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How to order coffee in Portugal

Tuesday, June 24th, 2008

You’ve arrived to one of the richest coffee drinking countries in the world. Cafés beckon at every corner in Portugal, the sound of the espresso machine greets your entry, and now the hard part…how to order the coffee?

The Portuguese are very serious about their coffee and buy only top quality. Forget about ordering your drink with soy milk or non-fat. They focus on the coffee itself, not the details that accompany it. Remembering that some of the richest coffee growing countries in the world are former ex-colonies of the Portuguese, it’s not a surprise that their culture is dedicated to consuming such serious quantities of this age-old world commodity. From East Timor to Brazil to São Tomé e Príncipe, quality is hardly ever in question. Nor is quantity in short supply. With over 40,000 cafes and restaurants in a country of only 10 million people, your coffee needs will never go unsipped.

There are a few basic Portuguese coffee terms you should know so you are sure to get what you really want. Consult this list for a mini course on Coffee Culture in Portugal.

(Listed in order of strength from high powered to mild mannered caffeine boost)

  • Um café: Can’t get any simpler. Dark, rich espresso. Modest portion, usually consumed within three tiny sips. Only for the brave. Will cost you around .50 euro cents.
  • Uma bica: Different name for the same thing as the above. The Lisboeta way of saying ‘um café’.
  • Um café cheio: To take a bit of the edge off. Espresso filled with a bit of hot water. Still quite strong. Served in an espresso cup.
  • Um pingado:Espresso with a few drops of milk. In Spain and some Latin American countries this would be called a ‘cortado’. Served in an espresso cup.
  • Uma meia de leite: With almost equal portions of coffee to milk, this coffee drink is served in a standard coffee cup. The typical preparation is made with filtered coffee, but should you desire espresso, simply request ‘de maquina or directa’. If you still want your coffee on the strong side, specify ‘escura’.
  • Um galão: The exact same as a ‘meia de leite‘, but served in a glass instead of a coffee cup. Try it with the national pastry, ‘pastel de nata’.
  • Um garoto: Finishing off the list with the mild mannered garoto, this drink just gives you a hint of coffee, as the brew is made from the grounds that have already been run through with water on the last customer (think of it as coffee grounds recycling). Fill the espresso cup to the brim with milk and you have it!

To top it off, or more appropriately, double it up, you can double the quantity of espresso in your café or your café pingado by asking for a ‘café duplo’ or a ‘duplo pingado’. It will be served in a regular coffee cup and the caffeine will have you flying high for a day of sight seeing.

These terms are only your most common ways of ordering coffee. Spend an extended time in Portugal and learn the others.


Photo of breakfast coffee originally posted by McPig

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About the author

Venere Travel Blog writer maureen moore

With an ever-present thirst for culture, travel, beauty, and adventure, Maureen shares her perspective on the people and places that walk through her world through these writings. As a current resident of the City of Angels, USA, she shares her favorite city secrets from around the globe with other world wanderers through these posts.

7 responses to “How to order coffee in Portugal”

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  1. Jess says:
    July 14th, 2010 at 02:03

    Hey there!
    I’ve bumped onto your blog about coffee and I must say it’s terrific! My warmest compliments!
    What about adding some colour in it by bonding coffee with some artistic event?
    You know, I’ve heard of an international digital arts competition called “Anthares Coffee Prize”, which sounds to be pretty interesting!
    I’ve already posted something concerning the contest on my own blog and it seems successful !


  2. Maureen Moore says:
    July 15th, 2010 at 20:12

    Coffee and art! Two of my favorites. Send me your blog and thanks for the warm compliments.
    Cheers to that perfect cup!

  3. Vasco Roxo says:
    July 17th, 2011 at 10:11

    You got the ‘garoto’ wrong. What you described is in fact bad ‘garoto’. the true one is made with the last (less strong) part of a fresh shot of espresso letting half of the water run to the drain and then start pouring to the cup.

  4. Maureen says:
    July 21st, 2011 at 07:45

    @VascoRoxo Thanks for that insight; I hadn’t seen them prepare the garoto the way you describe in Portugal…perhaps the version i saw was their response to economizing coffee in tough economic times?!

  5. Vasco Arriaga says:
    July 21st, 2011 at 14:19

    @Maureen in fact i did a mistake. That’s usually what one gets for not reading things twice. What I described is a ‘carioca’ (and I always mix-up those two). Hope you find it in you to forgive me :)

  6. Eduardo B. says:
    October 4th, 2011 at 13:08

    Actually a ‘garoto’ is exactly the same as what you describe as a ‘pingado’, depending if you live in the south or in the north of Portugal. Also ‘pingo’ (which means ‘drop’) is another name for it.

    A ‘carioca’ is the espresso cup filled with water with the leftovers of the coffee from the last costumer. So, if you want a ‘carioca’ with milk you would ask for a ‘carioca pingado’.

    And one more way to ask for coffee: the equivalent for the ‘bica’ is, in the north, a ‘cimbalino’.

Comments on Twitter

  1. CPFitzsimons (Chris Fitzsimons) says:
    March 22nd, 2010 at 14:10

    Why is coffee in Portugal infinitely better than coffee in Spain?

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