I’m from Madrid and proud of it because I was born there and because I love the capital, but when I arrived in Malaga 25 years ago, one of the things that surprised me most when I set foot in “the land of the anchovy,” was all of the names they have given to the ways you can have your coffee.
No cortados (small coffee with a bit of milk), café con leche (half milk half coffee), cortos de café (short on coffee), cortos de leche (short on milk), etc. As a coffee lover (although less so now since I have high blood pressure), I thought I knew the names of the ways to serve coffee in my country (…in Madrid). Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Picture the scene. The day after I get to Malaga, I go into a downtown coffee shop and this is what happens:
“Good morning. Could I have a café con leche, short on coffee?” I say as I settle onto a stool at the counter.
“Good morning” the kind waiter answers me. “With sombrita or nube?”
“Haha. You can tell you aren’t from Malaga. We’re very particular about our coffee here and use our own names. We call a café con leche with more milk than coffee either a sombra (shadow) or a nube (cloud).
You’ll get used to it.”
“Wow, how strange.” I say. “and café con leche?”
“Mitad (half). That’s what we call a mitad.”
“Very nice,” I comment as I pull out my reporter’s notebook (now everyone has a tablet or a mini-computer).
“If you don’t mind, I’m going to write this down so I don’t forget. I’m planning to spend quite a bit of time in Malaga.”
“Don’t worry. All you have to do is come to the Café Central every day, which is where you are now, and look at those tiles on the wall with all of the names of coffee we serve here. You won’t have a problem.”
– No se preocupe, lo que tiene que hacer es venir todos los días al Café Central, que es donde está usted ahora, y mirar ese mosaico que hay en la pared con todos los nombres de los cafés que aquí servimos. Así no tendrá ningún problema.
The waiter told me that more than 60 years ago, José Pardo, owner of the Café Central, located in the Plaza de la Constitución, thought up this unique system for naming the coffees. Since then, in Malaga you can’t just order a coffee with a little or a lot of milk, like I did. You have to specify even further and use some of these classifications: solo, largo, semilargo, solo corto, mitad, semicorto, corto, sombra, nube, leche manchada and no me lo ponga (which you order when you don’t feel like having a coffee).
If you use logic and a bit of imagination, you can figure out the coffee that corresponds to each name, although there can be doubts. But it’s simple. The leche manchada is a glass of milk with a drop (literally, a drop) of coffee; the nube is really a glass of milk with a little bit of coffee, for those who just want to give it a little flavor. In the sombra, the amount of coffee increases a bit, more or less by a centimeter, while the corto del café is a little less than half coffee.
If you’ve got it up to now, we´ll continue with the mitad that, as it’s name indicates, is half coffee and half milk. In the largo, the proportion of coffee increases a little, and lastly, the solo has no milk whatsoever. The semicorto and the semilargo aren’t used anymore although there are a few who order them just to tease new waiters.
Oh! Two things before finishing. One: this coffee classification is exclusive to the capital city of Malaga. Don’t try to use it in places like Torremolinos or Nerja. Two: I still remember the face of a waiter in the Delicias neighborhood of Madrid (my neighborhood) when, without even thinking, I ordered a sombrita with churros.
Photos: Julián Nieto