How to Order Drinks Like a Local in Spain: The Big Sangría Lie and other Tourist Myths

How to order drinks like a Local in Spain: The Big Sangría Lie and other Tourist Myths

Is the first thing you order on holiday a jug of Sangría? Sorry to disappoint you but you just made yourself look like a typical tourist. Yes, even behind those big dark sunglasses and that wonderful suntan, you give yourself away. You see, if you really want to go native and impress not only the waiters but your travelling companions, you need to level-up your knowledge of Spanish drinks. More importantly you need to know how and when to drink them.

Sangria Spain vacation

Fear not, for we at Swish have done the investigative journalism work for you. Read our simple guide to what and when to order in Spain. Salud!

When: Morning
What: Una cola cao
Pronounced “Cola cow”
What is it?

A typical breakfast drink in Spain, often served with a Magdalena cake. Cola Cao is a brand of hot chocolate powder which is mixed with hot milk, and the word “cola cao” has become a household name. Served in small bars and cafes, popular with children and those who have a sweet tooth.

cola cao

When: Morning
What: Un café con Leche
Pronounced “Kaffay kon letchay”
What is it?

This is a simple coffee with milk. But it’s not just any coffee with milk, a good bar serves an espresso base with hot steamed milk poured into the cup in front of you. ( And they don’t ask you for your name to write on the cup.)

Coffee with milk

When: Morning
What: Un carajillo
Pronounced: “Karra-heelo”
What is it?

This is not for the faint hearted.  It’s a morning coffee shot with liqueur.  Go ahead at your own risk.


When: Morning or afternoon
What: Un cortado
Pronounced: “Court-ar-do”
What is it?

This is very similar to a cafe con leche, see above, but it’s literally a shortened version of the same. Cortado means cut off, so the milk is cut off, you still get the same espresso base but less milk.

Cafe cortado

When: Any time of day
What: Un mosto
Pronounced: “Moss- toe”
What is it?

Read carefully as this may cause confusion. In most parts of Spain, a mosto is a non-alcoholic grape juice drink, which is both sweet and refreshing. In the Sherry region, however, it refers to a fermented table wine.  Look before you leap!

Mosto Spain

When: Just before lunch
What: Un vermú
Pronounced “Virrmuuu”
What is it?

A vermouth in English, this sweet fortified wine is available in red or white, but most often red. Try vermouth just before the main, heavy meal at lunchtime, as an aperitif. This drink is gaining in popularity of late and there are even specialised vermouth bars popping up around the country. Enjoy!

El Vermu drink Spain

When: During lunch or all day
What: Agua para la mesa
Pronounced: “Aggwuar para la messa”
What is it?

Water, of course. You will be offered the choice of water with or without gas, “con gas” is sparkling, “sin gas” is still. Our tip is to order a jug of water for the table or “para la mesa”.

Water on table

When: Summer’s day or afternoon
What to order: Tinto de verano
Pronounced “Tin toe day verarno”
What is it?

This refreshing beverage looks a bit like Sangría but it’s lighter. It  consists  of red wine mixed with Casero, a sort of lemonade. Keep your cool with a tinto de verano without getting too tipsy, and watch the world go by.

Tinto de verano

When: Afternoon or evening
What: Una caña
Pronounced: “Can – ya”
What is it?

Those asking for a pint of beer will give their tourist status away only too quickly. Instead ask for a caña. The Spaniards drink these short light beers, often washed down with some olives or nuts. Will you be joining them?

Caña - Beer Spain

When: Night or Evening
What: “Un gin tonic”
Pronounced “Gin tonik”
What is it?

Are you serious? We don’t need to tell you what this is, but here’s a tip, you will be asked what type of gin you would like so choose from local or international gins like Larios, Hendricks or Tanqueray.  If you are saving calories, order “tonica zero” which is sugar free. The humble gin and tonic had a resurgence in popularity a few years ago. We say bring it on!

gin tonic



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