I guess it’s time for a true confession. I’m a coffee snob. And when I travel, I have a passion for supporting local roasters and coffee houses. Let’s just say I’ve BEAN Around the World and I’m feeling like now is the time to start sharing the love… and caffeine, one city at a time. Recently, I had a wonderful holiday in Madrid, Spain. And though it was hard to tear myself away from the incredible pinchos and rioja, I did explore the coffee houses, and I’m glad I did. I drank plenty of coffee, talked with baristas, and I’ve got lots to share with you. Let’s open the TWG cafe society doors and talk coffee, Madrid style. If you haven’t had a chance to read Madrid coffee-part one, I suggest you do because it offers an in-depth explanation of the general coffee scene and talks about how people in Madrid typically drink coffee.
I find in each city I visit that when I start talking coffee there’s usually the pioneer of the coffee scene who started first and paved the way for the others. In Madrid, without a doubt, that’s Toma Cafe and its owner, Argentinean native Santiago. Having been the first cafe to brew and one of the first to roast specialty coffee in Madrid, Toma is no secret! Toma Cafe has been described as a “hip little hole in the wall cafe” but I don’t think that does it justice at all. Its first location, which opened in 2012, is in the Malasaña area with a second Toma having recently opened in Olavide Square.
The cafe is a relatively small space and dimly lit. They have a few tables along the wall in the back of the cafe where they do their own baking on-site. The day I was there it was raining so every seat was taken. I was, however, lucky enough to snag a table in the back which was perfect for me. I could watch the bakers at work! They have both single origin roasts as well as filter coffee and they do their own roasting on the beans in season. I ordered my usual cortado. It was strong, smooth, and suited my taste. It came in a small cup, rather than the Gibraltar glass that many cafes use for a cortado. As I mentioned in my first review of the Madrid coffee scene, if you’re used to a more milky cortado, you’ll enjoy a cappuccino in Madrid more than the cortado. Think of the Madrid style cortado as a macchiato.
I also ordered a slice of their coffee cake. When the server took it out of the case the cake crumbled a bit so the server offered me a cookie along with the piece of cake. Sweet gesture, and who can say no thanks to home-baked goods……not me. The vibe at Toma Cafe was mellow and during this rainy late afternoon there were many students working on computers. To me the lighting seemed dark for that. The space is cozy and welcoming and definitely a spot for conversation and visiting with friends. I also like watching bakers, so for me I’d prefer to sit in the back whenever I could. If you like watching people, the front of the cafe is better! I was told that rain or shine, Toma Cafe is always busy, no matter the time of day. While I didn’t get to talk with the owners of Toma, I heard nothing but good things about them and their business. I heard story after story about how generous they’ve been to the other start-up cafe owners, and many of the newer cafes are using Toma beans and offering Toma baked goods as well. For sure when you’re in Madrid, Toma Cafe is a place to stop in and enjoy the specialty coffee and the local coffee scene.
Federal Cafe is in the Conde Duque area of Madrid. It’s my understanding that it closed for a while, underwent renovation, and then reopened in its current design. The owners are Australian, so the name Federal comes from a small town in Australia. There are a few Federal Cafe locations throughout Spain, as well. I have mixed feelings about this place. Everyone one I spoke with, including coffee drinkers, said, “I love that cafe!” It is unique for Madrid because of the space and the menu. It’s a huge space and a very popular restaurant. It occupies a corner spot, so there are about twelve tables outside on the front terrace. I did really like the modern design of the interior because it was bright and airy with great natural lighting. They do have an extensive menu with creative salads, sandwiches, breakfast items, drinks, desserts and coffee. I wanted to try both the coffee and the food, so I went to Federal twice.
The first time I went solely for coffee. They use a special blend from El Magnifico in Barcelona. I tried their cappuccino. It was ok, nothing special, and on the weak side. On my next visit I tried the cappuccino again, and my experience was the same…….weak. On my second visit we ordered food as well. I tried a haloumi burger (I love haloumi cheese) which was supposed to come with mushrooms. Mushrooms were missing, the few potatoes alongside the burger were cold, and in general the burger was a miss. My cousin ordered a salad for her side with her burger, and they gave her cole slaw instead. Federal seemed overpriced and the coffee was nothing special. I can see why people like the atmosphere and the broad menu, but it’s not a place I’d recommend for coffee.
My favorite cafe con leche turned out to be at Cafe de Oriente. This historic and classic restaurant/cafe is near the opera house facing the Royal Palace. This really is an incredible location. You can sit outside on the covered terrace. This area is right in the centre of the old ‘Madrid of the Austrias’, the historic district of Madrid. The restaurant itself was built on the location of the 17th Century San Gil Convent.
Due to wanting a smoke-free coffee drinking experience, as well as wanting to take in the historical and architectural energy of Cafe de Oriente, I sat inside. I loved everything about this place. I didn’t sample the food or sweets, simply the coffee. The service was great, the old fashioned cups and saucers used for the cafe con leche were beautiful, and I enjoyed how they served the coffee. The waiter brought the espresso and a small pot of steamed milk. At the table he poured the milk into the espresso and created the cafe con leche. The blend they use for their espresso drinks is strong and it created a delicious cafe con leche. We never felt rushed and could have easily sat there all afternoon. At four Euros the coffee was priced higher than at the other cafes I’d been to, but I didn’t mind. The environment was relaxing and the coffee excellent. Even though it’s primarily known as a restaurant, don’t hesitate to stop in here for coffee!
So there you have it. A few coffee spots to try for yourself, if you haven’t already. Next up, we’ll talk some other cafes on the Madrid coffee scene that have popped up in the last few years. The coffee scene in Madrid keeps growing, and it’s a city that’s passionate about its beverages! Stay tuned for part three of Bean Around The World: Madrid.
If you liked this post, please check out all the other cities I reviewed in Shelli’s World Coffee Tour.