• 2017.09.19
  • A Cup of Coffee

If you order café (coffee) in Portugal, you will receive what is called espresso coffee in Japan.
It costs no more than 100 yen, and swallowing the fragrant dark brown liquid in one gulp kicks off your day.

While it is not widely known, it would be no exaggeration to say that Portuguese coffee ranks up there with Italian coffee as the best in the world.
This is likely to be because Portugal imported coffee beans from its colonies, such as Brazil, Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe, Guinea-Bissau, and Timor, and developed the basics of blending at an early stage.

There is another essential element (apart from the beans) to making delicious espresso coffee - the espresso machine.
Extracting the liquid by forcing hot water quickly through finely-ground coffee beans by machine brings out the umami in coffee. The higher the pressure, the faster the extraction, which enables creating coffee with any unpleasant taste.
High-pressure espresso machines are manufactured in Portugal, and this country had the leading world market share for a time.

Based on these elements, Portugal has a long-standing and firmly-grounded coffee culture, and coffee is an essential part of life in Portugal.

A simple cup of coffee is the background to so many different facets of daily life.
A coffee sitting in front of a student studying for a test. A coffee to take the edge off the fullness of a big meal. A coffee cooling in the hands of regular customers as they carry on a never-ending conversation. A coffee for a regular at a favorite café, ready before they even order. A coffee to round off an evening out. A coffee to deepen a friendship. A coffee ordered to find out from the owner what is going on in the neighborhood. A coffee to relieve the stress of a long day...

There is in fact a diversity of brewing methods at cafés in Portugal, and I’d like to share some with you.
●Bica→ A name used to describe coffee in Lisbon, and an acronym for Beba isto com açucar.
It means “drink this with sugar,” and it evokes how bitter coffee once was for people.
●Cimbalinho→ What a coffee is called in Porto, drawn from a classic brand of espresso machine, La Cimbali.
●Abatanado→ Coffee served in a tea cup and diluted with hot water. Also called Americano.
●Italiana or Bica curto→ A coffee of a volume which can be drunk in about two sips.
●Bica/café cheio→ A coffee of a larger volume than usual.
●Carioca or bica flaca→ Coffee extracted from used grounds.
●Café com cheirinho→ Literally “coffee with aroma.” Brandy or other liquor is added to regular coffee.
●Meia de leite→ Café au lait, served in a tea cup.
●Garoto→ Similar to a café au lait, served in a demitasse cup. Garoto means a boy.
●Galão→ Lots of milk added to the regular amount of coffee, served in a glass.
●Pingado→ An espresso with a drop or so of milk added.
*Coffee with milk is ordered by the amount of coffee, such as claro (light) or escuro (dark). Also, if you do not say máquina (machine) you may be served hot milk with instant coffee added.
●Mazagran→ Iced coffee. Unlike in Japan, regular coffee is served separately to a glass with ice cubes and a slice of lemon. You dissolve sugar in the coffee yourself, pour it into the glass, and drink when it has cooled down. In Portugal, iced coffee is usually drunk with lemon.

When you visit Portugal, please start your trip with a cup of coffee.

Photograph: Galão


  • Megumi Ota
  • JobConservator, interpreter, and coordinator / Insitu (restoration), Kaminari-sama / Novajika, and others

I’m a conservator and preservationist living in Portugal. I specialize primarily in paintings (murals) and gold leaf design, and am involved with UNESCO World Heritage structures as well as the interior of the Palace of Belém. I derive great satisfaction from having close ties to my community in the rural village near the Silver Coast where I live. My hobby is gardening.

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