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how to order coffee in portugal

This post was written by Emma on March 1, 2010
Posted Under: living in portugal

Coffee drinking is a serious business in Portugal. There’s no way you can come here and not have to order a coffee at some point, so here is some essential information.

These are general guidelines. No two cups of coffee will ever be identical no matter what words you use. Relax, it’s just a drink.

I’m sorry, tugas. I apologise, it’s just a sacred drink. Please go easy on me, I’m just a beginner, a humble student if you please. And please if you have some corrections, additions or some anecdotal contribution to make, be my guest.

pastelaria

The most popular coffee is an espresso. In Lisbon you would order um bica (oong beekuh) and in Porto um cimbalinho (oong simbalEENyo). Elsewhere um café (oong kaFEY).

expresso

There are infinite variations on how it comes, so don’t be shy about being specific about your needs. Cheia (shayuh) is a full espresso cup, tres- quartas (tresh kwartas) 3/4 full, a ristretto is called um italiano (small, strong, the first few seconds of the machine’s coffee). You could ask for it não quente (nowng kent; not hot;) and they’ll put a dash of cold water in it for you.

cafe_cup

In this pic (below) there is um italiano (top), um bica (right) and um cortado (left). In Portugal a cortado is a standard measure from the ‘small cup’ button on the machine, not to be confused with a spanish cortado (cut with milk, see below).

3_cafe

Staying with the small cup theme, your poison may be um pingo (oong pingoo) also called um pingado (oong pingardoo); an espresso with a drop of milk (sometimes hot milk, sometimes not). Um garoto (below, left) has more milk; about 50/50 coffee-to-milk ratio but still in a small cup. In Spain this is known as a corto or a cortado. In Australia it’s a piccolo caffe latte. Uma carioca (below, right) is the opposite of a ristretto – a full small cup minus the strongest first two seconds of an espresso.

garoto

For a long black, or a large black coffee, you would order um abatanado. This could be also called um café americano, but ordering an americano may get you an instant coffee in some places. If that’s what you want then order um nescafe. If you’d like a double espresso, order um café duplo (oong kafEY DOOploo)

abatanado

Going the milky way, um galão (oong galowng) is served in a tall glass and is about 3/4 milk. Traditionally a galão is made with a second passing of coffee from the machine and is very weak. If you want something more like a caffe latte than coffee flavoured milk, order a um galão directo (deeretoo). You can also ask for a dark one escuro (eshkooroo) or a light one claro (klaroo). Ordering a galão after midday will provoke funny looks, unless you’re over 80. It’s either for breakfast or it’s a nanna’s drink. You might save face by ordering uma meia de leite (maya de late) which is half milk in a regular cup, like a flat white in Australia. But like my half-Australian buddy, you could try ordering a layer de mate, mate :)

um-galao

Special thanks to frogdropping for her impeccable production assistance in the rain and everything.

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Reader Comments

  Written By rodrigo
#1 
on March 2nd, 2010 @ 12:39 am

At last! A detailed dictionary compiled by Emma on coffee etiquette and what the the hell one is drinking. Hello everybody, my name is Rodrigo. I am Portuguese and to this day I have no clue how to order a coffee in Portugal. I can anywhere on earth except Portugal. Portuguese are a quirky and difficult bunch when it comes to muddied waters.
Now when you opening the “Emma Donna do cafe” shop?

[Reply to comment]

Emma   Reply: March 5th, 2010 at 4:33 am

yes I’m still dreaming of a cafe called ‘breakfast’, by the sea, with batidos for the surfers… :)

[Reply to comment]

rodrigo   Reply: March 5th, 2010 at 4:49 am

@Emma, Will that be in Portugal or in Australia? How things going with the building?

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Niko   Reply: January 25th, 2011 at 1:53 pm

@Emma, Well when you do start “breakfast” tell me and I will start “dinner” next door and sell microbrewery beer from Portugal (still pushing for this)

From,
Niko (another Aussie in Tugaland)

[Reply to comment]

Emma   Reply: January 29th, 2011 at 12:14 am

mate that is an excellent idea. there’s a huge opening there between sagres and superbock which are essentially the same. like having VB and Reschs and along comes redback. Fantastic idea, which fits perfectly with breakfast. you’ve got the bar franchise at least ;)

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Ana   Reply: November 14th, 2012 at 6:52 am

‘bica’ it’s feminin. so it’s ‘umA’ bica. :)

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Emma   Reply: November 19th, 2012 at 2:45 pm

oops. But the post gets a #1 google ranking for anyone who gets it wrong!

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  Written By Emma
#2 
on March 2nd, 2010 @ 1:10 am

Did you have a lovely time, the day you went to Lisboa! Shall take this as notes for my trip at the weekend. Great fotos of Café Versailles. Just love the mirrors in there. Beijos.

[Reply to comment]

Emma   Reply: March 5th, 2010 at 4:29 am

yes it was nice and good to devote a day to just cafes and nothing else… it was very chic, even in the rain. :)

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  Written By Ana Teresa Pinheiro
#3 
on March 2nd, 2010 @ 4:57 am

Now, some corrections.
In Lisboa you’ll ask for a “bica” (regular expresso) and in Porto you’ll ask for a “cimbalino” (no “h” in that word). This name comes from the name of the coffee machine “La Cimbali”.
And the “Small Few First Seconds” are called “uma italiana” (feminine, of course ;) ) and it is a strong flavoured coffee.
As it goes, the oposite is “um carioca” (masculine), a coffee without the first seconds and with a much milder flavour.
All this said, beautifull production.
Can you sleep now????
Kisses from a “bica” lover.

[Reply to comment]

Emma   Reply: March 3rd, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Obrigada Ana… yes sleeping was rather a challenge after all that :)

[Reply to comment]

Ana Teresa Pinheiro   Reply: March 3rd, 2010 at 11:34 pm

@Emma, You’re welcome, girl.

[Reply to comment]

  Written By Paulo Reis
#4 
on March 2nd, 2010 @ 7:39 pm

Bica com cheiro ( bica with a smell or drop of aguardente or brandy ) my choice after dinner …

[Reply to comment]

Emma   Reply: March 3rd, 2010 at 10:43 pm

Oh. thanks paulo, I don’t know how I left it out!

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  Written By Mónica S.
#5 
on March 2nd, 2010 @ 11:14 pm

Hi emma.I see you called “cortado” to a full cup of coffee. I’m portuguese and live in Alentejo, and here we say “café cheio” (full coffee).
Usually “abatanado” comes in a large cup, like meia de leite’s cup. I really love coffee, but i think most of the times, coffee is just an excuse to go out and do something. Specially here, we don’t have much to do…
Oh, and “carioca” has a tea version: “carioca de limão”. Is a small cup with a lemon peel, hot water.

take care :)

[Reply to comment]

Emma   Reply: March 3rd, 2010 at 10:40 pm

maybe I’ll devote a whole post to the lemon tea…thanks monica

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  Written By Isabel
#6 
on March 3rd, 2010 @ 1:31 am

If you are finnicky (which Portuguese obviously are prone to be, in a café, at least) you can add “em chávena escaldada” (in a hot cup) or “em chávena fria” (in a cold cup).

I found that the trend is for coffees getting more and more ristretti, so I have to be careful to ask for “uma bica cheia” otherwise I will end up what, in my old-fashioned mind, is “uma italiana”… that by now is a few drops in the bottom of the cup.

Another distinction about galões, is that they can be “de máquina” (with expresso coffee) or “de saco” (with percolated coffee). Maybe in some real old fashioned places you can still have them with chicory instead of real coffee.

Then there is another type of carioca not to be mistaken with these drinks, the “carioca de limão”, an infusion of lemon zest.

[Reply to comment]

Emma   Reply: March 3rd, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Oh now that is cool – a hot cup or cold cup! I forgot to include the cha (thanks for the real name) I think lemon peel tea is unique to portugal. I love it. But what a bout the bica with a drop of lemon? I was given it once as a cure for migraine … I drank it, entirely skeptical of course… and it worked.

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  Written By Lorie M
#7 
on March 3rd, 2010 @ 9:59 am

I don’t have any corrections to add — I live in Minnesota in the U.S. after all. But, I just loved this posting! Love it, love it — it sounds like the Portuguese are even crazier about coffee than I am. I must come visit at some point – it sounds like Heaven!

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Emma   Reply: March 3rd, 2010 at 10:31 pm

it’s definitely one of the things that attracted me… I’m not such a coffee-head but a “cafe culture” shows a nice sociability, and a very democratic “culture”… a sign that people like to take the time to have a chat, and share a cup. And the modern history of portugal was decided in a cafe… all the stories of people meeting, and thinking, and writing, and doing… thank you lorie

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  Written By João Santos
#8 
on March 3rd, 2010 @ 10:38 am

and the legend says that BICA meant Beba Isto Com Açucar (Drink this With Sugar) because when coffee first appeared in Lisbon people didn’t like it because it was too much bitter :)

[Reply to comment]

Emma   Reply: March 3rd, 2010 at 10:25 pm

yes! I like that anecdote… a little instruction, and the rest is history :)

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  Written By Isabel
#9 
on March 4th, 2010 @ 12:02 am

I’m not so sure about the “coffee culture” if you mean by that a “Starbucks” sort of thing. A lot of foreigners, at least, are taken aback by the speed (and how often in the day) the Portuguese gulp down a cup of coffee standing at the counter, at least in cities. The seem to expect ALWAYS the use of a café as a gentleman’s club, which, of course, it is another face of reality.

What I think is very specifically Portuguese is the habit of ordering PRECISELY what one wishes, in the most excruciating detail, and coffee is just the acme of that idiosyncrasy… that nobody else understands! I still remember the horrified look on the face of a (very lusophile) Dutchman, sitting at a table with some 5 or 6 Portuguese in an office restaurant, when at the end of the meal he offered to go get coffee: instead of the hands-up count he expected, he was faced with “One from the ladies! (the espresso machine at the counter)”, “Me too!”, “Mine from the normal machine! (a percolator by the cash register)”, “A full small cup! (uma bica cheia, yes?)”, “Thanks, but I’ll get mine from the coin machine! (in another room)”.

Oh, by the way, I’ve also heard “A small coffee in a big cup, please!”

[Reply to comment]

Emma   Reply: March 4th, 2010 at 4:33 am

nah, I mean “the habit of going to cafes, not just to feed one’s habit” as the meaning of cafe culture. I think it’s awful that this phrase has somehow been adopted by starbucks to signify the starbucks experience only. Real coffee culture has no brand, and it is certainly more about social anthropology than gastronomy. To me, that is…
As for the porties, well they’d have no problem with the scene in LA Story where the californians each make their order… :)

[Reply to comment]

  Written By Anna
#10 
on March 4th, 2010 @ 5:16 pm

Hi Emma,I just love your blog.I’m also Australian, my parents are Portuguese.I was also born in 1969.Love the photos of the pastelarias,coffee looks great.So does the Bola de Berlim.I loved these & tracked all over to find the perfect one.

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Emma   Reply: March 5th, 2010 at 4:26 am

obviously that is a baby bola berlim…. very cute… today I saw one in Ourem about 10 times that size, like as big as your fist. Mmm that’s a proper breakfast one :)

[Reply to comment]

Isabel   Reply: March 5th, 2010 at 8:45 am

@Emma, I bet I know where! Either that or Ourém specializes in monster cakes! I just couldn’t believe the sizes they sell there.

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  Written By Cristina
#11 
on March 7th, 2010 @ 3:52 am

Reading the post & comments reminds me of the quirkiness of Portuguese coffee culture. When I travelled back for the first time with my Canadian husband, he was astonished of the sheer number of cafes in Lisboa (& that they were never empty). And likewise, I always chuckle when reminded of my mom’s experience with coffee once she immigrated to Canada–she couldn’t understand why people were drinking such huge amounts of weak coffee & why they insist nowadays to carry cups of this bad coffee around everywhere they go. Thanks for this post & photos. (fico com muito saudades) Cheers!

[Reply to comment]

  Written By Isabel
#12 
on March 7th, 2010 @ 8:17 pm

Chatting with a friend yesterday I was reminded of a coffee specialty that seems to have gone out of fashion, unfortunately (I bet that it will be recovered by Nestlé one of these days, like ice tea, so much worse than the real thing): masagrã! Or rather, it’s original French name, mazagran, that seems to mean the cup itself but for us is the drink: weak coffee with ice and a zest of lemon. Delightfully refreshing in the summer!

Oh, and our friend wiki tells us that Starbucks and Pepsi DID try to pull the stunt that Nestlé has pulled with ice tea, but failed:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mazagran

[Reply to comment]

Isabel   Reply: March 13th, 2010 at 11:39 pm

Aha!

Agora da lista fazem parte limonada, mazagran (refresco de café), orchata (à base de amêndoa), chá gelado (à base de chá de jasmim), capilé (xarope natural à base de folha de avenca), groselha (xarope natural), leite perfumado (fervido com canela e limão, servido muito gelado), ginjinha, Licor Beirão, vinho do Porto, amêndoa amarga, moscatel de Setúbal.

http://aeiou.visao.pt/vai-de-refresco=f505957

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  Written By frogdropping
#13 
on March 13th, 2010 @ 9:14 am

Ahhh the coffee production relaes passed me by! It was a rather decadent day, if a little wet! And where are my fingers?! The only time I come close to being on camera and where’s me fingers lol!

I still love a meia de leite, though I largely drink a good old British cuppa at home now. When out it’s um bica, yum.

Beautiful pictures Emma. My first experience re professional photography. The added bonus being the scoffing of the props!

Thanks for a great day out in Lisbon :)

[Reply to comment]

  Written By DLoop
#14 
on March 30th, 2010 @ 8:39 am

Hello, I live in Portugal and I am preparing a video presentation of Portugal. i was impressed by your pictures of the coffee shops and was wondering if I may use on of them. Thank you.

[Reply to comment]

  Written By Vanda
#15 
on April 8th, 2010 @ 5:04 am

Bica is feminine, so it would be uma bica, not um bica. :) Um café works just as well, though, even in Lisbon!

[Reply to comment]

Emma   Reply: April 11th, 2010 at 4:28 am

Of course, that’s just such a lesson 1 mistake. der. :-)

[Reply to comment]

  Written By Mandy de Azevedo Coutinho
#16 
on April 16th, 2010 @ 6:51 pm

Great fun your blog! I have mentioned it on the “Amendoeiras em Flor, Places to Stay & Things to Do in Portugal & Spain” page on face book.

http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?ref=profile&id=1019258424#!/pages/Amendoeiras-em-Flor-Places-to-Stay-Things-to-Do-in-Portugal-Spain/202918500800?ref=ts

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  Written By Pedro
#17 
on January 28th, 2011 @ 10:47 am

This is amazing, I love your attention to detail, which makes you a connaisseur of Portuguese coffee. Which does not go too far from being espresso and close relatives… :-]

It’s very interesting to see the things we – the portuguese – grew up with as seen with totally different eyes. Mind you that not everyone is the same and most of all people in different regions act and react differently.

Good luck with _all_ ‘our’ genders :-] which I believe were invented to confuse anyone trying to learn portuguese. hehehehe

Best regards,
Pedro.

[Reply to comment]

  Written By Paula F M
#18 
on April 22nd, 2011 @ 11:41 am

This http://www.albinoblacksheep.com/flash/italy is about Italy but here, in Portugal is the same. There are millions of coffees! :D

[Reply to comment]

  Written By Ana
#19 
on May 27th, 2011 @ 5:03 am

Hello Emma,
Lovelly blog.
I’m portuguese and I love coffee!
I came across your blog because I was looking for the definition of abatanado, to explain to my friends on facebook…
Very good post!
Best regards,
Ana

[Reply to comment]

  Written By pedro
#20 
on October 23rd, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

Hey Emma, +1 proud portuguese approving of this post. Very acurate :)
Beautiful pictures too.

But I would mention plain brewed coffee on boiling water.
Expresso completely took over and all the coffee you will taste on a portuguese caffé will come from an expresso machine. That said it’s still very popular among older people to brew coffee in the mornings and drink it either simple or with some milk.

Since very young age, I’ve been having a cup of coffee with milk and a sandwich for breakfast. Nothing beats the smell of fresh brewed coffee in the mornings.
Sical and Delta still sell copious amounts of coffee to this market.

[Reply to comment]

  Written By Filipe
#21 
on November 14th, 2012 @ 6:28 am

Hi,

Loved the post, I am Portuguese. This one “Ordering a galão after midday will provoke funny looks, unless you’re over 80.” makes me laugh but just a small correction, you can drink galão in the meal between lunch and dinner, no one will give you funny looks after 4h~5h in the afternoon. I think people give you funny looks because if you drink it before this hours they will assume that you just awake up and are taking breakfast.

[Reply to comment]

Emma   Reply: November 19th, 2012 at 2:47 pm

I see. Excellent clarification, thankyou. Faux pas avoided :)

[Reply to comment]

  Written By Ines
#22 
on January 29th, 2013 @ 10:17 pm

Hi Emma,

In Lisbon we ask for “umA bica” instead of “um bica” because it’se a feminine word, and the correct word for asking a coffee in Porto is “cimbalino” instead “cimbalinho” :)
stay cool

[Reply to comment]

  Written By Johny Garcia
#23 
on February 12th, 2013 @ 10:36 pm

Hello everyone!

I’m from Brazil but I’m living in Portugal since 2005!
I really loved the way you described how to order a coffee here in Portugal.

One of the best part was how you wrote the portuguese words in english hahahahaha it was so funny!

Congratulations :D

[Reply to comment]

  Written By In~es
#24 
on March 4th, 2014 @ 2:03 am

Funny article. 2 corrections:
- umA bica (feminine, so feminine article) ;)
and
- um cimbalino (not cimbalinho) – the name comes from the coffee machine brand :)

[Reply to comment]

  Written By Zeca
#25 
on March 17th, 2014 @ 4:29 pm

Congrats on the café report. As a portuguese temporarly in the US I have made the same kind of report but describing the amount of different latte, iced mocca, for-here or to to-go, tall medium or gigantic cup, and the main difference is just that we don’t get to choose the coffee grain. ( also, ours have much more funny names. ).

[Reply to comment]

Emma   Reply: March 17th, 2014 at 9:00 pm

it’s all about the names for sure. I overheard someone making a coffee order the other day, giving the details for the cup size, amount of coffee, milk, temperature etc… “A Carioca!” I said. “In Portugal, what you want has a name!” He was very pleased that his preferred recipe was recognised somewhere:). We call a meia de leite a Flat White here. HOW BORING.

[Reply to comment]

Zeca   Reply: March 18th, 2014 at 5:29 am

@Emma,

Perhaps that’s the biggest difference: we use names, you excel on adjectives.

[Reply to comment]

  Written By Cristina Martins
#26 
on March 22nd, 2014 @ 1:03 am

Hi! I just found this post and loved it! Let me add another (very portuguese) variation: Many people like the bica really hot and request it in a hot cup (chávena quente) but in the summer there’s the habit of taking it with a cold glass of water, to drink between sips of coffee. :)

[Reply to comment]

  Written By Diane Bushby
#27 
on April 16th, 2014 @ 11:26 pm

I love um galão and yes I order it morning, afternoon and night! Yes I get funny looks and yes when I order an evening meal in a restaurant they always laugh at me…but hey I am a nanny allbeit a young nanny and I just love Portuguese coffee!!

[Reply to comment]

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