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What Is Galão Coffee? All About This Creamy Portuguese Delight

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

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I never thought I'd come across a milkier version of the latte! But when I first tasted galão coffee, I had to do a double-take.

I never thought I’d come across a milkier version of the latte! But when I first tasted galão coffee, I had to do a double-take.

This Portuguese coffee is full of robust espresso and steamed milk goodness. It packs quite a punch and is sure to awaken your taste buds.

Want to find out how this creamy delight stacks up against other coffee favorites? Let’s get to brewing!

Overview: What Is Galão Coffee?

So what is galão coffee? Is it Portugal’s answer to the latte? I think it is!

This milkier latte consists of one part espresso topped with three parts foamed milk. But don’t be fooled! Although it uses one part espresso to three parts frothed milk like in an Italian or American latte, it has a few key differences.

For starters, galao’s coffee base is a special Portuguese blend of Arabica and Robusta beans. Like in the Italian latte, these beans are dark-roasted, giving them a bold, chocolaty, nutty and slightly bitter flavor.

Roasting Coffee at Home Oven Roasting

The lashings of whole milk temper and complement the bold espresso taste, resulting in a mellow, sweet and creamy drink. This milk is likely UHT, as fresh milk (except in the Azores) can be hard to come by.

What about the tall glass presentation? That’s pure European chic! Traditionally served in a tall latte glass, the galão is famous for this signature look and feel.

Galão is your go-to when you want something that feels special but isn’t a caffeine punch to the face. It’s become a part of daily life in Portugal.

Most people indulge in galão coffee at breakfast and during morning breaks. Unlike in Italy, however, the Portuguese go one step further and also enjoy this coffee in the afternoon. It goes particularly well with Portuguese pastries like pastel de nata (custard tart), pastel de feijão (sweet bean tart) and queque (Portuguese muffins).

Overall this bastion of Portuguese coffee culture is giving the latte a run for its money and re-defining the espresso-milk blend.

A Brief History of Galão Coffee

How did galão coffee, Portugal’s creamy coffee gem come to be? Like many coffee drinks, it does have an interesting backstory. This delightful drink’s roots stretch back to the golden age of Lisbon cafés, the 1920s. During this era, modern Portuguese coffee culture was just taking off.

Coffee really integrated into Portuguese culture and coffee shops became the go-to hangouts. Fun fact: Cafés also operated as clandestine casinos, offering under-the-table card and billiard games!

Cafe Nicola Lisbon

The galão was born as a stylish twist on the classic espresso. The word galão translates to “gallon” in Portuguese, hinting at the lashings of milk that define this drink. Some also say it refers to the stripe or badge on an army uniform also known as galão, which corresponds to the shot of espresso.

Galao coffee quickly became a staple, loved for its smooth, mellow vibe – perfect for lazy mornings or afternoon breaks. The Arabica and Robusta bean blend, made with high-quality imports from Brazil and other Portuguese coffee-producing colonies, sharpened Portugal’s appetite for this coffee. As a result, more and more people who preferred a more mellow drink took to galão coffee.

Galão still rocks Portuguese culture today. Interestingly, it’s also beginning to make waves internationally. The robust espresso flavor compliments the creamy comfort of the steamed milk.

Additionally, this coffee is doing great things for Robusta coffee beans, which aren’t as popular as Arabica due to their pronounced harshness and bitterness. The mellow sweetness of creamy milk tones down the bitter acidic taste of the Robusta beans. This makes galão coffee the go-to coffee for those who like their espresso-based drinks milder.

What Does Galão Coffee Taste Like?

A galão is all about achieving the perfect balance. Imagine the smoothest, creamiest caffè latte you’ve ever had, then lighten it up with Southern European coffee flavor and flair. The dark-roasted Portuguese espresso blend that uses Arabica and Robusta coffee beans brings a rich, bold hit to this coffee drink. Think dark chocolate, burnt sugar and creamy, toasted hazelnuts.

Incidentally, the Robusta coffee beans in the blend gives galão coffee a stronger espresso taste than the typical Italian or American latte. On the other end of the scale, the steamed milk adds a silky sweetness that mellows everything out. This, in addition to the 3:1 milk-to-espresso ratio, gives this coffee a light, airy, velvety texture.

Despite the stronger Robusta-heavy espresso taste, a galão is surprisingly less intense than your typical latte. It’s also creamy without being too heavy. But in terms of caffeine content, it goes head to head with a piccolo latte, each containing approximately 63 milligrams per 4-ounce (118-milliliter) drink. If you desire a higher caffeine content, you can always order coffee with a double shot of espresso.

The steamed and foamed milk is the cherry on top of this caffeinated sundae. It’s what makes this coffee tick. So, if you dig a milky coffee that’s smooth, mellow and oh so sippable, the Portuguese galão might just be your new best friend!

Galão Coffee vs Latte

If you’ve been riding the latte or cappuccino train for a while, it might be time to give its Portuguese cousin the galão a look. But first, you may very well ask me: What is galão coffee when compared to a latte? After all, aren’t they both espresso based drinks with a similar caffeine content?

Casabrews Espresso Machine Cappuccino Latte Art

But I’d urge you to think again. These two drinks have subtle but significant differences.

First up, the caffè latte. This drink is one of the most popular coffees in the world. It originally hails from Italy, but has taken over coffee shops across America.

The latte boasts a 1:3 ratio of espresso to steamed milk, topped with a light layer of foam. Like the cappuccino, the latte uses an exclusive dark roast Italian blend of Arabica and Robusta beans. You’ll find it served in a regular coffee or wide-brimmed latte cup. In Italy, baristas serve this drink in 8-ounce (236-milliliter) servings, but larger servings of up to 20 ounces (590 milliliters) are available in America.

On the other hand, galão coffee is straight outta Portugal. Although it rocks one part espresso to three parts frothed milk like a latte, it’s smaller in size (4 ounces or 118 milliliters). I’d say it’s more akin to a piccolo latte.

Galão coffee also uses a special dark-roast Portuguese blend of Arabica and Robusta coffee beans. This gives it a unique smokier and toastier taste, quite unlike a regular latte. Additionally, galão coffee has a higher milk content. It’s more mellow in taste and boasts a lighter, frothier, velvety texture, despite the thinner layer of foam.

In Portugal, you’ll find it typically served in a tall glass, giving it that chic, Euro vibe.

How to Make Galão Coffee

Now that we know all about it, let’s recreate this Portuguese coffee shop favorite in the comfort of your kitchen. Here’s your step-by-step guide to brewing up one serving of creamy, dreamy galão coffee:

Ingredients

  • Portuguese espresso coffee beans

  • 3 ounces (90 milliliters) of UHT or fresh whole milk (whole milk works best for a creamier finish)

  • Optional: sugar, honey or other sweetener (to taste)

  • Optional: Flavored syrup

Equipment

  • Espresso machine or a moka pot

  • Automatic milk frother, or saucepan and hand-held milk frother

  • Espresso grinder

  • Tall latte glass

  • Stirring spoons

Naestri House Milk Frother Pouring

Instructions

  1. Start by grinding your coffee beans on a fine setting using an espresso grinder

  2. Then, brew up a shot of espresso. If you can, source a dark-roasted Portuguese blend of Arabica and Robusta coffee beans like Sical Classico. Alternatively, our very own Coffeeness coffee beans will do nicely. ]

  3. If you don’t have an espresso machine, substitute with another coffee maker, such as a moka pot. Aim for an espresso yield of 1 ounce (30 milliliters). 

  4. Now steam your milk. You can use fresh cow juice or non-dairy options like oat, macadamia or almond milk.

  5. You may use an espresso machine with a steam wand to froth up your steamed milk. It should have a nice layer of foam when you’re done. An automatic milk frother works great, too.

  6. Alternatively, place your milk into a saucepan and heat it on the stovetop. It should be at just below boiling point (150 degrees Fahrenheit or 65 degrees Celsius). Then, whisk the warm milk using a hand-held milk frother or whisk. This creates a creamy foamed milk with a velvety texture.

  7. Pour your espresso into a tall, heat-proof latte glass. Then, top your espresso with the three parts frothed milk, holding back the froth with a spoon.

  8. You may adjust the milk-to-coffee ratios to 1:2 or even 1:1. However this coffee would not be galão. Instead you’d be making a garoto and meia-de-leite (which translates to half milk), respectively. If you prefer your galão coffee stronger, use a double shot of espresso instead.

  9. Now, spoon some foamed milk on top of your galão for that perfect creamy finish. Sweeten your coffee and add flavorings, such as vanilla, horchata or dulce de leche if you like.

  10. Give your coffee a gentle stir, sit back and enjoy!

Pro Tips

  • Portuguese coffee mostly uses UHT milk. If you can’t find it (or don’t like it) whole milk is fine. You may also use skim, 2% and non-dairy milks but your coffee won’t be as creamy.

  • For an authentic Portuguese café experience, serve your galão with a small traditional pastry on the side. Pastel de nata (cream tart), pão de Deus (powdered sugar-coated coconut sweet bread) and guardanapo (folded egg jam cake) are some of my favorites!

Final Thoughts on Galão Coffee

I hope this short exploration of galão coffee has given you an appreciation for this Portuguese coffee shop staple. Clearly, it’s one of the most popular coffee drinks in Portugal and for good reason; it’s smooth, creamy and downright dreamy.

The next time you’re craving something other than a latte or cappuccino, give galão coffee a try. It just might make you unfaithful to the more well-known Italian milky coffees. Catch you on the flip side!

Have you ever tried galão coffee? Tell me all about your experience in the comments section!

Galão Coffee FAQ

A latte and a galão are both espresso-based coffees with steamed milk. However, they differ in their origins and proportions. A latte, popular in Italy and the US, has a 1:3 ratio of Arabica espresso to steamed milk and is served in a large cup. A Portuguese galão coffee, has a 1:3 ratio of espresso to steamed milk, and comes served in a tall latte glass. It uses a dark-roasted blend of Portuguese Arabica and Robusta beans for a stronger espresso taste.

In Portuguese, galão means “gallon.” It can also refer to the badge or stripe on an army uniform (galão). But when it comes to coffee, it refers to a popular Portuguese coffee drink (galao coffee). This coffee consists of a single shot of espresso topped with steamed milk and just a touch of milk foam, traditionally served in a tall glass.

To make a galao coffee, start by brewing a single shot of Portuguese espresso. Then, steam and froth milk until it’s creamy and smooth. Pour the espresso into a tall glass, add three parts steamed milk and a thin layer of milk foam. Gently stir and serve.

The key differences between a galão coffee and a meia-de-leite lies in their milk-to-espresso ratios and serving styles. A galão has a higher proportion of milk to espresso, typically 3:1, and comes served in a tall glass. A meia de leite (in Portuguese: half milk) is similar to a café au lait. It uses a 1:1 ratio of milk to espresso and is served in a regular coffee cup.

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Arne Preuss

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

More about Arne Preuss

Hi! My name is Arne. Having spent years working as a barista I'm now on a mission to bring more good coffee to the people. To that end, my team and I provide you with a broad knowledge base on the subject of coffee.

More about Arne Preuss

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