Spanish Coffee – The Secrets
Spanish Coffee . . . the secrets
by Gayle Hartley
The Spanish love their coffee and it is as much a part of everyday life as tapas or wine. A normal day for any typical Spaniard will always begin with a coffee served with hot milk. Similarly the day ends after the evening meal with a strong espresso style coffee served in a tiny glass or cup with lots of sugar. Throughout the day more cups will be consumed served in a variety of different ways in a range of different sized glasses or cups.
Few countries can equal the variety and quality of the Spanish coffee and the secret to this is primarily in the bean. Spanish coffee is roasted and blended in a unique way resulting in a robust, smooth, full bodied cup every time.
Excellent quality raw beans are always used and the two main blends produced are natural and mezcla, the latter being the hallmark of Spanish coffee. Mezcla blends are a result of the ‘torrefacto‘ process which means that a small proportion of the raw beans, usually about 20% – 30% are ‘sugar sprayed’ with a fine mist of sugar before roasting. The glazed beans are then added to the other beans and slowly roasted where the sugar is burnt off leaving a dark roasted bean with a hint of caramel to create a deep rich coffee without any hint of bitterness. The beans are then used whole, or ground exceptionally fine as is always the case with Spanish ground coffees.
Once the beans are roasted and ground there are a variety of different blends to choose from for use in the home ranging from 20/80% torrefacto / natural blends, to 50/50% and 100% blends, each with their own unique taste. The roasting of the beans and the blending is only just the beginning however. There is no better way to experience the true beauty of Spanish coffee than to sit a while in a traditional Spanish bar, take in the atmosphere, experience the aromas and try a real cup of Spanish coffee for yourself which is always freshly made and piping hot. Such is the social institution of coffee drinking in Spain, you can almost never go into a bar and ask for only a coffee as there are so many ways to drink it and each serving seems to have a style of glass all on its own.
Café solo is the basis for all Spanish coffees. It is a small strong black coffee served in a small glass, popular at around 11am when workers come into bars for the main breakfast of the day. If you like black coffee and feel the solo may be a bit too strong, then try a café Americano which although not traditionally Spanish, is similar to a café solo but served in a larger glass or cup with a bit more water.
Café con leche is the next most popular way to drink coffee, especially as the first cup of the day. It is half café solo and half hot milk and can be served in a small glass or a tall thin glass.
The best thing about having coffee this way is watching them make it in Spanish bars where the milk is poured into a small metal jug and rapidly heated to a lovely froth with the steam from the espresso machine. Another variation on the coffee with milk is a café cortado, in this case a strong black coffee with only a drop of milk.
Café sombra or manchado is also coffee with milk but this time largely milk with only a dash of coffee. The names sombra and manchado mean shade and stained respectively and signifies the milk is shaded or stained with only a small amount of coffee.
A truly delightful Spanish coffee is the café carajillo and if you watch it being served correctly, it is a pleasure in itself.
A very small glass is used and into it goes a dash of brandy with a small glass of café solo waiting. The bartender then sets fire to the brandy and with a teaspoon, spoons the brandy slowly up out of the glass before letting it drop back down again and this is repeated for a minute or so. When the alcohol has sufficiently burned off, the café solo is poured into the glass resulting in a perfect morning tipple especially on cold days.
The more rustic variety of this is regularly seen most mornings in bars where a café solo is served with a dash of brandy, aniseed, rum or whisky and more fashionably, Baileys, Crema Catalana or a cream rum liqueur.
There is, however nothing quite like a proper café carajillo which must be tried at least once in your lifetime.
For those with a sweet tooth there is a type of café con leche called a café bombon which is a small glass of condensed milk into which a café solo is slowly poured. The drink remains separated half black and half white until it is mixed, lovely to look at and deliciously satisfying but not so good for the teeth!
During the summer months there is of course the iced coffee or café con hielo. The proper way to drink this is to have a café solo or café con leche whichever you prefer, and a tall glass filled with ice cubes on the side. You should pour your coffee over the ice to drink it the Spanish way.
For me the true beauty of Spanish coffee is that whichever way you drink it at whatever time of the day, you are always guaranteed to experience a great cup of coffee. It is not important where you drink your coffee, indeed the most rustic and world worn Spanish bars will often serve the best coffee. Coffee is part of the fabric of life in Spain and everyone from the poorest farmer to the wealthiest land owners have a right to enjoy a good quality coffee at a reasonable price and so do you and I!