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Vamos por un cafelito?

August 5, 2010 – 10:00 am

Sarah Matthews Guest Blogger BA Spanish and Business Management at the University of Manchester
For my second guest blog, I’d like to talk about something that really stood out to me on my arrival in Spain. The Arabian Peninsula is where it was first discovered, and then it spread like wildfire across the continents and to Spain in the 1700s. With its unmistakable aroma and depth of both flavour and colour, I am of course talking about the humble coffee bean. Its Spanish commercial history began in Madrid with the opening of the first café by two Italians hoping to share their newly found addictive pleasure. Nowadays, coffee is as much a part of Spanish culture as tea is in England, and no sooner had I sat down at my new desk in my new office, than I was invited on a break for un cafelito. To my delight this wasn’t especially for my arrival, but instead a daily occurrence for half an hour, sometime between 10am and 11am, seemingly for every office, everywhere.
This breakfast extension means that you don’t have to rush around in the mornings, still half asleep, trying to find something to eat. You can wait until you are actually hungry and have a more sociable break with colleagues at work. However, this break can also be intensely annoying if you need to pop to the bank or visit a Government office, since they also down tools for a coffee break. Can you even imagine the likelihood of this being allowed in the UK? Every minute would probably be deducted from your wages!
According to the Spanish Coffee Federation 170,000 tons of coffee beans are consumed every year in Spain, half of which must be accounted for by office workers alone. To accompany the morning coffee in Andalucia, you can often see a toasted flat bread roll or mollete. This is eaten with a delicious topping of olive oil, garlic and freshly chopped tomatoes, an Andalucian speciality – mollete con tomate y aceite.
Back to the coffee now, and one thing I’d like to make travellers to Spain aware of is what to ask for when ordering. Café con leche is not a white coffee as we would expect. Instead, it is made from an espresso topped up with steamed milk, more like a café-latte. If you want a white coffee, ask for an americano with some milk. One other thing I was happy to notice quickly is that the size (of the cup) is everything. It may seem strange, but time after time in the UK, I got fed up of being served a soup-bowl-sized cup of coffee that goes cold before you’ve even drank half of it. Instead, in Spain, una taza de café is just the right size to quench your thirst and keep you going.
Five weeks into my six-month stay, I already know that in the future – when I leave at Christmas time – I’m going to miss popping out for a coffee every morning. The sound of coffee grinders whirring, milk steamers hissing and the morning chatter it’s – not a quiet affair, but it’s addictive far beyond the caffeine sense.

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