Coffee in Portugal: What to Order & How

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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 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.

For a non-Portuguese person, however, the pastelaria can be a confusing place — especially when it comes to ordering coffee. Unlike coffee shops in most other countries, there’s no sign up listing all of the different coffees (well, there’s usually a pricelist but often it’s very small and hard to find). Generally, there’s no menu on the table either.

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Don’t worry though: this article will guide you through the initially confusing world of Portuguese coffees.

Espresso coffees

“Um café”

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 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.

“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.

“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”

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”

galao-coffee

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”

“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.

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Comments

  1. 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!

    Reply
  2. 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.
    Erik

    Reply
  3. 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.

    Thanks.

    Reply
    • 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: https://www.portugalist.com/hipster-guide-algarve/


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      Reply
    • 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.


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      Reply
  4. 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.

    Reply
  5. 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.

    Reply
  6. 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 🙂

    Reply
  7. 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!

    Reply
  8. Muinto obrigada for the guide. I work at the Portuguese snack bar, despite not speaking Portuguese much. But I'm learning as I go and with the help of Google too! I'm learning words from words on the menu😂 but no menu for coffee for me to learn the name/the word which confused me when costumers coming in for cafe com leite and I'm just blank in my head😂. Portuguese is sure hard language to learn but I love the learning process 😅

    Reply
    • 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!


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      Reply
  9. 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.

    Reply
  10. 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.

    Reply