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Coffee drinkers are in for a treat in Portugal! We are quite serious about it. Drinking coffee in Portugal is an everyday part of life, with cafés found at almost on every street. It all started with the Portuguese colonialists in Brazil and equatorial African islands of São Tomé e Principe…
The espresso or bica (a short black expresso) is the most common coffee drink, although the name changes if you are in Porto where you might order a cimbalino instead, named after the La Cimbali espresso machines.
And then there are infinite variations on how it comes… The bica cheia is a full espresso cup; or if you’d like a double espresso, order um café duplo. An italiana is small, strong and the first few seconds of the machine’s coffee; whilst a carioca is the opposite, a full small cup minus the strongest first two seconds of an espresso. You can then ask for it não quente or not hot and they’ll add a dash of cold water in it for you; whilst a pingado has a small drop of milk added to it. In Lisbon! In the Alentejo or other rural communities of Portugal, the pingo (drop) might be of Medronho (a type of Portuguese fire water) or whisky.
You may also order um garoto (a small boy), which has about 50/50 coffee-to-milk ratio served in a small cup. For a long black or a large black coffee, you would order um abatanado or café Americano. If an instant coffee is what you want however, order um nescafé; or you may prefer a decaf, otherwise known as a descafeinado.
Going the milky way, um galão is served in a tall glass and is about 3/4 milk. Traditionally a galão is very weak; but you can order a slightly stronger version called um galão escuro or a light one, a galão claro. A variation to this theme is a meia de leite (half milk), which as you can guess; the portion is half milk, half coffee served in a regular cup. However and not dissimilar to ordering a cappuccino in Italy other than at breakfast time, ordering a galão or a meia de leite after midday will provoke some funny looks, unless you’re over 80! It’s considered a breakfast beverage or something the avó (granny) might drink!
But nothing, absolutely nothing beats a coffee and a pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tart) break!
Catholic monks at the Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon originally created pasteis de nata before the 18th century. It was quite common for monasteries and convents then to use the leftover egg yolks to take cakes and pastries (the whites were used as starch for their habits), resulting in the proliferation of sweet pastry recipes throughout the country. Following the extinction or closure of religious orders in the aftermath of the Liberal Revolution of 1820, the monks started selling pastéis de nata at a nearby sugar refinery to bring in some revenue. In 1834, the monastery was closed and the recipe was sold to a sugar refinery, whose owner’s opened the Fábrica de Pastéis de Belém in 1837. The descendants still own the business to this day.
A more recent development in the history of the pastel de nata are those made by a new bakery called Manteigaria, that claims to make them with butter, rather like a croissant. Although based in Lisbon there are several Manteigaria shops spread around the city where the pastries are made right in front of the customers and are served still warm throughout the day – utterly delicious!
You can find these delicious custard tarts throughout Portugal but if you miss them during your visit, pick up a six-pack at the airport duty free on your return journey. Alternatively find a Portuguese deli that makes them in London, Paris or New York, sit down, order yourself a Portuguese coffee and a pastel de nata, and enjoy!