Europe’s Best-Kept Coffee Secret: Visiting a Coffee Plantation in The Azores

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Last updated on April 18, 2024 | Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

When you think of coffee production, your mind likely wanders to the lush plantations of Brazil, Colombia, or Ethiopia. However, tucked away in the Atlantic Ocean, on the picturesque island of São Jorge in the Azores, lies a hidden gem: Portugal’s only coffee plantation, and one of two in the whole of Europe.

coffee plants sao jorge

The Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal, is known for its stunning landscapes, volcanic islands, and now, its unique coffee. While the vast majority of coffee consumed in Portugal is imported from countries within the “Coffee Belt,” which spans from the Tropic of Capricorn to the Tropic of Cancer, São Jorge boasts a small but thriving coffee plantation.

Dina Nunes, whose family owns the plantation, which is essentially a small plot of land behind the café, explains that São Jorge offers the perfect conditions for growing coffee. Despite its low altitude, the island’s climate mirrors that of Brazil, with average annual temperatures ranging from 12°C in winter to 25°C in summer, coupled with ideal air humidity. The Nunes family’s plantation, which started with just a handful of plants nearly 40 years ago, now boasts 800 coffee plants and produces around 770 pounds of beans in a year.

What sets São Jorge’s coffee apart is its organic approach. “We exclusively have Arabica, but we are totally biological—we do not require any chemicals to fight pests since they just do not exist here,” Nunes said, speaking to Sprudge. “And we also fertilise with the husks, leaves, and the coffee grounds.”

Visitors to the island are greeted by a carved cup in a tree trunk, bearing the engraving “Café da Fajã,” welcoming them to Café Nunes. Manuel Nunes, the 66-year-old owner, takes pride in the quality of their coffee, which attracts tourists from around the world.

cafe nunes up close

The plantation’s harvest season runs from May to the end of August, with all beans picked by hand and dried on racks for three to four weeks. Manuel’s 92-year-old grandmother, Elvira Nunes, meticulously removes any impurities from the beans before they are roasted the old-fashioned way, in an iron frying pan over a fire.

While the exact origins of coffee cultivation on São Jorge remain a mystery, experts believe the plants may have been brought over from Brazil during the late 18th or early 19th century, when many Azoreans emigrated to the South American country following the great earthquake of 1757.

In 2023, Delta Coffee, Portugal’s largest coffee producer, made history by launching the first Portuguese coffee entirely produced in the Azores, further cementing São Jorge’s unique place in the world of coffee. The coffee can be purchased at Delta The Coffee House Experience stores.

Although other European destinations, such as the Canary Islands and the UK’s KEW Gardens, are experimenting with growing coffee, the Azores’ São Jorge Island remains the only truly commercial coffee-growing region in Europe. So, if you find yourself in the Azores, be sure to visit Café Nunes, sit down, and savor a cup of this rare and delightful European coffee.

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James Cave is the founder of Portugalist and the author of the bestselling book, Moving to Portugal Made Simple. He has visited just about every part of Portugal, including Madeira and all nine islands of the Azores, and lived in several parts of Portugal including Lisbon, the Algarve, and Northern Portugal.