Spaniards often skip a hearty breakfast in lieu of a big cup of café con leche—coffee with steamed milk. If you'd like to prepare café con leche like a Spaniard, here are suggestions for a good cup of café:
Use Good Coffee
Use freshly ground coffee beans of a strong variety, such as French Roast. This type of roast makes dark, strong coffee. Skip the coffee that comes in a can. The grind is probably too large and the quality of the coffee beans themselves is probably not the best.
Use Water That Tastes Good
If you like the taste of the water that comes out of your faucet in the kitchen, use it! If you do not drink your tap water because it has too many minerals in it or it tastes of chlorine, then don’t make coffee with it! If it does not taste good enough to drink straight out from the tap, then coffee made with it won’t taste good either. In that case, use filtered or bottled water.
If you have a water softener in your house, we recommend that you use filtered or bottled water, since softened water may have sodium in it that can change the flavor of the coffee.
This does not mean you have to purchase a fancy machine! Most Spaniards have an Italian-style coffee-maker. Depending on the size you buy, a simple stove-top espresso maker costs between $10 and $20:
- To Make the Coffee–Simply fill the bottom portion with cold water. Fill the metal filter area in the middle with finely ground coffee and screw the pieces together. Place the coffee pot on the stove and heat until the water boils up into the top chamber and it fills up. When you hear air spurting and the top of the pot is full of coffee, it’s ready and you can turn the burner off.
- Heat the Milk–Although you can heat the milk on the stove top in a pan, it’s hard to clean that up! We have found it is easier to pour the approximate amount of milk we will use in a large cup and put it in the microwave until it is almost boiling. In Spain, you’ll probably find most restaurants serving whole milk, but 2% milk makes a great café con leche in our opinion.
- Mix Together–Once you've heated the milk and the coffee is ready, it is time to mix them. Everyone’s tastes are different and microwaves vary in how much power (watts) they use, so we can’t tell you exactly how much milk to use or how long to leave it in the microwave. We can tell you that the typical proportion is about 1/3 cup of coffee to 2/3 cup hot milk. We recommend putting 1/2 cup of hot milk in a mug first, then slowly adding the hot coffee. If it needs more of one or the other, you can add it until you get it just right!