Portugal may be famous for many things, such as its stunning beaches and delicious seafood dishes, but it may not be the first country that comes to mind when thinking about coffee. Portuguese coffee culture is ingrained in everyday life and the history of Portugal. It is believed that the Portuguese played a vital role in the expansion of the coffee industry and that it was in fact the Portuguese colonists that introduced the coffee plant to Brazil.
If heading to Portugal is on your bucket list, then let us help you understand and uncover all there is to know about Portuguese coffee culture, so you know what to expect.
History of Portuguese coffee
During the decades of economic isolation under the Salazar regime, Portugal sourced the majority of its coffee from its colonies, especially those in Angola. The beans that were grown and imported were mainly that of the Robusta bean. The Robusta bean was enjoyed for its strong and bitter coffee. It is believed that the Portuguese soldier Francisco de Melo Palheta, who was stationed in Brazil, set about trying to find the coffee bean whose value was well known among many. The bean was discovered in French Guiana, however, the trade of the beans was not accepted by the governor of French Guiana, as he refused to do business with the Portuguese.
The stories suggests that Palheta took it upon himself to seduce the Governor’s wife, and then escaped with a bouquet of flowers which disguised hidden coffee beans. This was how Coffee was introduced to Brazil and helped Brazil become the world’s fourth largest coffee producer by the 1970’s.
The Portuguese colonists developed large scale plantations across the country of Brazil, and then sent the coffee beans to Portugal for roasting and then for distribution. Cafés soon started to open in cities such as Lisbon and Porto, which attracted poets, artists and politicians who like to sit and contemplate issues of the day, whilst drinking short, sharp Portuguese coffee. The idea and habit of drinking coffee made its way across the nation, and today in Portugal, the population consumes vast quantities of coffee every day. Portuguese coffee is served in traditional coffee houses one of three ways:
Galão = an espresso with steamed milk
Garato = an espresso with a little milk foam
Bica = an espresso.
The term Bica which is used in Lisbon for “a cup of coffee” mirrors: B (Beba), I (isto), C (com), A (açucar) , which translates to “drink with sugar!”.
Portuguese coffee culture
Drinking quality Portuguese coffee is an everyday part of life, and because of this, cafés can be found on almost every street. Espresso is the most common coffee drink served in Portugal, and the price of coffee is much cheaper to drink out of the home, than it is here in the UK.
When entering a café and asking simply for a coffee (um café), you will receive an espresso, this is what is usually served, however there are regional variations of the coffee too. There is a growing group of cafés in Portugal, that are considered more independent cafés and speciality Portuguese coffee shops. These don’t only focus on the coffee and pastries they serve, but the aesthetic of the café too. The concept of speciality coffee shops is a relatively new development in Portugal; however, they are growing in popularity. Drinking Portuguese coffee is centred around the social culture and laid-back atmosphere of the Portuguese. Many sit with a coffee and talk the day away with family and friends or sit and admire the peace and relaxed atmosphere of the day ahead.
Due to Portugal’s fabled laid-back attitude, time is an important concept in the country. Being able to sit and enjoy a freshly brewed coffee and to be with friends is a strong factor of Portuguese coffee culture. Around 80% of coffee is consumed in Portuguese cafés throughout the country. Coffee has always, and continues, to play a vital role in the social lives of the Portuguese people.
That is the end of our Portuguese coffee journey, if you want to keep travelling and discover more hidden coffee gems of the world, why not take a look at our coffee travel hotspots to get your travel coffee fix. If you want to stay a bit closer to home, why not take a look at our Spanish coffee article, next.