of goldfish crackers. However, as I have gotten older I have grown to prefer milky, sweet coffee. Because of this, I never felt like ordering a café solo, which is just an espresso. I have seen people order it and pour it over ice a couple of times in the late summer heat of Madrid.
P.S. I haven’t encountered any drip coffee in Spain, which is the standard in the US. Everything is espresso based, and I am more than ok with it.
So, you ordered your café con leche…now what? All of the cafés in Madrid I have been to have fresh pastries. Croissants are everywhere and so are lots of other sweet and savory pastries you might not recognize. Fresh bread is ubiquitous in Madrid, and on almost every corner you can find a panadería.
There’s an Argentinian bakery near in the Retiro neighborhood that has great sweet rolls if you find yourself hungry after a stroll through Parque del Retiro, which you should find time to do at least once a week to literally stop and smell the roses at the Rosaleda.
Now you’re ready to order coffee in Madrid; you’re welcome.