Tea and coffee
Spaniards are very passionate about the quality, intensity and taste of their coffee, and good, freshly brewed coffee is available almost everywhere.
The usual choices are the Solo, the espresso version without milk; the Cortado, Solo with a dash of milk; the Con Leche, Solo with extra milk; and the Manchado, coffee with lots of milk (a bit like the French café au lait). If you ask for a latte, you will probably get less milk than you are used to – you can always ask for milk to be added.
There are regional variations, such as the Bombón in eastern Spain, solo with condensed milk.
Starbucks is the only national chain operating in Spain. Locals say it cannot compete with small local cafés in terms of coffee quality and is only frequented by tourists. It is not present in small towns.
If you eat for 20 euros a meal, you will never be served a good tea; expect Pompadour or Lipton. If you spend most of the day in tourist places, you have to make an effort to find a good tea.
In Spain, the age for drinking alcohol is 18 years. It is illegal for people under this age to drink and buy alcoholic beverages, although controls are lax in tourist areas and clubs. The consumption of alcohol in the street has recently been banned (although it is still common in most nightlife venues).
Try an absinthe cocktail (this legendary drink has never been banned here, but is not very popular in Spain).
Bars are probably one of the best places to meet people in Spain. Everyone goes there and they are always full and sometimes crowded with people. There are no age restrictions to enter these places. But often alcoholic drinks are not served to children and teenagers. Age restrictions for alcohol consumption are clearly posted in the bars, but are only sporadically enforced. It is common to see a whole family in a bar.
It is important to know the difference between a pub (which closes at 3-3:30) and a club (which is open until 6-8am but is usually deserted in the early evening).
On weekends, the going out time for copas (drinks) usually starts around 11pm-1am, which is a bit later than in Northern and Central Europe. Before that, people usually do a number of things, have some tapas (raciones, algo para picar), eat a “proper” dinner in a restaurant, stay at home with their family or go to cultural events. If you want to go dancing, you’ll find that most clubs in Madrid are relatively empty before midnight (some don’t even open until 1am) and most won’t be crowded until 3am. People usually go to the pubs and then to the clubs until 6-8am.
For a true Spanish experience, it’s customary to have chocolate con churros for breakfast after a night of dancing and drinking with friends before heading home (CcC is a small cup of thick, melted chocolate served with freshly fried sweet doughnuts used for dipping in the chocolate, which you should definitely try, if only for the good taste).
Bars are mainly for socialising over a drink and a tapa and relaxing after work or school. In general, Spaniards can control their alcohol consumption better than their northern European neighbours and you rarely see drunk people in bars or on the street. A drink, if ordered without a tapa, is often served with a “small” or cheap tapa out of politeness.
The size and price of tapas vary greatly throughout Spain. For example, it is almost impossible to get free tapas in big cities like Valencia or Barcelona, except in Madrid, where there are several tapas bars, although some of them are a bit expensive. In cities like Granada, Badajoz or Salamanca you can eat for free (you only pay for the drinks), with huge tapas and cheap prices.
Tapa and the associated pincho originated in Spain, both as a lid (“tapa”) on a wine cup to keep flies away and as a legal requirement when serving wine in a pub in the Middle Ages.
Spanish beer is well worth trying. The most popular local brands are San Miguel, Cruzcampo, Mahou, Ámbar, Estrella Galicia, Keller and many others, including local brands in most cities; imported beers are also available. A good beer is the “Mezquita” (Cervezas Alhambra), try to find it! The “Legado de Yuste” is also one of the best beers produced in Spain. It is quite long, but more expensive than a normal “caña”. In Spain, beer is often served in 25-cl (“caña”) or 33-cl glasses (“tubo”) from the tap. Larger portions are rare, but you can also ask for a “corto”, a “zurito” (in the Basque Country) or simply “una cerveza” or “tanque” (in southern Spain) to get a medium-sized beer, perfect to drink in one go and quickly get to the next bar while enjoying the tapas.
If you are in Zaragoza (or Aragon in general), you can get the Pilsner type Ambar (5.2% alc.) and the stronger Export (double malt, 7.0% alc.). Ambar 1900: Its production started in 1996, using the room temperature fermentation system. Marlen is a traditionally brewed beer made from malted barley and hops.
Spaniards often add lemon juice (Fanta limón, or Fanta with lemon) to their beer. Especially on summer days, people drink a refreshing “Clara”, a light beer mixed with lemon and lemonade.
Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine and the name was changed from Spanish Champagne to Cava after a long dispute with the French. The Spanish have long called it Champan, but the French argue that Champagne can only be made from grapes grown in Champagne in France. Nevertheless, Cava is quite a successful sparkling wine and 99% of its production comes from the Barcelona region.
They are found in Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and Pais Vasco.
A non-alcoholic milk drink made from tiger nuts and sugar. Alboraia, a small town near Valencia, is considered the best place to make horchata.
Sangria is a wine and fruit drink and is usually made from simple wines. You will find sangria in areas frequented by tourists. Spaniards make sangria for parties and hot summers, not every day as we see in tourist areas like Mallorca.
It’s best to avoid sangria in restaurants for foreigners, but it’s a very good drink to try when a Spaniard makes it for a party!
The light sherry wine from the Jerez area, called “Fino”, is fortified with 15% alcohol. If you want to drink one in a bar, you have to order a Fino. Manzanilla is a little salty, good as a starter. Amontillado and Oloroso are different types of sherry where the oxidative ageing process has been adopted.
Spain is a country with a great wine-growing and drinking tradition: Spain accounts for 22% of Europe’s wine-growing area, but its production is half that of France.
Regions: Most of the famous wines come from the Rioja region, the lesser known but also most important are those from Ribera del Duero, Priorato, Toro and Jumilla . The latter are becoming more popular and are somewhat cheaper than Rioja wines. White wines, rosé wines and red wines are produced, but the red wines are certainly the most important.
Grapes: The main red grapes are Tempranillo, Garnacha, Monastrell and Mencia. The main white grape used is Albarino, and the grapes used in Jerez are: Pedro Ximenez and Palomino.
Specific names: Valdepenas is good value for money. White wines: Belondrade Y Lurton is considered the greatest white wine in Spain. Vina Sol is a good bulk product, with a fruity taste.
The notes: Spanish quality wines are made according to an ageing process and have spent at least one year in oak barrels before being labelled “Crianza”, and then another two years in the bottle before being sold. Reservas are aged for five years and Gran Reservas for ten years.
Prices: In Spain, wine prices have risen considerably over the last decade and Spanish wines are no longer as cheap as they used to be. However, you can still find 5, 10 and 20 year old wines at affordable prices, especially compared to wines of similar quality from Australia, Chile, France and the USA.
Wine bars: They are becoming more and more popular. In short, a wine bar is a sophisticated tapas bar where you can order wine by the glass. You will immediately see a blackboard with the wines available and the price per glass.
In a bar: for red wine in a bar ask for “un tinto por favour”, for white wine “un blanco por favour”, for rosé wine “un rosado por favour”.
Wine-based drinks: In Spain, young people have developed their own way of drinking wine. At botellones (big open-air parties with drinks and lots of people), most mix red wine with cola and drink it straight from the cola bottle. The name of this drink is calimocho or kalimotxo (in the Basque Country and Navarre) and is really popular . But don’t ask for it in an upmarket bar or among adults, because they will certainly not approve of the idea! As a rule, any wine that arrives in a glass bottle is considered “too good” for kalimotxo.