The Importance of Coffee Shops in Spain
We’ve talk about how to choose your coffee in Spain because it is probably different to what you are used to back home and about how to make coffee like a Spaniard. However, it is also important to note that the way coffee is consumed in Spain is also different to what you find in the U.S. and other places across Europe. Although it is not as well known as the Italian coffee-culture, Spanish coffee-culture definitely exists, and it has a few peculiarities.
One (or five) places for your brew on every corner
Much like its Southern European counterparts (such as Italy or Portugal), you will find a plethora of places to have a coffee on any given street. In fact, in my five minute walk to work, I pass no fewer than six places where I could stop to have a quick shot of caffeine. However, as a stark difference to the U.S. or the U.K. the coffee shops here are seldom chains and are often small business where you can speak with and connect directly to the owner.
Personally, I enjoy the relationship this creates between the person behind the counter and myself because I know that if I frequent any one place they will start to learn my preferences, call me by name, etc. It also means that, on occasion, we might have conversations (great for language learning if you want to practice your Spanish) and if you don’t visit for awhile, they will notice.
Note: The other day I was listening to some friends talk about their experiences working in a coffee shop and they identified their customers by their orders. They also mentioned that they notice when someone stops coming in.
Bars will serve you coffee
In addition to places that are mostly coffee-orientated, you will also find that you can get a shot of espresso (and even other coffee drinks) in all restaurants and bars and even in some less usual places such as clubs. Spaniards love their coffee, so you won’t usually have difficulty finding one—however, the one thing I would say is that you should be aware that the quality of the coffee will not be the same everywhere you go. Now this might be obvious, but I think the following is worth mentioning...
Where there are people is not necessarily about the price/quality
Because there is so much importance given to the relationships that are established between the customer and waiter/owner, you can find coffee shops that are packed even when the coffee isn’t great. I believe that this is, in part, due to the fact that these businesses have a place in the community and work hard to cultivate interactions with their clients. While I wouldn’t write off the busiest place on the street, just don’t automatically expect it to have the best coffee. Oftentimes, smaller, newer places have excellent coffee but haven’t built up the crowd of regulars that you see in long-standing places.
On the other hand, if you are on the lookout for the best coffee, make sure to try out several places and even have a look at tripadvisor to see where other people are having their coffee. While this might seem extravagant if you are not a coffee connoisseur, I will guarantee you that you will, on occasion, find a cup of joe that you just cannot swallow (potentially in a busy place). Shopping around can also give you the opportunity to find an ambiance that you like instead of just settling for the first one you see.
Coffee Shops Create Communities
As you can probably imagine, coffee shops (and bars that serve coffee) create a culture and a community around this drink. The people I work with will have a coffee before coming in, take a quick break in the middle of the morning for another, have one after lunch and maybe one mid afternoon, and might even have one last coffee after dinner. Now, several of these could be made at home, but many times people go out for at least one, often to the same place. And it is important that normally these coffees are drunk in-house as takeaways aren’t very common. This creates a regular interaction between patron and staff (and different customers as well) that includes greetings and general conversations.
This way of doing things is not something that I saw so much back in the U.S. as people there tend to go to coffee shops either for a take away or to socialize with a friend as opposed to just have a quick minute coffee out. And it is exactly this 15ish minute break for coffee (which is pretty accepted across all sorts of professions) and the interaction that happens between a regular customer and waiter/owner that creates the Spanish coffee culture I am talking about and really enjoy. The interactions bring together people who might otherwise never come into contact, bringing the community together in new ways.
What is your coffee culture experience in Spain? Have you had interesting conversations with strangers? Or even made friends in coffee shops?
P.S. While reading other people’s interpretations of coffee in Spain, I came across this article which I found interesting that just cements my opinion about the importance of coffee shops in this country.