Early Morning and Coffee in Madrid
The morning air in Madrid was crisp and cool as I stepped out of my hotel taking the predawn stillness in with a deep long breath. I zipped up my jacket, tucking my hands in my pockets as I felt […]
The morning air in Madrid was crisp and cool as I stepped out of my hotel taking the predawn stillness in with a deep long breath. I zipped up my jacket, tucking my hands in my pockets as I felt the first hints of the early morning cold penetrating my exposed fingers. Balling my hands into tight fists, I bunched them deeply into my side pockets hoping to gather a hint of warmth as I started my walk.
Turning onto the empty sidewalk I made my way down Calle de San Agustin as the sound of my footsteps echoed softly against the cobblestones, the early morning street slick and wet below my feet. My destination was Hola Coffee, a small cafe tucked away on a quiet side street in the Lavapiés neighborhood. Wandering through this neighborhood is a guilty pleasure as one can get lost among the vibrant multicultural streets filled with restaurants and ancient Spanish taverns.
With every visit to this amazing city, a stop at this small unique coffee shop is a special treat akin to a personal pilgrimage to enjoy the atmosphere, the hospitality, the incredible food and of-course, their delicious coffee. Since I accidentally happened by on this coffee shop gem several years ago literally by strolling by, I have made a stop here a vital component to every visit to Madrid.
While it takes time to get there on foot, the brisk walk is a perfect distraction to take in my morning, it’s an eerie moment of solace and quiet contemplation, a wandering meditation as I made my way to one of my favorite coffee places in the city through a maze of empty streets that have not yet woken to the bustling foot traffic of its locals and visitors.
Turning onto Calle de Cervantes I walked along the silent street with only a taxi gently maneuvering by, the crunch of loose pebbles playing a a staccato in my ears warning me to walk closer to the wall of this tiny medieval street. I hopped to my left, taking the narrow space of the sidewalk with only small metal rods placed at equidistant lengths marking the single person pathway along this ancient street. My pace was rhythmic, gentle, as my made my way through the sleepy city.
As I stepped out between the adjoining buildings rising above me, the sky slowly began to lighten, the first hints of pink and orange appearing on the horizon casting a warm glow across the narrow pathways, the light of the sun glinting off of the glass windows and warming the stone of the ancient structures around me. The sun was still below the horizon, its first burst of rays barely visible painting the multicolored buildings, reverberating off of the shutters and glass of the windows. But even through the piercing cold I could feel its gentle warmth across my face as it began to spread across the city.
Turning onto Calle de Jesus I continued my journey through the labyrinth of winding streets in this old part of town. Graffiti and art covered the buildings welcoming me with phrases, pictures and colors as if creating a typographic map of recognizable landmarks leading me to my destination. It’s been three long years since I have walked through this city.
Three years of change, three years of distance, from lockdowns, to timid reopening, to the slow crawl towards normalcy, three long years where anything and everything might have shifted, changed or simply vanished all together. Businesses closed, others simply disappeared as owners abandoned their hopes and dreams with no other choice but to walk away.
But sometimes, salvation was found in loyal patrons, all huddled at home still needing their morning coffee fix as they continued to support local coffee establishments by purchasing their unique bean concoctions to bring some sense of normalcy to a world that quickly fell into isolated madness. But normalcy was indeed found, in texture and in flavor. The familiar aroma of Hola Coffee’s signature blends, their familiar espresso, nutty, savory and sweet providing a daily affirmation of safety, warmth and of consistency to an otherwise unstable day.
My pace quickened as I neared Hola Coffee and I could feel my mouth began to water at the thought of the delicious breakfast and intoxicating coffee that awaited me upon my arrival. While the coffee house was small, they made a distinct impact with an offering of sweet, savory and unique pasties and flatbreads that included one of my favorites – an aguacate sobre tostadas con huevos escalfados (avocado on toast with poached eggs) made in the best way possible.
While this signature dish has been done, redone and overdone at nearly every coffeehouse establishment in the United States and nearly all over the world, somehow Hola Coffee managed to put their own special spin on this well known offering that had me coming back for more.
Pivoting down Calle del Doctor Fournet, I traced a path along the empty street keeping to the narrow sidewalk as parked cars stood silently waiting for their owners to return. Rows of painted murals continued to adorn the walls of the buildings and stretched for entire city blocks telling stories of the neighborhood in bright flowing lines, mystical characters and imaginative situations.
Its a visual marvel to behold as ancient buildings blended with new construction all tied together with art and storytelling. This was the Madrid of old blended with the city of new. But rather than painting over the murals and graffiti, residents decided to add it to the flavor of their home, their neighborhood, creating a new palate and vibe that is as unique as the city itself. My pace quickened as the taller buildings hid the rising sun from view, the cold felt “colder” somehow as I strolled here lost among the colorful concrete. This narrow street was still quiet at this early hour with only the sounds of the distant hum of traffic and the occasional rustling of trees as the early morning chilly wind ripped through the stone and glass medieval canyons.
As I arrived at Hola Coffee, I took a moment to remind myself of its location. While it’s a peculiar comment to make, as I found it before, so could I simply walk by it again and not notice it’s even there. It’s only marker; a small smiling yellow cup of coffee hanging overhead mostly hidden due to the scaffolding in place from the ongoing neighborhood construction. I peered inside and waved warmly to the barista behind the counter. She tapped her watch twice and smiled letting me know that the coffee shop was still closed as she was performing her morning preparations before opening. I pulled the zipper of my jacket up higher around my neck.
Spring in Madrid was a mix bag of weather, cold in the morning, hot in the afternoon and cold again in the evening; a virtual yo-yo of weather that forced one to layer and always be prepared; and this morning was definitely chilly. I huddled near the doorway, the only person in a nonexistent queue, hands tucked into my pockets to keep warm and waited patiently for the cafe to open. I leaned back against the cold stone wall and tilted my head towards the rooftops hovering over me. I marveled at the changing construction from one building to the next, the variety of colors and of tiny balconies with outdoor coffee tables made for two squeezed into the narrow overhang allowing the owners to take in a morning breakfast, an afternoon siesta or just to people watch from above as passing crowds provided a sea of viewing opportunities.
I gazed upwards squinting slightly at the increasing glare, the sky slowly changing, the first rays of sunlight creeping over the rooftops desperately trying to the reach the street below like fingers firmly gripping at an edge. As if the first rays of light peaking above was a queue, the city began to come to life around me, the sounds of cars and voices growing louder as the morning rush began to take shape. Small local market owners raised their storefront coverings in a grinding of metal ready to open for the day’s patrons. Local taberna owners began cleaning their windows, wiping off the the previous night’s soot and grime. The city was stirring, readying itself for the coming day and I was eagerly awaiting my caffeinated reward.
The rhythmic chimes from a nearby cathedral rang out piercing through the sounds of traffic and honking horns signifying the hour was eight o’clock in the morning as the barista walked over to the entrance and clicked open the doors of Hola Coffee. I stepped inside with a feeling of nostalgia and joy as the warmth of the cafe wrapped around me like a comforting blanket. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee filled the air and I breathed in deeply feeling the caffeine just starting in its intended path, coursing through my veins. This is Spain. The day moves slower here, people take their time.
Normally, I would visit here at a later part of the day, but as I had a full day’s schedule to fill, I was not surprised that I was the only patron at this very early hour in the morning. The decor was simple, basic wood seating, a light paint covered the walls. Cubist art was hung here and there splashed across the walls as the early morning sounds of jazz reverberated against the floor and the cold stone ceiling.
The barista smiled warmly and asked me what I would like. I decided to keep it simple and ordered a cappuccino to start while I pursued the menu. As many restaurants do to keep pace with the seasonal availability of produce, so to here the menu had changed. Sadly, my favorite avocado dish was no longer on the menu, the avocado being out of season here in Spain. But they did have a mouthwatering selection of toasts available to pair with any caffeinated beverage. I decided to go with the tostada de tomato y aceite de olive; a tomato on toast with garlic and olive oil, a classic Spanish tapa that can be found in nearly every single taberna across Spain. However here, Hola Coffee puts its own spin on this delicious selection.
The barista directed me to sit down inside as she began preparing my order and I strolled to my left taking a seat at a small table around the bar. The cappuccino machine hummed and whirred as I took a moment to look around the room. The minimalist approach in this simple but elegant coffee place really spoke to its patrons and to the neighborhood it served. The concert-style seating wood stairs that doubled as seats and tables, were built into one side of the larger wall, encouraged patrons to huddle, sit, chat, laugh, talk and just take a moment to spend with friends and family. The solo tables invited people to linger, to read, to write and take a few minutes of time for themselves as the city continued to churn in the world just beyond the glass entrance.
I could smell my approaching breakfast as the aroma wafted towards me preceding the barista as she walked around the corner of the coffee bar and hand delivered my coffee and plate of toast. The cappuccino, expertly poured sat on its own tray with a glass of peligrino gently fizzing nearby inviting me to inhale its nutty aroma, the floral heart latte art smooth and silky, a stark contrast to the rainbow design of the serving dish. The toast, expertly grilled and crispy warmed the metallic serving plate and carried hints of cereal and that “baked bread” aroma that always seems to make anyone feel like they were home, no matter where they found themselves in the world.
I spread the thick medley of tomato, garlic and olive oil across the toast and lightly seasoned the top with the added sea salt, the texture grainy between my fingers as I waved my hand gently sprinkling the white flakes across the plate. I bit into my morning breakfast, the satisfying crispy “crunch” of the bread released aromas of salt, acid and a slight amount of heat from the Calabrian chilis that I added to the top of the tomato, giving each bite an added sting of sharp goodness, the tomato warm and inviting on my tongue, the melange of flavors virtually exploding in my mouth.
As I savored my breakfast, I couldn’t help but enjoy the early morning stillness of the shop. The quiet of the room with nothing but the sound of soft music bouncing off of the stone walls, the clink of my spoon against the metal plate echoing in the silence and the scrape of metal and stoneware as I wrapped my fingers around my ceramic coffee cup ready to enjoy the first jolt from the sip of my caffeinated beverage. I lifted my cappuccino to my lips tasting the smooth creamy foam touched with the tang of chocolate and hazelnut.
I slowly savored the complex melody of flavors that poured over my tastebuds, my hand firmly grasping the welcoming and warm cup, a breath of friendship pulling me into an all too familiar embrace. The warmth of my cup, the sweetness of the coffee, the aroma of the baked goods, the smell of the coffee shop. Everything brought me back reminding me of my first visit and grounded me in the present. Experiences like this are not only a sentiment to keep, they are a pleasure to relive.
As I finished my coffee, relishing the last drops of espresso-tinged foam resting on my lips, I took a moment to fully appreciate the food, the coffee, the silence, the early morning stillness and just the simple fact that I was sitting here, now, in Madrid, enjoying this coffee shop, this coffee and this special and unique flavor, this morning breakfast.
I smiled with contentment and enjoyment as I gathered my dishes and thanked the barista warmly returning everything back to the countertop feeling full, content and caffeinated. While I normally enjoy a crowded coffee shop full of the noise of the day, people chatting, the clinking of plates and silverware mixed with the rustling of papers, the shifting of feet and the creaking of chairs, there was something so special, so soothing about simply sitting in the quiet vastness of this tiny coffee shop and enjoying the flavors that I had longed for and missed desperately, experiencing them all again, even some for the first time.
I pushed the door open to the outside, the cold leaping onto my skin as I quickly zipped up my jacket around me. The sun had fully risen now casting a warm golden light over the streets and buildings, stretching out down the narrow pathways as it reached across the cobblestones providing warmth for the day to come.
I turned up Calle del Doctor Fournet as I prepared to leave. As I peered over my shoulder at Hola Coffee, I felt a sense of happiness wash over me. I smiled, feeling the cold air freeze my cheeks in place, my lips pursed, frozen with sheer contentment. There was something magical about being up so early in a city and around a culture that takes it time. I watched the city come to life around me in my walk to Hola Coffee. I walked the silent streets and winding early morning alleys as the sun slowly stretched over the old stone buildings and ancient rooftops. I enjoyed a delicious morning meal in a cozy cafe in solitude taking in the early morning flavors and aromas as the city slowly stirred around me. It was a moment like no other. A moment that I would always remember.
It was a snapshot of the perfect morning. My morning in Madrid.
Marat Oyvetsky is a storyteller and adventurer from San Diego, CA. He is a writer, always searching for a great story to tell from his travels around the world or experiences from his own backyard. Marat has an insatiable appetite to explore, never afraid to discover something new. His writing reflects his curiosity and passion to discover the world one story at a time.