Coffee in Portugal: What to Order & How

The small print: Portugalist may generate a commission from mentioned products or services. This is at no additional cost to you and it does not affect our editorial standards in any way. All content, including comments, should be treated as informational and not advice of any kind, including legal or financial advice. The author makes no representations as to the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors or omissions or damages arising from its display or use. Links to external websites do not constitute an endorsement. [Disclaimer Policy]

Written by: | Last updated on February 8, 2024 | Est. Reading Time: 9 minutes

In Portugal, life revolves around coffee. Here, you never have to walk very far before you come to a pastelaria or coffee shop. The pastelaria is the heart of Portugal, and you will find at least one in every neighbourhood. Often, there will be two or three, and they will almost always have customers.

Pastelarias are different to the coffee shops you see in other parts of the world. You can not only get coffee, cakes, and savoury items here, but (often) a main meal (such as one of these traditional Portuguese dishes) and alcohol as well. In fact, you’ll often see older men or manual workers drinking a small beer or a glass of brandy alongside their coffee in the morning.

Love Coffee?

Why not stay in a coffee hotel? The Palácio do Visconde, a boutique hotel in Lisbon with themed rooms that pay homage to historical figures related to coffee. Tours of the working coffee factory are available.

If you’re visiting Portugal, you may have noticed that coffee culture is slightly different here. Traditional pastelarias do not have lattes, flat whites, or cappuccinos, like you might find in coffee shops in other countries. Instead, you’ll come across words like ‘bica’ and ‘galão’.

It’s normal to be confused, but don’t worry: I have drunk a lot of coffee in pastelarias all over Portugal, and I’m happy to guide you through all of the different options. I’ve also included pronunciation guides next to some of coffees that are difficult to pronounce.

The short version:

There are lots of different types of coffee in Portugal, and lots of variations on those coffees, but these are the most common types that you need to know.

  • Um café (an espresso) – The most typical coffee in Portugal. Even if it’s not your favourite, it will probably be what you drink after a meal.
  • Um abatanado/americano – If you want a slightly longer black coffee (although not as big as an American coffee).
  • Uma meia de leite – The most similar coffee to a latte.
  • Um galão – A milkier (and slightly larger) coffee.

Espresso coffees

“Um café”

bica and a pastel de nata
© Portugalist – A ‘café’ and a pastel de nata

This is an espresso, and it’s what you’ll get if you ask for a coffee (um café). It’s short, rich, chocolatey and the most popular coffee in Portugal. Cafés are drunk several times per day in Portugal, just like shots, to keep people going.

In Lisbon, you would ask for “uma bica” (bee-kah) whereas in Porto you would ask for “um cimbalino.” You can just ask for “um café” in either city, though, and people will know what you mean.

Sidenote: Apparently BICA stands for Beba Isto Com Açucar (drink this with sugar) because when it first came to Portugal it was considered extremely bitter. You can drink your coffee without sugar, but most people add a sachet.

“Um café cheio” or “uma bica cheia”

In Portugal, a café is never quite filled to the top. If you want that extra bit of water, you ask for “um café cheio” or “uma bica cheia”.

“Um café pingado”

This is a café or espresso that has been topped up with milk. In Spain, this type of coffee is known as a cortado.

We don’t say “um pingo”, we say “um café pingado”


“Um garoto”

This is a milder-tasting espresso that’s around 50% coffee and 50% milk. The word garoto literally means a little boy. Apparently, this is because this is what parents give their kids when they’re trying to introduce them to coffee.

“Um carioca”

A carioca is a weak form of espresso that’s ideal if you’re not looking to get too wired on coffee. Normally when an espresso is made, the old coffee is emptied out and replaced with freshly grounded coffee. To make a carioca, you don’t change the coffee. Finding a good carioca seems to be a challenge.

A carioca should be made with half the amount of coffee of a ‘bica’, but unfortunately most of the ‘pastelarias’ make it the way you mentioned and them it comes out to be a really horrible, sour drink.
Hope I helped in making a tasty carioca.

Alice Batista Prego

“Uma Italiana”

The closest type of coffee to this is a Ristretto.

“um café duplo”

A café duplo is a double expresso. This is what you drink when your neighbour’s dog has been barking all night or you’re busy cramming for exams.

“Café com Cheirinho”

“café com cheirinho” or “bica com cheiro” is a coffee with a drop of brandy or aguardente in it. You can also order the two separately, and you’ll often see older Portuguese men drinking a coffee alongside a glass of brandy.

“Café com gelo”

This is as far as Portugal goes when it comes to iced coffee: an espresso and a glass of ice. You put the two together, and make your own iced coffee.

“Café descafeinado”

This is a decaffeinated coffee or espresso, but you can add the word descafeinado to any of the coffees to make it a decaf. Want to get more particular about your coffee? Ask for your coffee in a chávena quente (hot cup).

Milky coffees

Milky coffees are typical in the morning in Portugal and you’ll see many people order a meia de leite or a galão. The milk that’s typically used is a full-fat long-life milk (UHT). Although some places may have skimmed milk, there isn’t really a selection of milks. You won’t have the option of ordering half-and-half or heavier milks, for example. As for plant-based milks like soy and almond milk, it’s likely these will become more common in the coming years, but you won’t find them in most traditional pastelarias for now. If you want a milky plant-based milk, look out for a more modern coffee shop where the menu has things like lattes and flat whites rather than meia de leites and galões.

“Uma meia de leite”

© Portugalist

This is half milk and half coffee, and it’s similar to a flat white or a latte. If you want it stronger, you ask for “uma meia de leite escura“. Recently, places have started experimenting with latte art, although that’s a fairly new thing.

“Um galão”

© Portugalist

Um galão is a tall glass of warm milk with coffee in it. This is a popular drink in the morning and around 16:00-17:00, especially if you’re having some food (especially cakes) alongside.

Usually this is made using the carioca coffee method whereby the machine isn’t re-filled with freshly ground coffee, resulting in a weaker coffee.

If you want a stronger coffee, particularly first thing in the morning, you can ask for a galão directo aka a proper shot of espresso in your galão. On the other hand, if you aren’t a big coffee drinker, you could ask for a “galão clarinho“, which is an even milkier version of the galão.

Note: Some places aren’t very good at making milky coffees, and often the coffee or milk can taste a bit burnt.

“um abatanado com um pouco de leite”

A black coffee (similar to an Americano) with some milk.

Black Coffees

“Um abatanado”

© Portugalist

“Um abatanado” (in the South) or “um Americano” (around Porto) is somewhere between an espresso and an Americano. If you want a long black coffee, this is the closest thing that you can get to it. Even then, it isn’t always as big a coffee as a lot of people will like. 

Getting a big cup of coffee similar to an Americano is quite difficult and, even if you ask for an abatanado, often they’ll only put a tiny bit more water in it. It’s rare that they’ll fill it to the top of the glass.

If you want to guarantee you cup is full ask for an “abatanado cheio“, which means a full abatanado or a black coffee with extra hot water.

Non-Coffee Drinks

If you’re not a coffee drinker, here are some other drinks that you could order.

“Uma carioca de limão”

Lemon and hot water.

“Um chá”

Chá is tea, and normally if you say tea that means black tea (chá preto). If you want tea with milk, you could ask for “chá preto com leite“. Some places will automatically just bring milk to foreigners. Other teas you could ask for are chá camomila (chamomile tea), chá tilia (tilia tea), and a chá de frutos vermelhos (red fruits tea).

“Um copo de leite”

If even a galão clarinho sounds like too much coffee for you, you could order “um copo de leite” (a cup of milk).

“Leite com chocolate”

Milk with chocolate powder (e.g. Nesquik).

“Sumo de Laranja”

Orange juice.

What to order with your coffee

Now, that’s a whole other question. The easiest thing to order, especially if you’re visiting Portugal for the first time, is a pastel de nata (or what many people call a Portuguese custard tart).

This isn’t Portugal’s only pastry—be sure to read the list of all the other cakes you should try—but it’s a good place to start. Many pastelarias also serve a main meal at around lunchtime, which is almost always something traditional and usually very affordable as well. If you’re looking to try some traditional Portuguese dishes, the café is a good place to go.

FAQs about Portuguese Coffee

What’s the most typical Portuguese coffee?

If you want to ‘order coffee like a local’ order an espresso. Normally this is called a café, but in Lisbon it’s also called “uma bica” and in Porto it’s called “um cimbalino“. If that’s a bit confusing, just ask for “um café”.

Which Coffee is most similar to…

People often ask which Portuguese coffee is most similar to a latte, a flat white, etc. and there are even charts which attempt to match up these coffees with Portuguese coffees. The reality is that Portuguese coffee is different. If you order something expecting a flat white or a latte, you’re probably going to be disappointed.

An abatanado is similar to an Americano, but it’s really not the same (although it’s called an Americano in Porto). Similarly a meia de leite is similar to a flat white but, again, it’s really not the same. Instead, just order a coffee without any preconceived notions of what it should taste like.

Written by

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.

You can contact James by emailing or via the site's contact form.

Spotted a mistake? Suggest a correction

There are 30 comments on this article. Join the conversation and add your own thoughts, reviews, and stories of life in Portugal. However, please remember to be civil.


  1. As a daily consumer of hand pour/pour over method (Hario V60 my tool of choice) black coffee, I did some searching online before my trip to Lisbon and am happy to report back that I found two amazing places:

    1. Fábrica Coffee Roasters and 2. Copenhagen Coffee Lab

    Both offered fresh roasted top quality beans and pour over/hand poured coffee that mirrored what I consume at home.

    I love going with the flow and immersing myself in the culture but I can’t stand I’ll-sources, low quality, over roasted (to hide imperfection and poor quality) beans that taste like charcoal (most of my experiences with espresso INCLUDING Starbucks in the US).

    I wouldn’t bother with espresso from Delta, Sical, etc. all trash coffee in my opinion.

    If your goal is to get caffeinated, go ahead and take shots of whatever black liquid you can get your hands on. If your goal is a flavor trip, like the ‘Strawberry Compote’ I got from Fábrica, the V60 (or “veh sessenta”) is the way to go.

  2. Former cafe\restaurant worker for 15 years, having had instruction by Delta and Sical on coffee brewing (basically, the two best portuguese coffee brands). I have to correct some inaccuracies:

    -Carioca is basically made the same way as an espresso, differing in that you let the initial brewed coffee dripped from the spout and only then you put the cup. Brewing a carioca with used coffee grounds inside the portafiller will not yield a carioca, just an insult from your customer. There’s also something called “café sem princípio” or “café sem pontas”, which is sort of a mid-term between a regular espresso and a carioca, sometimes a justifiable choice if we’re dealing with a robusta predominating coffee blend.

    – Elisabete also said what she thinks is true, but she is wrong. In Portugal, we can say “pingo”, “pingado” and even “cortado”, and depending on the region, the popularities of these expressions will vary, or there will even be no distinction between this and a “garoto”, being the costumer that has to state how light or dark he wants it. The word “pingado” is an adjective meaning “dripped” (implying a drip of milk), and thus, can be used in conjunction with basically all ways to ask plain coffee: abatanado pingado, italiana pingada…

    – Café com gelo – that’s certainly not as far as Portugal goes with iced coffee. We wouldn’t even ask it like that, we ask for “refresco de café”, which will result in you being served a tube glass with ice cubes (optional lemon slice) and an espresso (so you can decide if and how much sugar you add). You can also order a mazagran, but only experienced cafe workers will know what it is (and sometimes we erroneously refer to it as capilé, which is a different drink).

    -Cream coffee. Traditionally we also had the “cafe com natas”, which has been completely defaced by tourism and falling out of trend; it was basically an espresso served with a miniature pack of cream (like the miniature butter packs on courverts). Now it is just canned whipped cream on top of an abatanado, sprinkled with stuff on top to look fancy.

    -Meia de leite comes from the expression “meia chavena de leite”, “half a cup of milk”. The plural is then “meias de leite”. This is, basically, our cappuccino, differing only from its italian counterpart in the amount of milk foam that is not as much as a cappuccino, but nowadays is basically inexistent (same thing happens with galão)

    -Italiana is exactly a ristretto. Many portuguese people ask for “café curto” (short coffee) and “italiana” interchangeably, but café curto contains just a bit more than a ristretto.

    – Basically anything can be a “duplo”; this simply states it is made with either two espressos or with the double-spout portafiller.

    Galão is certainly not “a tall glass of warm milk with coffee in it”. That is just a “glass of milk with coffee”. Galão is, technically, the exact same thing as a typical italian latte. It requires the milk to be frothed, which is why the excessive tourism and relative exploitation of youth and immigrants in the cafes of Portugal has reduced the galão to being just coffee and milk, generally. Frothing milk requires a bit of skill and is time consuming, so it doesn’t bode well with mass tourism and lack of competence from workers.
    Also, there are usually two types of galão, directo and indirecto\não-directo. Directo means the coffee part comes directly from a freshly brewed espresso. Indirecto means it comes from the coffee pot; remember all the wasted coffee brewing cariocas? And what happens to a freshly brewed espresso that was supposed to be an italiana? That perfectly fine coffee goes into the coffee pot, and is used to make the indirect versions of meia-de-leite and galão, or even goes back to the kitchen so the baker can use it for delicious goodies like our waffer semi-freddo (bolo de bolacha e café). Hence many places having the galão directo and meia-de-leite directa more expensive than their indirect counterparts.

    -Some places also offer something called café biberon, or café bombom, which is basically an espresso with condensed milk, served in a glass or transparent cup. This is a spanish thing, but also not rare in Portugal.

    Latte art is definitely not something knew here, but it fell into disuse and is seeing a resurgence. Shame to know germans, italians, english and americans came to Lisbon to spy on each other during WW2, and they all praised the quality of our café service, and the finesse with which we did it, and that only now we are reaching the levels of quality of about a half a century ago.

  3. Being an owner of a Pastelaria in Portugal, I can tell you that making a “carioca” can only be done by first making a small-cafe “curto”, and then immediately pulling the trigger on another regular cafe, if you wait it will become bitter. The professional coffee machines aren’t designed to allow for a shortage of ground coffee in the portafilter, in my case it’s has to be 7.5g of coffee, otherwise its a hot mess of coffee grinds all over the place… hope this helps.

  4. Hi,
    “Um pingo”
    This is a café or espresso that has been topped up with milk. In Spain, this type of coffee is known as a cortado.

    We don’t say “um pingo”, we say “um café pingado”

  5. At last, a good reference article on coffees in Portugal! This will help reduce the confusion a lot when I order a coffee! Still in the ‘settling in’ phase (northern Portugal – wonderful!) after retirement and learning of portuguese coming along slowly. Ref abatanado, I’d imagine it’s ‘abatanado cheio’ as the adjective must agree with the noun? Thanks for a great article!

  6. Hi. Can you settle a debate. If I order more than one “meia de leite” would it be duas ‘meias de leite’ or duas ‘meia de leites’ or perhaps duas ‘meias de leites’. Great article. Thanks in advance.

  7. I’m going to be staying at an apartment in Lagos for several weeks. I will have a coffee grinder and a french press. Can you tell me how to procure whole coffee beans? Is there anywhere that would have a variety and be relatively fresh? If ordering online is my only option, I’m not even having success there.


    • Hi Chris,

      You can buy whole coffee beans in the supermarket easily. Just about every supermarket will sell beans from Delta and maybe one or two other Portuguese coffee brands.

      For more of a variety and freshly roasted beans, you’ll need to go to a specialist roastery. These aren’t very common in the Algarve, but there are a few coffee shops that also roast their own beans mentioned in this article:

    • People will know what you mean when you say cappuccino, but they probably won’t be able to make one. There isn’t really an equivalent, but meia de leite is probably the most similar. It’s more similar to a latte though.

      The point of the article is that Portuguese coffees are different, and you won’t find things like cappuccinos here. You’ll need to go to an Italian restaurant or a more touristy cafe to find a cappuccino.

  8. When in Portugal in 1989 we started in Lisbon, traveled north stopping at 4 or 5 posadas until landing in the algarve for a week and it was always “uma bica”, resulting in a small espresso.

  9. Hello,
    Just a little information, a carioca should be made with half the amount of coffee of a ‘bica’, but unfortunately most of the ‘pastelarias’ make it the way you mentioned and them it comes out to be a really horrible, sour drink.
    Hope I helped in making a tasty carioca.

  10. I have a 2 week trip to Portugal coming up in Sept.
    Do you have a suggestion for a list of useful basic words / phrases that can be learned quickly or taken along and used as the need arises? I like to be able to communicate in the language of the country that I’m visiting even if it is only very very basic. Thanks for your help! A great guide 🙂

    • Hi Francine,

      There’s a free audio (and text) course by a website called 50 Languages that’s very helpful (and you get the audio too).

      Note: I did notice one or two tiny mistakes in what was being said and what in the translation, but I think it’s 99% correct.

  11. Great! That helped me on 99.9 percent! The only flaw is i went to portugal 8 times but I did not have a perfect coffee experience. The service is a little slow. I am not a huge fan of coffee and tea so in my point of view it is not 100%. Others may think differently but thanks for the help!

    • Hi Lila,

      Haha! Well, I can’t help with the Portuguese service. I would say that service in cafés is probably faster than any other business in Portugal. Things just tend to move slowly here.

  12. Hi Rika,

    So glad I could help.

    Yes, there is an entirely different coffee menu here and it takes a while to get used to it. People come here expecting to be able to order a cappuccino or latte because they’re the norm everywhere these days, but you’ll never find them in a traditional Portuguese coffee shop.

    Good luck with learning Portuguese. There are a few articles on this site that can help!

  13. The tale of BICA meaning something else than the Portuguese translation of “spout” is a funny story.
    Most people in Portugal drink it WITHOUT sugar anyway.

  14. I just recently arrived back from Portugal. Loved the article about coffee and I had multiple cups a day. I found the best way to experience Portugal is just ask. We just asked for cafe con leche and perfect every time. From Lagos to Lisbon never a bad coffee experience. My advice just go with the flow. The minute you leave your American ways behind you will really enjoy Portugal.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.