Coffee in Portugal is taken very seriously and you will find a café on almost every street. It’s a place to meet friends at any time of the day or evening, have a break from work, or just relax and watch the world go by.
If you just ask for a ‘coffee’ or um café in a coffee shop, you will get a shot of espresso delivered to your table. There is a bewildering array of names and styles of coffee available – so here is our simple guide to some of the most common coffees that you can order here in the Algarve.
The most popular coffee with the Portuguese is an espresso – although don’t fooled by the tiny cup this will come in – this one can pack a punch! We absolutely love our cafés – or bicas – now, but initially they were quite a shock – this is a strong little coffee hiding in an innocuous little cup! Here in the Algarve you can ask for um café or uma bica (in Porto and the north it’s called a cimbalinho) and you will get one of these:
We are often asked by waiters if we are sure that we are ordering the right thing … the conversation often goes along the lines of “duas bicas faz favor” and the waiter will say “duas bicas? .. “dois cafés?” and we reply “sim” .. and they say (in English usually) “are you sure?” … “sim” …. We even had a coffee shop owner bring out the little espresso cups and show them to us and say “are you sure, you want one of these?”
It would seem that not many expat British people drink a traditional café out here!
They will come with a pack of sugar … Dave manages just fine with his café ‘neat’ … but I prefer to add some sugar to mine!
There are many myths surrounding where the name ‘bica’ comes from – including the neat idea that it stands for Beba Isto Com Açucar or “Drink this with sugar”
You can even ask for the cup to be cold – a Chávena Fria.; or hot – a Chávena Quente. We just usually accept whatever comes along!
If you’d like um café a little larger, you can ask for a ‘bica cheia’ or a ‘café cheio’ or a ‘café cheio com agua’ which will all give you the same amount of coffee shot, but with a little more water added – it will still come in the same small espresso cup. Similarly um café curto or bica curto or ‘um italiano’ will give you a shot with less water than a standard café … and will probably add some extra hairs onto your chest!
If you’d like a double espresso, order ‘um café duplo’ – it’s rare to find that ordered by local people out here though.
You can order an espresso with a tiny drop of milk which is called either ‘um pingo’ or ‘um pingado’ or you can go to the other extreme and order an espresso cup which is full of milk to which a tiny bit of coffee is added – this is called ‘um garoto’. Depending on where you research, this word either means ‘kid’ or ‘boy’ and the tradition goes that it was a weakened version of um café given to children to introduce them to the flavour of coffee.
What we would call an Americano – a large black coffee, often a double shot of espresso topped up with hot water; the Portuguese call ‘um abatanado’.
If you are ordering um café then it would be rather rude not to order its natural pairing of a ‘pastel de nata’ or custard tart pastry – they just seem to go together so well!
Coffee with milk
If you like your coffee with milk, there are a few options, the usual one would be to order ‘uma meia de leite’ or ‘um café com leite’ which will give you a teacup sized cup with a handle with approximately 50/50 coffee and milk. If you want it a bit stronger, ask for it to be ‘escura’ when you order. It will usually come with a bit of froth on top:
If you would like a more milky coffee then order ‘um galão’ which is about 3/4 hot foamed milk with a single shot of coffee – it’s the closest thing to a latté – and very nice!
It will come served in a glass rather than a cup – beware the coffee shops and cafés that serve it in a glass without a handle .. it’s almost impossible to pick up and drink until it has cooled down a bit if there’s no handle!
For some reason they always seem to go very nicely in the morning with a ‘croissant misto’ .. a lovely fresh croissant filled with ham and cheese:
Many cafés also have cappucinos on the menu too – although some will make it with whipped cream rather than machine frothed milk. Best to ask first!
Most cafés can cope with you asking for any of the above coffees served with decaffeinated coffee – just ask for ‘café descafeinado’ when you order.
In some places the coffee is served with a cinnamon stick, which is used to stir the coffee or you can drink it using the stick as a straw.
You will always be given regular white cane sugar with your coffee – if you would prefer sweetener then you need to ask for ‘adoçante’ instead. It’s very rare to find brown sugar on offer anywhere!
Brands of Coffee
As far as coffee brands go, there are a few names that you will see all over the Algarve, these include Delta, Nicola, Camelo, Buondi and Sical. It’s probably a personal preference, but we’ve not found a huge difference between the brands, our favourites are Delta and Sical when we are out, but I doubt many people choose their coffee shop according to the brand of coffee .. it’s much more about location, ambience and convenience I’m sure!
The Portuguese are extremely proud of their coffee, a combination of slow-roasting Arabica and Robusta beans brewed with a high water pressure combines to create a unique and satisfying coffee that is hard to beat.
It’s also great value! Our local café charges 65c for a um café or uma bica – we know we’ve made it to ‘local’ status as they now charge us the same 65c summer and winter for our coffee … the price tends to jump up to 70c or 75c for tourists in the summer – but we are still charged the ‘locals’ winter price now! In the more tourist areas expect to pay at least 1euro for um café .. or even up to 2euros in a ‘posh hotel resort’ (shocking!) A local café will charge 1euro or 1.20euros for uma meia de leite or um café com leite or um galão .. expect to pay anything up to 2euros or even 2.50euros each for the same in a posh café – you will pay for that sea view!
Thanks to the lovely Helena Rocha at Tradutex we can also share this great YouTube video with you – how to order a coffee in Portuguese – which will help you with all the tricky pronunciation – just click the picture here to view the video:
Whatever you choose, and however you like your coffee – you can be sure of one thing – once you have tried a Portuguese coffee .. nothing else will come close to it in the future!