If it had not been for them, the Malaga of today would not know today what a 'cortado', a 'nube' or a 'mitad' was. Café Central, the bar whose owners taught the people of Malaga how to order their coffee just the way they liked it, has recently celebrated its 100th anniversary and entered the select club of century-old businesses. Its fame has crossed frontiers, too, because it is also part of the European Association of Historical Cafés.
The story of Café Central is, in a way, the story of Malaga because its privileged location in the Plaza de la Constitución has enabled it to witness the evolution of the city and it has been the preferred venue for all types of private and public meetings. Although its origins are not completely clear, the first references to it were in 1920, when there was an advertisement for it in a tourist guide to the city. It is currently run by the Prado family, who bought it in 1954 when it had practically been abandoned.
Businessman Rafael Prado says the life of the Café Central is really the history of his family, especially his father and uncle, who took the business over after the Civil War and following previous experience at El Suizo and Café Munich, which were both in the Plaza de la Constitución, on different sides. In fact, he believes this one was called Central because it was situated between the other two. "My father didn't change the names of any of the businesses," he says.
Prado, who was president of the bar and restaurant association between 1994 and 2014, took over the running of Café Central in 2000, although in reality he has spent his whole life in cafés and with the 'bollos de manteca', which were the most popular product in those early years. More recently, in 2004, his son Ignacio joined the business, the third generation of the family to work in this sector.
Rafael recalls that in the early years the café was open nearly all day and night, only closing between 5 and 6am for cleaning. The main room, with its old-fashioned decoration, was frequented by local authority officials, singers, night workers and stevedores from the port. In the early years with the Prado family in charge, it became well-known for its delicious churros,and home-made cakes and pastries. "My father never stopped working, and he was very good at running the business," he says.
It was at that time that they invented the names for different types of coffee, something which later made them famous in the province and elsewhere. Prado explains that his father was fed up with having to re-do coffees because the clients always wanted a bit more than he gave them. They would, for example, ask for more milk, or say they wanted their coffee stronger.
"At that time people didn't like spending their money and they used to invent any excuse to try to get more coffee for the price" he says. So, to avoid the waste every time he had to load up the machine ("about 15 grammes"), his father decided to give the different ways of drinking coffee names, ranging from 'solo', which is black, to 'nube', so milky that it barely contains any coffee at all.
Photocopies given to clients
The most amusing thing was that they produced an A-3 size chart and gave copies of it to all the clients who went to the café, so they could learn the names. Nowadays a huge, more modern ceramic version presides over the room and they have even produced exclusive merchandise for their customers. Encouraged by Malaga's increasing popularity with tourists before the Covid pandemic, they started selling fridge magnets and even jigsaw puzzles with the iconic picture. The cups and glasses they use also have screen-printed images.
In 2018 Café Central opened a new branch in La Malagueta, and a few months ago they set up their own coffee roasting business, run by Ignacio Prado. In the latter they produce the coffee which is used by both cafeterias, and clients can also purchase packs of it if they wish.
In the future they plan to offer barista courses, to expand the passion for coffee throughout the city, "We have always had a reputation for giving our clients what they want," says Rafael.
Recently they also obtained a restaurant licence and have begun to serve home-cooked menus of the day and dishes to the people of Malaga, although Rafael says it is slow to take off. "Although those who try it do come back," he says. In fact, there are quite a few fans who come every week. However, he says it is a shame that most people in Malaga associate Café Central as a place to have breakfast or afternoon tea. "Ah, before you leave you must try our 'gazpachuela cargado'" he says.
For this family, 2020 should have been a great year. Rafael was planning to celebrate the 100th anniversary with his clients and was turning over ideas for several other projects in his mind, but the pandemic has taken away not only these expectations but also a great deal of his business turnover.
"Most of our clients now are tourists, from Spain and other countries," he admits, but he looks forward to the Café Central being with us for a very long time to come. Let's hope it will, for the sake of all coffee-lovers.