I live on Portuguese coffee. It’s quick, inexpensive and readily available on almost every corner café/pastry shop around the country, but most importantly it’s tasty! And of course it gives you that nice caffeine boost you need to get through any time of the day or night, as many Portuguese like to have up to five cafés a day (breakfast, mid-morning, lunch, after work, dinner). For me though, I tend to keep it limited to two or three a day but I always enjoy my coffee here with one of the many delicious pastries that this country is known for, and it’s a blissful experience every time.
Are you a coffee lover as well? Then you can’t make a trip to Portugal without thoroughly enjoying some of their coffee. However I will warn you, if you’re only looking to drink a “café Americano” then stay. at. home. When in Portugal, do as the Portuguese do! And that means we drink real coffee, which you may know as espresso grade (FYI: If you ask for an American style coffee you’ll just get a watered down espresso, actually called a carioca, but so not worth it!). Yes, espresso has a strong flavor, yes it’s very tiny when you want more but don’t worry, the Portuguese have plenty of different styles you can choose to have your coffee, without a strong flavor. And if you know how to order them, you can skip the awkward, embarrassing scenes you normally fear in a foreign country and just savor you coffee like it should be.
Want to know more about the history and origins of Portuguese coffee? Check out my full in-depth Catavino article: Portugal’s Coffee: A Sumptuous and Delectable Treat
The Basics for Ordering Coffee (or anything at a café):
“Bom dia!”, “Boa tarde!” (boa tard) – Good morning! Good Afternoon! Always greet the server/barista before you order, it’s polite.
“Um, dois, tres, quatro, cinco” (oom, doish, tresh, quatroo, sinkoo) – One, two, three, four, five. Know your numbers so you can order the right quantity.
“Faz favor” (fazsh fahvor), “Obrigado/a” (oh-bri-gah-doo/da) – Please and Thank you (“o” if you’re a man, “a” if you’re a woman when saying thank you) should always be used when ordering as well!
So let’s practice: A simple coffee order for you and a guest: “Bom dia! Dois cafés, faz favor.” -“Good Morning! Two coffees (espressos), please.” Then, when the coffee is served, say: “Obrigada!” – “Thank you!” with an “a” if I had said it because I am a female. Don’t forget to tell them thank you and good morning (if it’s still morning) or good afternoon again when you leave.
Sugar Substitute? Regular sugar is always put with coffee unless you request otherwise. The only sugar substitute comes as a little white pill (eww!), called adoçante (ah-doh-sahnt). I say stick with the real thing.
And the bill? If you’re standing at the counter, you can simply ask: “Quanto é?” – “How much is it?” And if you’re sitting at the table, you can flag down the waiter and ask: “Pode trazer a conta, faz favor.” – “Could you bring the bill/check please?”
Tip? No, you don’t tip in cafés and pastry shops.
Common Styles of Coffee:
*There are numerous Portuguese coffee brands, some of the most popular in Lisbon are: Delta, Nicola, Sical and Camelo
- Café (café) – “coffee” A basic espresso, strongest in flavor. Don’t worry if you end up dumping your whole packet of sugar in it because most Portuguese do the same haha If you want to use local lingo for ordering, say “uma bica” when in Lisbon and “um cimbalino” in Porto.
- Café cheio (café sheioo) – “Full coffee” A long espresso, filled to the top of the cup, not as strong in flavor but still basically the same amount of caffeine, if perhaps more. Most Portuguese order this instead of a café duplo (double espresso).
- Café Pingado ( café peengadoo) – This is an espresso with a pingo – drop of milk. The “drop” can be more or less depending on where you go, sometimes it’s made very similar to a macchiato and other times it’s really just a tiny drop. If you prefer more with the foam, try asking for a garoto (“gahrotoo”).
- Meia de Leite (meiya duh light) – “Half milk” This is essentially the Portuguese version of a latté or cappuccino, served in a chávena – a large teacup. It again depends on where you order it whether you’ll get it more latté or cappuccino style, most of the time it’s just espresso and hot milk filled to the top but sometimes they’ll put a little foam, especially if they see you’re a tourist 😉 Many places also give you a choice in the morning whether you want it com machina – with the espresso coffee, or sem machina – using their lighter café da manhã or “morning coffee” that they brew in a big pitcher and has a smoother flavor. A meia de leite always comes with two packets of sugar, yes the Portuguese do love their sugar but I never put in more than one, sometimes less, you don’t need more if you’re eating something sweet with it
- Galão (guhl- ow) – The lightest style of Portuguese coffee, with only a touch of espresso and the rest filled with hot/foamed milk served in a tall glass. Many people like to have this as their first coffee of the day with breakfast, such as fresh bread or a sandwich or a torrada – the delicious Portuguese style toast. However, it is perfectly acceptable to order this, or any other style of coffee in the afternoon. Again, comes with two packets of sugar but this style if so light and smooth it almost doesn’t need any.
- Iced Coffee? – Uh….not really, you’ll have to make your own. I always ask for “um copo com gelo” – a glass with ice, along with my coffee order. First I’ll taste and add sugar if necessary while the coffee’s hot, then quickly dump it into my glass and give it a good stir. It’s not perfect but much more refreshing on a hot day then drinking hot coffee, though I only recommend trying it with smaller styles, like café or café pingado.
Have a deliciously wonderful café – filled day!