The modern Spanish cafetería blurs the lines between coffee shop, pub or bar, sometimes restaurant or diner and often even the local convenience store. The warmer climate, a tendency to work and shop later in the day and a sociable way of life, all culminate in creating a more relaxed and informal way a enjoy a glass of something when out. From the first coffee of the day on the way to work, to a bocadillo at lunchtime, to a gin and tonic with friends catching the last rays of sunshine, the cafetería meets all those requirements, as well as often being a community hub.
As you might expect then, a cafetería is the
place to get a decent café (coffee). In fact, in Spain the choice and array of coffees available might come as a surprise to some. Certainly, the choice extends way beyond just black or white!
Furthermore, because of the way cafeterías and bars are licenced in the same way through-out Spain means you’re as likely to find the local beer on draught, wines, soft drinks and a fully stocked selection of spirits as well as the great choice in coffee.
If it’s not already obvious, the Spanish cafetería is quite far removed from the British concept of a “greasy spoon”.
The following is a list of some useful vocabulary and information based around some likely situations in and around the Spanish cafetería setting:
Conclusion | En conclusión
|Spanish ||Meaning ||Notes |
|“Café solo” ||Espresso ||The classic coffee shot |
|“Café americano” ||A black coffee ||A plain black coffee, usually without milk |
|“Café cortado” ||A short one (coffee) ||A coffee shot topped off with a little floamy milk to take the edge off the bitterness. |
|“Café con letche” ||Coffee with milk ||A regular coffee topped off with milk |
|“Café descafeinado” ||Decaffeinated coffee ||More common than you would expect across Spain. Remember to ask for “letche” if you want it. |
|“Café con hielo” ||Iced coffee ||Usually arriving in two glasses. One with a strong coffee shot, and the other with just ice. Combine the two and stir. |
|“Una taza de té” ||A cup of tea ||Tea is not as common in Spain as other parts of the world. “Té desayuno” (breakfast/builders tea) may be available, but not always and you may only find “té verde” (green tea) or other fruit teas. |
|“Un vaso” ||A glass ||“Vaso” is the word for glass, but only when referring to a beer or a soft drink |
|“Una copa de vino tinto” ||A glass of red wine ||When we referring to wine, we use the word “copa” (cup) to mean glass, rather than “vaso". Also notice that the word “copa" literally means cup yet we use “taza" when referring to a cup of tea. |
|“Una cerveza” ||A beer ||Beer can be bought in “botellas” (bottles), in “botellíns” (smaller 200ml bottles), or “en grifo” (on tap/draught) usually in the “caña” size (a small glass). Pints of beer are not common in Spain. |
|“Vino blanco seco” ||Dry white wine ||Wine is usually available by the “copa” (glass) or by the “botella” (bottle). Many cafeterías carry an excellent selection of both “tintos” (reds) and “blancos” (whites) that would rival many wine bars. Many reds are often served chilled due to the heat. |
|“Refrescos” ||Refreshments / Soft drinks ||Soft drinks ususally come in “una lata” (a can) or “una botella” (a bottle). You may well be asked “¿Quieres un vaso?” (Do you want a glass?). Remember we use “vaso” and not “copa” when referring to soft drinks or beers |
|“Una mesa para dos (personas), por favor” ||A table for two please ||A cafetería tends to be more informal than a restaurant, although if busy you may still need to ask to be seated. |
|“Para compartir” ||To share ||Sharing plates of food is a very common as part of Spanish culture. We often need to inform the waiter that the dishes are “para compartir” whereby he will bring us extra plates to divide up our ordered dishes. |
|“¿Hay menú del día?” ||Is there a set menu? ||It is very common for places to offer a lunchtime set menu at a fixed price: the menu of the day. This is often a choice of 2 courses with a drink and perhaps a coffee at the end of the meal. Usually representing excellent value for money. |
|“¿Me trae la carta de vinos?” ||Can you bring me the wine list? ||“La carta” is another way to say the menu. In this case the menu of wines meaning a wine list. |
|“¿Nos trae la cuenta cuando pueda?” ||Could you bring us the bill when you can? ||I'm sure we can all mime the international sign for the bill, or simply say “la cuenta” (the account), but why not try out this phrase next time you're out. |
|“¿Puedo pagar con tarjeta?” ||Can I pay with a credit card? ||Whilst most places today will take a card, some do not, which may require a follow up question: “¿Hay un cajero automático por aquí?” (Is there a cash point / ATM around here?) |
Today has been a very casual look at some helpful phrases and vocabulary you might find useful on your next visit to Spain. Certainly, Spanish café culture is infectious and an excellent way to practice a few words without too much pressure.
Depending which part of the Spanish speaking world you find yourself in will obviously have a big influence on your cafetería experience. More touristic areas will mean the waiters probably have some English, but if you find yourself off the beaten track you may need to rely with your newly acquired language skills.
Being able to order a round of drinks or a bite to eat might not seem like a big deal. But as Spanish language learners, it is situations like this where we cut our teeth with regards to practicing both speaking and listening. Whilst we can probably make ourselves understood with a lot of pointing and sign language, being able to ask for things like the bill and as a complete sentence are examples of small victories that really inspire and add to our confidence when starting out.