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Portuguese Coffee Culture: A Look Into the Rituals and Traditions

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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If you think you've seen it all with triple-shot caramel lattes and peppermint mochas, think again! Today, I'll take you across the Atlantic to explore a little slice of caffeine heaven: Portuguese coffee. 

If you think you’ve seen it all with triple-shot caramel lattes and peppermint mochas, think again! Today, I’ll take you across the Atlantic to explore a little slice of caffeine heaven: Portuguese coffee. 

This European country might not have been on your coffee radar just yet. But trust me, Portugal’s coffee game is next level.

Coffee here and in the Portuguese diaspora isn’t just a beverage–it’s a lifestyle. And you can forget about grab-and-go routines; folks here take their time with the brew and savor every sip like a fine wine. 

Ready to dive in? Join me as I explore the delightful world of Portuguese coffee culture. 

Overview: Portuguese Coffee Culture

Portugal’s brew scene is all about intense, bold flavors, simplicity and laid-back vibes. Unlike the fast-paced coffee culture in the States, the Portuguese take their time with coffee. Crucially, Portuguese culture clings to a conservative coffee attitude. What matters to them is letting those beans shine! 

Unlike light or medium roast Arabica beans, coffee here is mostly dark-roasted. As such, Portuguese Robusta coffee blends deliver a rich, intense flavor.

Madeira wine, coffee and hohey cake, View to Funchal, Portugal

Importantly, Portuguese culture also dials down the volume; no American-sized jumbo cups here! Most coffees come served in a small cup, encouraging you to slow down and savor it.

Portugal’s amiable coffee habit means that the Portuguese have a fairly ingrained coffee routine. Like in Japan, baristas here elevate coffee to a ritual. Similarly, locals make a point of drinking coffee at their neighborhood cafe daily, catching up with friends or for the more introverted, people-watching. 

The bottom line is: There’s no rush or hustle when it comes to coffee in Portugal – just pure, unadulterated bliss! In this regard, coffee is Portugal’s number one social beverage. In fact, vamostomarumcafé (let’s go for a coffee) is a phrase you’ll hear often in this country. 

A Brief History of Portuguese Coffee

How did coffee become a Portuguese addiction? Let’s take a short trip back in time to find out more about the history of coffee in Portugal.

It all began in the 18th century, when Europe – Portugal included – went nuts over coffee. Portugal, always ahead of the curve, started importing these magical beans from its colonies around 1727. 

Portuguese coffee came from South American farms in Brazil (where we currently get our coffee beans, by the way) and Africa (Angola, Mozambique, Guinea and Cape Verde). 

Portuguese colonists didn’t just import any old coffee, though. They brought in high-quality Arabica and Robusta beans and blended these to their tastes. 

Degass Coffee Beans Without Airscape Plunger

Fast forward to the 19th century, and Lisbon’s café scene began popping off. Coffee joints were the place to be! Intellectuals, creatives and politicians would gather to debate and of course, sip on killer coffee. The iconic Martinho da Arcada, founded in 1782 and Café A Brasileira, founded in 1905, became verifiable hotspots that are still in operation today. 

By the early 1900s, the Italians, led by Angelo Moriondo, perfected the espresso machine. This had a significant impact on Portuguese coffee. The Portuguese tweaked espresso to their taste, creating the legendary bica. This small, potent coffee uses an earthier blend of Arabica and Robusta coffee beans. It’s now a national treasure. 

Over the years, coffee has become deeply ingrained in Portuguese culture. From the morning bica and galão to the late-night cheirinho, coffee literally punctuates the day!

Portuguese Coffee Culture Today

Today, Portugal coffee culture is thriving. This country doesn’t grow coffee per se. But it does grow coffee in the mid-Atlantic Azores, the only European coffee plantations in the world. Despite not growing coffee, the coffee industry in Portugal is worth a staggering €2.8 billion ($3 billion)!

Trendy new specialty coffee shops are popping up in major cities like Lisbon, Porto, Vila Nova de Gaia and Aveiro. Lisbon Portuguese coffee shops particularly, blend old-school charm with modern flair. Some of Lisbon’s best pastelarias (specialty coffee shops) include Copenhagen Coffee Lab, Café Nicola and Confeitaria Nacional. Café A Brasileira, Martinho da Arcada and Fábrica Coffee Roasters are also notable.

Café Nicola Lisbon

If you explore further into the country, Café Majestic in Porto, Café Santa Cruz in Coimbra and Café Vianna in Braga are worth visiting.

Incidentally, you’ll also find Starbucks and Costa Coffee in major cities. These bigger coffee companies are becoming increasingly popular. Despite this modernization, Portugal has a firmly preserved coffee culture. More and more specialty coffee shops are opening on every corner, and each continues to serve classic brews. 

But, increasingly, these coffee shops are putting a modern twist on traditional brews. This is because younger drinkers tend to favor less bitter coffee, ordering Starbucks-style caramel lattes, cold brews and iced mochas instead. Will this eventually change Portuguese coffee culture? It remains to be seen.

The coffee revolution is also taking hold in homes! The average Portuguese adult consumes about 8.8 pounds (4 kilograms) of coffee beans annually, the ninth-highest consumption in Europe. Breakfast will more than likely include coffee, and folks will drink the brew mid-morning, with lunch and late into the night. 

What Makes Portuguese Coffee Different?

Portuguese coffee highlights bold and rich flavors. This is because it mostly uses dark-roasted Arabica and Robusta coffee beans. Despite the simplicity, there’s a whole lot of variety! You’ll get everything under the sun, from a punchy bica (espresso) and creamy galão to a refreshing mazagran. You should also note that Portuguese coffee shops tend to use UHT milk, seeing as fresh milk can be hard to come by. 

Crucially, baristas craft different coffees with care and precision. Like in other Southern European cultures, their hope, I suspect, is that you savor rather than guzzle your drink. After all, coffee here is more about pausing, reflecting and enjoying life. 

How to Order Coffee in Portugal

Now that I’ve covered the history of Portuguese coffee, how about we learn more about ordering coffee in Portugal? Like with French and Italian coffee, it’s a highly ritualistic and sociable culture, but there is a method to the madness. 

More and more Portuguese are embracing cappuccinos, lattes, mochas and drip. But Portuguese culture clings to old favorites, even today. So it’s worth knowing how to order old-school coffees to experience Portugal coffee culture in all its glory. 

Breville Barista Touch Cappuccino

When you walk into any pastelaria or coffee shop, hit those friendly baristas with a confident bomdia (good morning) or boatarde (good afternoon). Greetings are essential in Portugal; not doing so would be a faux pas. Also, always include a fazfavor (please) with your order. 

Polite note: all coffees arrive comaçucar (with sugar), so be sure to say so in advance if you don’t partake. You may also ask for water with your order. And if you prefer decaf coffee, ask for it descafeinado

Once you receive your drink, an obrigado/obrigada (thank you) is much appreciated. More so if they notice you’re a tourist who’s made an effort to speak Portuguese! 

Although paying once you’re done is customary, you can settle the bill when your barista delivers your coffee drink. Most coffee shops charge two prices: one for using the counter and another for seating. Several, such as Café A Brasileira, charge three different prices: a counter, indoor seating and outdoor table price. So, be mindful of this. 

On finishing your coffee, a polite, Quantoé? or Podetrazeraconta, sefazfavor? should get you the bill. As you can see, like in Italy, France and other Southern European cultures, coffee in Portugal is a ritual. And one to enjoy at that!

When it comes to coffee, the Portuguese sure do know how to brew up something special. Despite the conservative coffee attitude, coffee here is still rich with variety. 

But the Portuguese are also careful to maintain their firmly preserved coffee culture, developed over centuries. To experience authentic Portuguese coffee, here are some must-try beverages:

Bica/Café

Uma bica is the quintessential Portuguese espresso, also ordered as um café. The term bica is an acronym for bebaistocomaçúcar, meaning “drink this with sugar.” Bold and smooth, Portuguese espresso uses dark-roasted Arabica and Robusta coffee beans, slowly roasted. Like in Italy, bica comes served in a small espresso cup and is often accompanied by pasteldenata (traditional custard tart). Further north, in Porto, order this coffee as um cimbalino

Pasteldenata Portuguese Traditional Custard Tart

The Portuguese have really gone all out with espresso serving it in a wide array of styles! For an extra caffeine kick, ordering umcaféduplo will get you the Portuguese version of the double espresso. You may also ask your barista for um café Italiano or cafécurto if you prefer a sweeter, shorter espresso (ristretto). Conversely, the longer, more bitter lungo, which fills the espresso cup to the brim, is cafécheio

Interestingly, you may also order your espresso as umasemponte. This service style omits the first espresso extraction, supposedly leading to a less bitter shot. Another way to order your espresso is “scalded” or umcaféemchávenaescaldada. Your barista will preheat your espresso cup before pulling the shot. And if the heat outside is too much, do the opposite! Order your espresso umcaféchávenafria, and your barista will chill your espresso cup before pulling the shot.

Café Pingado

For those who enjoy drinking coffee a tad milder, um cafépingado is ideal. This espresso shot has a splash of milk, just enough to take the edge off. As Italian dominates coffee lingo, you could say this is the Portuguese macchiato. Only, it stains with milk instead of foam. If you would like a little more milk, ask for umpingo, basically a cortado.

doppelwandiges Cappuccinoglas

Garoto

Um garoto is an interesting Portuguese coffee with milk served in a small espresso cup. The term in Portuguese means “young boy” and refers to this coffee’s milder intensity.

Interestingly, it uses the first or last extraction of the espresso shot for a milder taste. Fun fact: It’s so mild that parents use it to introduce coffee to their kids! You’ll find it under another name in the north, um pingo.

Galão

If you prefer your coffee on the milkier, sweeter side, um galão is your go-to. The origins of this coffee’s name are fascinating, to say the least. Some say it draws its name from the Portuguese for the gallon, a unit of measurement. Others say it refers to the stripe or badge on an army uniform (galão) corresponding to the shot of espresso used. 

To me, it resembles an Italian latte, consisting of one part espresso topped with three parts steamed milk and a thinner layer of milk foam. Typically served in a tall latte glass with umatorrada (grilled buttered bread), this milky coffee is a mid-morning and mid-afternoon staple.

Meia-de-Leite

Uma meia-de-leite is another popular choice for those who like their coffee milky. It’s akin to a French café au lait, consisting of equal parts espresso and steamed milk. In fact, its name directly translates to “half milk.”

This Portuguese coffee strikes the perfect balance between espresso’s robustness and whole milk’s creaminess. If you prefer a little bit more of a caffeine kick, order it as umameia-de-leiteescura (darker).

Abatanado

Hot Americano Coffee

Are you a fan of American-style coffee but want to keep it authentically European? Try umabatanado! It’s the Portuguese version of an americano but much smaller. 

You should note that americanos are rare in Portugal. If you order one, it will be much milder as the Portuguese use a cloth filter to brew the espresso base. Again, the north has another name for this coffee; wait for it … umamericano! If you want this coffee with milk, ask for it as umabatanadocomumpoucodeleite.

Um Café Carioca

This Portuguese espresso-style coffee is an odd one, if I do say so myself. It uses the spent coffee grounds of a just-pulled espresso shot. Properly brewed, baristas should use half the coffee grounds they would for a bica to make this drink. But most prefer leaving spent grounds in the espresso machine portafilter before using them to pull a second shot. 

Understandably, good um carioca is hard to come by. It may be lower in caffeine, but it’s also weak in flavor and slightly sour. Needless to say, this coffee might not be to everyone’s liking. 

Café Mazagran

Mazagran Coffee Original Iced Delight

Looking for something refreshing but distinctly Portuguese? Mazagran coffee is Portugal’s very own iced coffee, made with espresso, sugar and lemon, and served over ice. 

It’s an excellent, refreshing option, trendy during warmer months. In fact, mazagran coffee has come to define the Portuguese’ caffeinated ritual iced coffees. If you prefer a more pared-down iced coffee, ask for umcafécomgelo (espresso with lots of ice). 

Café com Cheirinho

Um cafécomcheirinho is Portuguese coffee with alcohol. It literally means “coffee with a scent.” Typical alcoholic additions include wine, medronho (fruit brandy) or aguardente (grape pomace liqueur). Your barista may serve the alcohol with the coffee or on the side. 

Like the Italian corretto, it’s effective as a digestif and is (not surprisingly) popular in colder seasons. In the Azores and Madeira, you’ll find this boozy coffee as um café com música (coffee with music). How apt!

Final Thoughts on Portuguese Coffee Culture

I hope this lowdown on Portuguese coffee culture has given you lot’s of unique insights!

If you ever find yourself in Portugal, don’t stick to your usual brew. Dive head first into their one-of-a-kind coffee scene, and sip on a bica, savor a galão or flex with a mazagran.

I can tell you this, once you taste Portuguese coffee, the flavors are sure to live with you for a very long time!

Ever tried Portuguese coffee before? What did you think? As always I’d love to read your opinions in our comments section below!

Portuguese Coffee FAQ

Portuguese coffees are strong, flavorful brews. They typically use dark-roasted Portuguese Arabica and Robusta beans. The default coffee order for most drinkers is the bica or um café (espresso), galão (similar to a latte) or the refreshing mazagran (iced coffee with lemon). 

A galão (galao coffee) is a popular Portuguese coffee, similar to a latte. It contains one part espresso and three parts steamed milk. 

The most popular coffee drink in Portugal is the bica or um café. Similar to an espresso, this small, strong shot of coffee has a rich flavor and smooth finish. In the north, you’ll find it as a cimbalino.

The best Portuguese coffee really depends on your personal preferences. However, many locals and visitors swear by the bica or um café (espresso) for its robust but smooth flavor. For a creamier option, the galão, made with espresso and steamed milk, is a favorite. Another standout is meia-de-leite, a café-au-lait-like mix of espresso and hot milk and mazagran, iced coffee with lemon.

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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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