Grabbing coffee at a “para llegar” (take out) cafe, my mother learned the importance of specifically stating that you want coffee “con lêche.” In Spain as well as throughout Europe, coffee is espresso and if you don’t ask for it con lêche (with milk), then you get a straight shot of dark espresso with some sugar. Mmmm. Or not. Here are some tips and tricks for coffee-addicted American travelers who are used to their filtered coffee.

Tip: For American style coffee instead of espresso, ask for “café américano.” You’ll get watered down espresso, but it tastes similar to the percolated drink you’re used to.

Trick: Dip anything that looks like a cookie into your coffee. It’s normal and tastes incredible. The crunchy and slightly sweet biscuit cookies that are shaped like pretzels are a staple in Europe, and are specifically intended to be dipped. If you see them on a breakfast spread, that is their intended purpose.

Tip: Coffee is cheaper overseas and at local cafés that are far more numerous in Spain than the United States. No $4 Starbucks espresso for me; I’ll take the fancy stuff that only goes for €1.3.

Tip: Locals in Madrid dip their churros into café con lêche, since the pure chocolate that is not for the faint of heart.

Trick: If you’re a picky coffee drinker and like flavor shots or iced drinks, put those words (like ice, caramel, ect.) on your to-learn list of necessary language pieces. It’s often easy to figure out the word for coffee in a foreign language or to point at what you want, but is more difficult to explain complex drinks.
Different European countries have different coffee norms — Italy for example, has the best and cheapest cappuccinos you’ll find anywhere in the world. Whatever you do, try to avoid the ease of finding a Starbucks! Cultural experiences mean taking a tiny risk on your morning cup of coffee.

Do Witzenia,

Sarah

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