Friday, 17 June 2011


Portuguese coffee is wonderful.

Granted it is not grown here, but it is roasted and blended here and there's nothing like it.

I've had coffee in Italy (harsh in my opinion) and in Brazil (just plain awful) both of which you would think were countries with excellent coffee. Frankly they just don't get close to the smooth, strong, delicious coffee you find in just about every café across Portugal.

There are several ways coffee is served here and most people are very specific about the way they like it. Here's a run down of the most common:

Bica / café / cimbalino

Otherwise known as an espresso the humble bica (as it's called in Lisbon, cimbalino in Porto and plain old café across the country) is the staple of the Portuguese café. The coffee blend is mostly smooth, strong and oh so dark. Order an italiana and you'll get what in Italy is called a ristretto or a very small espresso. Otherwise you can ask for bica cheia and you'll get a bit more coffee than normal in your cup, which will make it slightly weaker. Because of the variety of options for your espresso, if you want it just as it comes you may just need to ask for a café normal!


This is a favourite of northern European tourists and little old ladies (forgive me it's not my favourite at all). It's a milky coffee served in a glass. If you like your coffee strong make sure to ask for it that way and be certain that it's made with fresh espresso. It's great way of warming your hands on a cold day... or burning them if you're not too careful.

Meia de leite (chinesa in Madeira)

This is the Portuguese equivalent of a cappuccino though not quite so frothy. One of my favourite types of coffee. Make sure to ask for a meia de máquina or you may be in danger of receiving something pre-prepared, which entirely misses the point.

There are several other ways of drinking coffee in Portugal, but these three are the most common and should keep you buzzing all the way to lunchtime.


  1. Meia de leite is more like a latte than a cappuccino.

    You forgot to mention 'abatanado' which is an americano, i.e. a shot of espresso topped up w/ hot water.

    And of course if you want a double espresso you can ask for a 'bica dupla' or a 'café duplo'.

  2. Eu tenho que admitir: o melhor café DO MUNDO eu tomei em Portugal. Até então, achava que eram os italianos que sabiam preparar o melhor café do planeta. Mas não -- este está em Portugal!
    E como você disse, em qualquer café de esquina o café será de muito bom para excelente. E além disso, é BARATÍSSIMO! Fora os doces que você pode comer para acompanhar o café...
    Aqui no Brasil você precisa procurar para tomar um café decente. E para um bom expresso, aí então precisa procurar mais e mais. Em São Paulo, já é mais fácil, por causa da herança italiana deles.
    No Rio, de uns 5 a 7 anos para cá melhorou muito, mas ainda está deixando MUITO a desejar. Às vezes você pede um expresso, e ele parece mais ralo do que café coado. E café aqui é caríssimo (sim! é carríssimo! mesmo sendo o país o maior exportador de café do mundo).