…or How to Treat Yourself When You’re Broke. In Spain my morning routine was very simple. I’d get up late, as ever, rush to my Spanish class (either washed or unwashed depending on the previous night’s events and whether it was warm enough to be naked in the bathroom) and spend two hours wrestling, rather happily, with the intricacies of the subjunctive.
Then, at 11.30 we had a thirty-minute break and, although the school was a good ten-minute run from the nearest decent cafe, Maia and I still dashed down the cobbled streets and across the Albaicin, for a café con leche (or a manchada, slightly weaker version) and, in my case a medio tomate (half a roll, toasted and rubbed with crushed garlic and crushed fresh tomatoes) and in hers a medio tomate with jamon serrano. We never had to shout out our orders to Pepe, the small round man who rules Bar Aixa, since after the first few times he remembered it perfectly. So we’d pull up a couple of stools and watch as he threw a couple of saucers, spoons and sachets of sugar in front of us. Then a few minutes later two small glasses of hot espresso would appear, he’d add a little cold milk, then lots of hot and shortly after that he’d bring out our tostadas.
We only had about five minutes to enjoy the coffee and to eat our tostadas but somehow it never really felt hurried. We’d make stilted conversation with Pepe and the other bar staff, use up goodness knows how many little Spanish napkins from the metal dispenser (the floor was always covered in them), and talk talk talk. It was blissful, a perfect noisy place to have just enough coffee and just enough food to keep you going for the next two hours before lunch.
On my return home from Spain I was stuck in Malaga airport for several hours (it was December 21st…) and having left Granada very early that morning, I needed a coffee. It would, I thought, be my last chance to have a proper Spanish café con leche. But this was an airport full of expat Brits and the only coffee available came in tall coated cardboard cups and was more foam than flavour. I couldn’t believe it; my last chance for my favourite coffee and it was disgusting. I vowed never to drink coffee from cardboard again and, three months later, I’ve managed to stick to that.
And now I am back in a city full of places to drink coffee but I don’t want foam, steam, or syrup. I don’t want a choice of small, regular or tall, or of latte, cappuccino or flat white. I just want a café con leche. But even if there is, I accept, tons of good coffee in London I have yet to find anywhere that serves it in the Spanish way. What’s more I’m also broke so I can’t go and search out the best alternative because I can’t afford it. So, longing for my daily treat, I decided to start making my own.
I have always always failed to create anything approaching a shop-bought latte or cappucino at home, not having the required steaming equipment but, with a bit of effort, I seem to have got damned close to a café con leche. Take one small 2-cup Bialetti machine, 2-3 scoops of strong espresso, Brita-filtered water, a bit of cold milk and lots of hot and, ¡que bien!, un café con leche worthy of Pepe.
I may not have the Albaicin, I may not have Maia to sort out the world with me and I may not have Pepe to serve me but I can still have my little bit of Granada every day.