The Curious Case of Spanish Coffee (aka “What’s torrefacto?”)

Santi high on caffeine and gesticulating wildly in Toma Café.

Toma Café is one of the few torrefacto-free zones in the city. This is co-owner Santi high on caffeine.

I love the sound of Spanish coffee. The smack and clack of cups and saucers on marble bar tops, the scream of the milk steamer. Prop up a Spanish bar mid-morning and you’re surrounded by a cosy, comforting racket.

But when the black stuff hits my lips, the romance is over. Sipping a café solo in Spain is often like swilling hot, black acid. Bitter, harsh and acrid, with hints of paint thinner.

Blame it on torrefacto.

I first spied the word on the side of supermarket coffee packs when I moved to the Spain a couple of years back. “Mezcla. 50% natural. 50% torrefacto.” I had no idea what “torrefacto” was and, when someone mentioned it had something to do with roasted sugar, I shrugged and took another sip.

Then, six months ago, I got talking to a guy at Cafés Pozo. And he mentioned “torrefacto” and “post-civil war Spain” in the same gasp.

I was intrigued.

Plus, I’d started to suspect a link between torrefacto and the fact that the local coffee was stripping my oesophagus.

So I went to Toma Café to find out more. It’s a new(ish) café in Malasaña that’s been getting good press for the quality of its coffee.

“I’ve come to talk torrefacto,” I said to the barrista.

“But we don’t serve torrefacto.”


Santi and Patricia opened the rustic, pocket-sized (soon to be enlarged) coffee house last year. Surrounded by young, ristretto-toting coffee refugees, who’ve come in search of a decent cup, we perched on coffee sacks and talked about torrefacto.

What the hell is torrefacto?

Mezcla coffee beans – a mix of torrefacto beans (the jet black ones) and natural beans (the brown ones).

Mezcla coffee beans – a mix of torrefacto beans (the jet black ones) and natural beans (the brown ones).

“Torrefacto is the practice of adding sugar to coffee beans during the roasting process,” explained Patricia. The sugar burns and the beans wind up coated in a shiny black film.

This glossy coating protects the beans from oxidisation and torrefacto was originally a preservation method.

But there are side-effects. The process makes the resulting drink much darker and more bitter. It also masks the true, rich flavour and aroma of good coffee.

According to the guys at Toma, stock-standard Madrid bars usually serve a 70/30 or 80/20 mix (where the smaller percentage is torrefacto beans and the rest natural beans). The run-of-the-mill stuff at your supermarket is generally a nipple-hardening 50/50.

But why?

Where does Spain’s torrefacto traditional come from? And what’s it got to do with the Spanish civil war?

Spain’s first torrefactor was José Gómez Tejedor, founder of still-running coffee conglomerate Cafés La Estrella. On a coffee-sourcing trip to Mexico in the early 20th century, José noticed local miners roasting their coffee beans with sugar. The technique stopped the miners’ beans going off during the long stretches spent underground.

José realised the Mexican miners’ trick was a boon for business back home, allowing him to distribute his coffee more widely throughout Spain without it going bad.

An advertisement for La Estrella torrefacto coffee in the Madrid metro.

An advertisement for La Estrella torrefacto coffee in the Madrid metro.

But torrefacto really took off after the 1936 – 1939 Spanish civil war. The post-war years were marked by scarcity, and coffee was often substituted for chicory and other dodgy, ersatz infusions. Torrefacto became an excellent way of dealing with the coffee shortage. Adding sugar to the roast extended the coffee (because a portion of the coffee that companies were selling was actually sugar), masked the quality of the coffee (allowing companies to use cheaper coffee beans, or other ingredients entirely) and gave the impression of a strong, black cup (allowing companies to use less coffee without the consumer noticing).

In other words, torrefacto helped hard-pressed post-war Spanish coffee companies get by with less and lower-quality beans.

Which all makes sense in the context of 1940s Spain. But why are we still drinking torrefacto in 2013?

According to Magdalena at, what was once a post-war necessity, simply became a habit. In other words, Spanish consumers got used to the torrefacto taste.

And Santi and Patricia suggest it’s not in the interests of big Spanish coffee companies to change to 100% good-quality, natural beans. Torrefacto remains an excellent way of bulking up coffee, thereby lowering coffee companies’ costs. (Santiago: “It’s a scam. You’re buying sugar at the price of coffee.”).

But wait, there’s more. A parallel issue affecting the quality of Spanish coffee is that much of it (especially the stuff on sale in the supermarket) contains cheaper, lower-quality and more astringent robusta beans, rather than pricier and richer-tasting arabica beans.  So, yes you can buy non-torrefacto in your local supermarket (look for ‘100% natural’), but chances are it’s probably cut-rate robusta (or a fair portion thereof).

I emailed Marcilla, which supplies about 25% of the Spanish market, and asked whether their coffee was robusta or arabica (or what was the mix). They replied that under current Spanish coffee labelling laws, they’re not required to tell me.

Coffee shop La Bicicleta is one of Madrid's torrefacto-free zones.

La Bicicleta is another Madrid café where torrefacto is shot on sight.

Let them drink torrefacto!

But locals aren’t the only ones with a taste for the gut-busting torrefacto blend. A number of non-Spaniards haven gone online to wax lyrical about torrefacto. This Australian man is “drooling over the idea of torrefacto coffee” and is planning to start roasting his own downunder. And this Englishman calls torrefacto “the essence of heaven”.

To feed this market, online Spanish food shops sell blended torrefacto coffee as a gourmet product. hails the “dusting of a fine sugar mist” added to the beans, as if it were the fruit of gastronomic insight, rather than a technique used by early 20th century miners to stop their coffee going rancid.

So what if I like torrefacto? It’s not like it’s killing me!

Taste is subjective and each to their own. How about health, then? This is where things get murky. Is torrefacto good for you, or is it a little bit lethal?

A 2008 study by Dr. Isabel López Galilea, a scientist at the University of Navarra, claims that torrefacto-roasted coffee has up to twenty-times more antioxidants than normal roasted coffee. Yet, at the same time, a few local coffee gurus told me torrefacto causes chaos in the gut and can even accelerate the big C.

I dug around but didn’t find any evidence of torrefacto being directly linked to cancer.

However, I did talk to a pair of nutritionists (Pilar Munné and Júlia Farré). And the upshot was that (as we know) burnt food can upset the stomach and is considered a carcinogen. And given torrefacto is burnt sugar, well… you get the idea. Nothing Earth shattering, but something to keep in mind.

Life’s too long to drink crap coffee

La Bicicleta... again.

La Bicicleta… again.

So, where does that leave things? Depending on who you are and what you believe, torrefacto is either wonderful or revolting and it’s either the fountain of youth or is killing you softly.

But if you do decide to do your taste buds a favour and ditch the burnt-sugar brew, then pull up a hessian cushion at Toma. Santi and Patricia tell me there’s a coffee renaissance underway in the Spanish capital.

Toma Café
Calle Palma, 49, 28004
91 702 56 20

Toma also sells ground coffee and whole beans to go. And below are another couple of Madrid cafés serving 100% natural arabica coffee.

La Bicicleta
Plaza de San Ildefonso, 8, 28004
91 532 97 42

MÜR Cafe
Plaza de Cristino Marcos, 2, 28015
91 139 98 09

A few shops in Madrid where you can buy decent arabica to drink at home are:

Cafés Pozo

Cafés La Mexicana

(And my local store in Lavapiés) Tierra Solidaria
Calle de Jesús y Maria, 30

And if you want some tips on how to order coffee in Spain, check out the video below!

James Blick

105 thoughts on “The Curious Case of Spanish Coffee (aka “What’s torrefacto?”)

    • Thanks for the link Matthew. I had no idea. I’ll have to ask if any of the Madrid coffee shops mentioned above are keen to serve it.

      • Great article. You probably should check out the coffee market in Algeria.Torrefacto is called ” caramelisation” .Funny enough,coffee roasters are allowed by the state to add 2% of sugar not only that… in fact, not only importing low garde african 100% robusta coffees, roasters would abuse the 2% and even push by adding up to 12%.. Would you imagine a diabetic adult mother drinking 3 coffees a day… what that might do to her… I’m established in the coffee industry in London and have created my own coffee brand wich is called ” PREMIUM ALGERIAN ESPRESSO” Please I welcome you to check
        I enjoyed reading your coffee insight..

        Thank you


  1. This is really interesting! When I was buying coffee the other day, my boyfriend was muttering something about ‘cancer risks’ and we ended up with arabica to be on the safe side. Now I can tell him the whole story!

    • Thanks for the comment Izzy. I hope your boyfriend finds it interesting. Of course, it’s perfectly possible that he was just muttering about cancer risks in general.

  2. I laughed out loud when I walked into a UK airport last year and saw a sign calling the espresso machine an artists tool. The workhorse of the Spanish cafeteria is an amazing bit of machinery but there aren’t many Spanish waiters who consider themselves artistes. One of the best things about living in Spain is that coffee comes straight from the bean without froth, decorations and horrible flavouring syrups.

    The espresso machine is also who Spain uses cheaper beans: The steam extracts the flavour of the coffee fast and leaves the bitterness behind. If you make coffee with a filter machine you need better beans because the process takes longer and all the bitterness comes out too. If Spanish cafes used fresh milk instead of UHT stuff the flavour of Spanish coffee would be even better.

    As I understand it the torrefacto roasting process melts the sugar onto the coffee rather than burning it. This would make it no more dangerous than, say, a caramel pudding (which also uses sugar cooked until it darkens).

    • THANK YOU! Sheesh. Torrefacto and a good espresso machine are what makes Spanish coffee, well, SPANISH COFFEE. I roast my own torrefacto because it’s impossible to get it in Germany for a decent price otherwise. I buy a 5kg bag of green arabica and 5kg of Indonesian and mix them to come up with my torrefacto, and only make a half pound at a time. Roasted beans are only really good for two weeks after roasting, but out in the real world we’re all drinking rancid coffee. Home roasted in small batches, you can get the taste you want, the darkness too (or lightness depending upon preference), to yield what is, to the individual palate, the ideal coffee.

      Using fresh milk and my torrefacto, I can use my stovetop espresso maker or my Nuva Simonelli – just depends on which I feel like having at the moment.

      The assumption that the sugar is burnt on is totally wrong, and I could go on and on about the automatic assumptions listed to stir up worries in this journal entry, but I won’t. In the end ‘crap coffee’ is whatever doesn’t taste good to the drinker, it’s that simple. This whole ‘artiste’ ideology about such an every day thing just makes it sound completely pretentious, when what it is, is a daily ritual of necessity. It does have it’s own art and beauty, but it’s not some froufrou bullshit.

      • True that it is indeed personal preference. Having just arrived in Madrid and made my morning coffee with Torrefacto beans, and recoiling in disgust from the flavor, I was glad to find this article, and have saved all the locations in Google maps where I can get coffee that tastes, well….not like burned elephant poop.:)

      • This is so funny, I would kill here in Spain to get coffee which is at least half as good as the standard stuff you can get in any supermarket in Germany. German coffee = awesome. The best here in Spain (for me) is still the 100% “natural” but it’s still a very average, unspectacular one..but at least it tastes like Coffee. Anyway, since my wife bought the 50/50 torrefacto by mistake I will give it a shot (just out of curiosity)…I don’t think it can be worse than the coffee they sell here as “Columbian”

  3. I remember finding out what Torrefacto was after seeing the 50/50 labels at the supermarket. I thought, okay, 50% coffee– and 50% what? Since then I make an effort to seek out the “Natural” but in your average Spanish bar options are limited. The other day I yelled at Ale for putting sugar in my coffee at a café, turns out he was innocent and the bad guy was the torrefacto. Great article and hopefully the list of good coffee shops in Madrid only keeps growing!

    • Lauren, seek out ‘natural’ arabica. ‘Natural’ coffee in the supermarket is likely a robusta blend. And robusta has about 2 or more times the caffeine than arabica. Also, it doesn’t measure up taste-wise.

  4. Hey James. I didn’t realise that this was your article until I’d finished reading it. Dermot posted it. I’ve been in Toma and the coffee definitely tasted better. I’d seen Torrefacto on labels before, but figured it was just another Spanish word I didn’t know. Keep on fighting the good fight!

      • Cheers James! It should at least be marketed as a laxative to avoid confusion. 🙂 No worries. Whenever you fancy. Have another one on Friday. Daire´s stag is next Saturday too, so might see you then.

    • In coffee you find a lot of acid, bitter ingredients, coffein, etc. I do the morning runs too. If you roast the beans well like for torrefacto then these acids, bitterness and coffein will be converted to other stuff that might prevent your stomach to get upset. A dark espresso has less coffein than a normal coffe. Still most people are afraid of the espresso.

  5. Fascinating article, James! I’d heard of torrefacto but had never stopped to wonder what it was! After 25 years of three or four coffees a day, the gut rot has become pretty chronic … thanks for the heads up!

  6. Great article James….You’ve certainly broken the ice as far as why some cafe’s pass on bitter brews….keep up the good work, always great to hear your articles…interesting as always.
    We miss you down-under.
    The ohlsen Family

  7. Very interesting – had to find some info after Spanish supermarket coffee shopping yesterday and wondering what the other 50% of most of the coffees was. All clear now! And we bought a 100% Arabica ‘naturel’.

  8. … ok – but I love the torrefacto factor in Spanish coffee ! Love the rich taste, and no, don’t get any burning sensation or other negatives, just a really rich, aromatic delicious coffee. have done lots of research into the process, and have considered importing “torrefacto 100% beans” into UK, as unavailable here, As you say, coffee , perhaps like wine, is such an individual taste.

  9. Greatness, James! I just moved to Madrid from San Francisco and have been spoiled with great local roasters, and know how to roast my own. Do you know where can I find a shop that sells green arabica coffee beans in Madrid?

  10. All companies of coffee in Spain have natural and roasted, robusta and Arabica coffee. In my bar (Sevilla) I sell Marcilla coffee, 100% natural, 80% Arabica and 20% robusta , an exquisite coffee. Is better and more healthy than any coffee roasting.

  11. Brilliant article, now I Finally understand why most Spanish coffee is putrid, and I say this after living in Spain for 10 years! However my favourite coffee, Marcilla Especial Mezcla, is in fact 70% torrefacto! Go figure. Well at least I know now. Many thanks

  12. I would say that life is too short to drink crap coffee. And also that everyone should try all the possibilities and choose what they love best. Whether the torrefacto is the result of conservation or pure luck who cares, a lot of good things in kitchen and drinks where the consecuance of the limitations of the time they were found out, think about dry ham, confiture… they are all techniques to keep food good for longer.
    So make your choice! or not, you might like them all…

  13. So glad to find this post. I just made my first morning coffee here in Madrid and was disgusted (and I know what I’m doing, with a good hand grinder and Aeropress that I travel with!). To think that I didn’t bring any beans with me from the US because I thought “Oh…Spain. They’re bound to have good coffee everywhere. I’ll save on luggage space…It’ll be like Italy.” Wrongwrongwrong. These beans are abhorrent. Making a trip today to go and buy something worth drinking! Thank you!

  14. James- Many thanks for your thorough and balanced explanation of this coffee curiosity. When seeking an explanation for the label “30% Torrefacto Beans” on a bag of Nestle’ Bonka, yours was the best I found while brewing my first cup. I found the taste to be reasonable. That said, it did, indeed, have immediate laxative results as Padraig indicated. Thanks, again!

  15. Pingback: Toma Café | davethepenguinstraveljournal

  16. Thanks a lot for this! My wife just came home with this 50/50 “Mezcla” supermarket stuff and now I am scared. Up until today I didn’t know what the “Mezcla” coffee was neither had an urge to try it. I always buy the “natural” which tastes “ok”. (Spanish coffee as a whole is “meh” anyway – my opinion). However, the WORST coffee I ever had in my life is what they call “Columbian” here which is actually extremely odd since “Columbian” in the US and elsewhere is really the best coffee. The one here in Spain (I think I bought “Columbian” three times now) I can only compare to rat poison…a coffee so awful that I need to wash my mouth afterwards to get rid of the taste, yes it’s THAT awful

  17. Pingback: Ode to drinking coffee at old man bars - Gee, Cassandra

  18. Funny thing taste!…. We use MERCADONA TORREFACTO No5 and bring as much back here to the UK as we can: have not found anyone yet who does not think it vies with the best coffee they have ever tasted!? Maybe it’s the way we brew it?
    [Gaggia Expresso machine into pasturised milk heated in the cup (to warm it/them too) and the coffee heavily tamped to hold the pressure before adding to the heated full-milk to the full size cup(s)]…
    It could be that I am blinded by the low cost for each 500g bag of beans but it beats everything we have bought thus far from any supermarket here and all of the other brands and cafes we’ve tried in Andalucia…

    • As you say Andrew, taste is a funny ol’ thing. Next time I’m in the UK I’ll swing by for a cup of torrefacto joe and see if you can convert me!

    • I live in Extremadura and fell in love with torrefacto from my first sip many years ago. I buy Cubano (Portuguese) 100% torrefacto beans and grind them for use in my pavoni. Only snag is that the sticky coating on the beautiful black beans can cause the grinder to stall. Without wanting to sound a know-all I travel Europe non-stop and nothing, in my opinion, comes close to a standard cafe con leche as bought in the average Spanish bar. Although, as with fast food, the American taste for adding sweet flavours & syrups, not to say drinking half-litres of milky coffee out of goldfish bowls has caught on in the UK.

  19. Pingback: Anonymous

  20. Life IS too short to drink coffee. You are so right.

    I love Toma Cafe, I just wish it was a little more cozy. It’s so uncomfortable!

    This is such a great article. Thanks for informing all of us. I was curious about the burnt tasting coffee that I’ve been drinking, but I never put much more thought into it!

  21. Pingback: Spanish Torrefacto Coffee | ShMadrid

  22. Pingback: Le café torrefacto espagnol | ShMadrid

  23. Pingback: 100% torrefacto* |

  24. THANK YOU! Desperately in need of buying good coffee for home. I love Toma but it’s metro trip to go and buy coffee whereas now I can head to your Lavapies local 🙂

  25. Pingback: I don’t understand how to eat like a local in Spain: please tell me | mappingthepeace

  26. Thank you very much for this article. Now we know why the Bonka 30% Torrefacto we bought yesterday doesn’t taste half as good as the Lidl Bellarom 100% Arabica we brought in from The Netherlands!
    Thanks again!

  27. Torrefacto significantly increases the antioxidant properties of coffee (as does drinking espresso). Perhaps a good idea not to judge all coffees based on personal opinion. I have “good” and “bad” coffee everywhere. And often times, good espresso has a good mix of robusta to liven flavor. Para el gusto se hiceron los colores.

  28. Pingback: Latvian in Madrid: [not] eating the Spanish way | explorations of a wandering soul

  29. Hi James

    I am a month into life (beyond the weekly holiday) of living in Madrid and am thrilled to read your story. So my taste buds haven’t been warped! I kept thinking, maybe its the UHT milk but now I can sleep to night knowing that coffee from tomorrow in Spain WILL be better!

  30. This article is just Anglo-Saxon propaganda against Spain. For the people who belong to this ethnicity everything that comes from Italy or France is really posh and classy while everything coming from Spain is awful. The good thing about Spain is that you can find all kinds of coffees, mixed in different percentages with torrefacto or completely natural. No other country has more commercial links withs south america for obvious historic reasons.
    So if you don’t like drinking torrefacto you can choose something different.
    What is written in this article is an offence for a Spanish tradition so if you don’t like Spain please go some where else.

    • Y yo creo que te has pasado 4 pueblos con la ofensa a la cultura española. El café de mi universidad ha sido siempre conocido como gran laxante y ahora entiendo por que.

      • That said Pepito, I love your beautiful country, the wonderful food people and traditions. The fantastic diversity from the crofters cottages and game in the north down through madrid the beatiful sierra navadas and the tapas bars of Granada, the glorious Sevilla ( in May not august!!) the feisty proud people of Ronda and the tales of the tajo. The fino and dancing horses ( not to mention the moto gp) of Jerez and my beautiful whitewashed pueblos of andalucia which have been my adopted home for 20 years. I am beyond grateful. ( torrefacto and iberia customer service still suck tho!!)

  31. Hey James! As you know theres a lot or a few of us that are desperate to get some great coffee here in Spain even a decent would do. So Im WRITING a bit more about this “torrefacto” so called culture and try to give a hint to the people here about what they drinking.
    So I was wondering if I can quote some of your research and sayings in this article.
    You can write to me @gmail. thanks for your article! As Probat once said; fight for taste!

    • Hi Fernando, many thanks for your comment. I’d love you to quote some of the article. Simply link back please. Cheers to good coffee!

  32. The longevity of these threads, I believe, speaks to quality of this article. Great piece, James Blick! I cannot wait to hit the ground running next summer in Madrid.

  33. Hi, in the Buy Why section shouldn’t it read “and coffee was often substituted *by* chicory and other..” instead of “and coffee was often substituted for chicory and other dodgy”? I’m assuming that coffee was the more expensive commodity.

  34. Thanks for the education, but I have been drinking torrefacto with milk now for 20 years, before which I had never tasted better daily coffee anywhere in UK or USA. Maybe it’s different since coffee culture has taken over in those places, but prior to that, fuggedaboutit. I support torrefacto out of experience, not misplaced loyalty. I do prefer an after-meal espresso in Italy by a wide margin, but find cappuccinos there less appealing than cafés con leche in Spain. While traveling, I will also have a flat white at Costa Coffee before most other available options. But I will always defend my morning torrefacto, done in a traditional aluminum hourglass pot in a matter of minutes, without need for more time to hunt special beans, roast or grind. One unmentioned plus of torrefacto is that I have never had the inkling to put sugar in a hot café con leche. The touch of sweetness from torrefacto is more than enough. No rot-gut issues at all, either, although those did arise regularly before I moved to Spain and do so again with each new coffee capsule/pod experience and each return trip to Anglosaxon countries with drip filter or similarly watery products outside a true coffee shop. I am not snobbish enough not to try your 100% arabica, however. You might be right, but I suspect that will only be the case for straight coffee without milk.

  35. Torrefacto has its place for those who like it. I don’t. So for 100% Arabica beans natural in Spain go to Lidl and look for their Belarom. Kicks all Mercadona’s offerings into the bin.
    I’m back in England for a few weeks and bought some beans on offer in Tesco from

  36. Pingback: Searching for My Perfect Coffee Shop in Madrid | The Dame in Spain

  37. Indeed great article, thank you!

    As spaniard in Germany I have learn one thing more, I do not need to look for natural coffee here because torrefact only is distributed in Spain and Portugal while in other European countries is forbidden.

    One more thing about the answer you received from Marcilla. There is a legislation that they need to follow and they need to state the percentages etc in the labeling, it is explained in the Spanish official journal here:

    Interesting is the lack of health studies for torrefact, where clearly seems very bad to drink burned sugar but make sense to know how much unhealthy is.

    • Thanks for your comment – that’s really interesting about how companies must state the percentages in the labelling. I wasn’t aware of that. I’ll be sure to have a read. Clearly there are people who are more and more aware that torrefacto isn’t the best way to make coffee, but I suspect widespread change such that in Spain people only drink 100% natural Arabica will take some time (if it will happen ever).

  38. Hi, James. Thank you for your article.
    I have been digging about coffee the past few hours trying to understand the whole process of roasting and the differences among coffee everywhere.
    I am from Brazil and the other day I heard someone saying bad things about our coffee which puzzled me since we export coffee beans like crazy. How come?
    Even though we live in Sao Paulo, my parents still plant, harvest and roast their own coffee in our house in the country side. That means I was raised drinking torrefact coffee.
    Whenever I ordered coffee somewhere else it tasted stronger to me.
    Nowadays I drink from several places but they all taste different.
    I’ve had coffee at bakeries, coffee places, Starbucks, NY, Argentina and Chile.
    I have this memories of my mom roasting the coffee and the delicious caramel smoke blended with coffee around the house. She learned how to do it with her mom and so did my grandma.
    What I couldnt understand was why I could taste caramel at the end of a sip when drinking from my moms coffee and couldn’t anywhere else.
    I was just having a cup while reading your article and got inspired into responding it to you from my point of view.
    Of course, I am not a barista. I cant really say many things about coffee cause I dont understand the whole experience. But it definitely does not taste burned. I taste caramel coffee, if thats even possible.
    Now, after all you have said, I will look for the 100% natural arabica. Maybe I had it already on a coffee shop but I don’t really know what goes on here in Brazil. After all, I did heard bad things about our coffee…

    Have a nice one!

    • Ok. Still digging but I just found out our major three brands of coffee ( Café Pilão, Café do Ponto and Caboclo are owned by the very group that also owns Marcilla!!! WTH? The name is Jacobs Douwe Egberts. Couldn’t be more shocked learning that my coffee isn’t mine.

    • Although Brazil is highly accountable for the majority of the coffee market it is by no means a measure of quality.

      The fact that you tasted honey could be inherent from the bean but it could also be the way it was roasted, the Maillard reaction essentially means the point where the coffee begins to caramelise the sugars.


  39. Funny, all spaniards that travel to usa are disgusted by the flavor of their coffee too. You dont like spanish coffee because cofee is an adquired taste, but doesnt make it a crap, torrefacto makes the cofee better to me, and if people in spain has keptdrinking it for so long is because its good, you are very pretentious thinking your taste is better than anybody else’s.

    • I don’t think it’s pretentious to investigate the reason a certain product is a certain way and then express a personal opinion about it. 🙂

    • “people in Spain have kept drinking it for so long is because its good”?
      No because its cheap. I paid €5.99 for a kg of Hacendado (Mercadona) Mezcla 50% Tueste Natural and 50% Torrefacto.beans.
      Lidl seem not to be carrying their beans from Germany. Aldi beans are very poor.
      The best I’ve found in the UK is Taylors 1kG Espresso at £13.99

    • “if people in spain has keptdrinking it for so long is because its good,”

      Assuming that all things that we keep doing for so long is because are good would means that we still voting corruption because we like it 😉

      Maybe is more that the options for coffee in a bar in Spain are limited and people get use to it without realising that may cause you cancer.

  40. James, thanks very much for your article! It told me exactly what I wanted to understand after drinking some hastily-picked-up Spanish supermarket coffee I carried home to England on my last trip, and explains the historical context of the existence of Mezcla as well as what it exactly is!

    Unfortunately I’m unlikely to bother bringing coffee back from Spain again, but I have routinely enjoyed excellent coffee in bars in and around Valencia.

  41. We’ve got a visitor from England, staying with us here in Madrid.
    Yesterday we ran out of beans and he thought he’d be nice, and went out to buy some coffee. He came back with a “fuerte” brand (he wanted something strong), which was obviously a 50/50 mix. He felt insulted this morning when I lectured him, but had to admit that the coffee tasted everything but great.
    Today I’ve tasked him with separating the beans 😛

    Great article, ever since I first read this a few years back I always pay extreme attention whenever I’m out buying coffee.

    • The only way to drink torrefacto is with loads of steamed milk. Solo is horrible. Burnt and bitter. But there are some decent brands to be had now. Even in malaga. El corte inglais sells Blue Mountain and Lavazzo in their speciality shop ( and real foie gras and real canadian maple syrup!!) ( oh and the best joselito iberico on the planet…just saying) and lidl double pack three blend coffee is just fine.
      The fact that everything here is loaded with sugar says alot about the rampant diabetes in spain.

  42. I have a nesspresso machine at home and use the nesspresso pods…. Are these also torrefactor? Given that I buy them in spain?

    Im guessing I shouldn’t buy the supermarket pods!

  43. The most disappointing coffee I ever had (apart from the instant variety) was Starbucks in both USA and UK. I love the Spanish coffee served in our local cafes in Valencia Province.

  44. Well. Obviously it’s just a matter of taste. To a Spaniard (I am) the coffee that is usually taken in the UK or the USA looks like dirty water. In fact, it is called “café americano” to watery coffee with little flavor. 🙂

    Don’t get me wrong. I think the majority of coffee you can drink in a bar in Spain is awful. But blame the barista, not the torrefacto. It’s very different to have a coffe in a “bar” (the kind the author describes with the sound of milk steamers and clack of cups) where the barista just operate the expresso machine without any kind of knowledge or love for the making, compared to the coffee you can get at a “cafeteria” (like the ones you mention in your post). Also, like I read in another comment, I’m afraid that torrefacto coffee is intended to be make using an expresso machine, not with a traditional coffee maker at home.

    It’s funny. Where I live (Huelva, Andaucía) we call “café portugués” to 100% torrefacto coffee. I’ve always thought that kind of roasting was originary from Portugal If you think spanish coffee is strong then you shouldn’t ask for a “bica” if you go to Portugal. That’s strong! 😀 (I love it BTW)

  45. Great article explaining the difference as I had always wondered what it meant…
    My question now is… What Spanish brands have a decent non chemical decaf…
    Unfortunately health issues don’t allow me to have caffeine any more, yet I love the flavour and ritual of coffee..
    Would love to hear your thoughts on this…
    I live in Palma de Mallorca and we have some wonderful cafés here..

    • Thanks for your comment! I’m afraid I can’t help you there…. I suggest hitting your local health shop or hipster cafe and asking there. They’ll definitely be able to help. Best wishes!

      • I posted briefly a couple of years ago about how I love Spanish coffee. Back in Spain again I remember that though I take coffee black & sugarless in the UK, in Spain I invariably add sugar as it’s too bitter without. Now I understand.

  46. The secret to a perfect Spanish coffee is torrefacto beans and a big squirt of La Lechera sweetened condensed milk.

    • The Torrefacto roast method is very similar to the NanYang style roast in Malaysia and Singapore. Besides sugar, margarine or butter is also added during the roasting process. Over here,La Lechera is known as Nestle Milkmaid condensed milk and it is the best way to make a great cup of local style cup of Kopi.

  47. I received some Pike Place medium roast coffee that is listed as follows, Torrefaction Pike Place. Is this treated like what you have listed? I have had Pike Place before but only on this last group was the word Torrefaction mentioned. Is this healthy?

  48. Just stumbled upon this article and thread when trying to understand a bit more about spanish coffee. Not much to add other than that you will find the word ‘torrefazione’ often used in relation to italian coffee. Don’t be put off as this essentially means the roasting process. No sugar involved.

  49. Now I understand why decaf Marcilla has laxative effects on me (and not others). I’ve been drinking mezcla for 2 years now, without ever realizing it had sugar in it. I mean, who would put sugar in coffee for what reason???? World is a strange place.

    PS: living in another country, buying filtered coffee from Spain in bulk because it’s so much cheaper

  50. In Madrid, I recommend . Enrique, the owner, and his wife, the daughter of Colombian coffee growers, are delightful people who roast and brew excellent coffee. They also serve pour-over and espresso. I bought a number of bags of their freshly roasted beans on a recent visit.

  51. Pingback: Costa del Sol: Nerja – Oliver's Travels

  52. A quick check of a packet of Marcilla 50/50 Mezcla shows sugar content of 0.5g/100g. Personally I like the mix, but tastes obviously vary, otherwise how would dishwater Starbucks survive? (PS apologies for being 5 years late to the party – obviously still a popular article.)

  53. Funny that in the UK now the “torrefacto” coffee is kind of a trend now. I’ve seen in several “avant-garde” cafes in London the “pure torrefacto mix” as if it was some kind of fashionable drink.

    But well, truth is that London, and England as a whole, is well behind food and drinks, comparing it with the continent. So no wonder that’s the most “avant-garde” thing they can come up with.

  54. I am in Argentina suffering from torrefacto. Terrible caffeine withdrawal headache after drinking cups of dark rich-looking coffee that tastes like crap and has no umpf at all. So sad because there are so many excellent coffee drinking settings and such bad coffee. Plus so very much else here is really great.

Leave a Reply