Great things to see and do in Portugal
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How to order coffee in Portugal

Posted on Feb 05 2011

In the UK, when you go to a coffee shop and ask for a “coffee please” - you are asked what type you would like. In Portugal, if you ask for “café, por favor” and you only get one type - an espresso.

Different types of coffee in Portugal

Different coffees in Portugal: (left to right) Um café, um galão, uma meia de leite, um garoto

If, like most Brits, you prefer a “latté” or an “Americano with milk” you need to ask for “um galao”. There are different ways of ordering an espresso-size coffee and different types of large coffee, so to simplify it as much as possible, here’s a list.

  • Standard black espresso - “um café“, although in Lisbon you can say “uma bica”.
  • Espresso with a spot of milk - “um pingo” or “café pingado” (known as a “cortado” in Spain).
  • Cup of coffee with milk - a “meia de leite” is a half coffee, half milk in a cup with a handle, usually foamy on top. “Um galão” is about 3/4 milk, served in a tall glass, and is closest to a latté. If you want a strong one, ask for a “meia de leite escura” - or dark. For a milkier coffee, try “um galão clarinho” - or clear.
  • Weak, milky espresso - “um garoto” is a full espresso cup made from grounds that have already been run through with water, then the cup is filled with milk. “Garoto” means little boy and the coffee is so called because this is the coffee that would be given to boys to introduce them to the flavour.
  • Weaker espresso without milk - “um café cheio com agua” is basically a full coffee where the cup is topped up with hot water.
  • Stronger, fuller espresso - if you want a full espresso cup, ask for “café cheio” which is an espresso cup filled with coffee.
  • Double espresso - “um café duplo“.
  • Instant coffee - asking for “um nescafe” will get you a cup of coffee made from powder.

Changing flavours depending on brand
A “meia de leite” in one coffee shop may not be at all appetising, while another elsewhere may be enough to make you want another. This is partly because of the brand of coffee and partly because of the milk they use, or just the way they make the coffee.

Wherever I see the Buondi brand used, I always enjoy the coffee, whereas I find Segafredo seems to lack something. This may be coincidence but it’s my experience. Delta is also a good brand to look out for, usually a sign that the coffee will be good. Sical is mixed for me - great espresso but often not a great meie de leite.

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  1. Ana Rita says:

    Another good Portuguese coffee brand: Camelo.

  2. Pedro Martins says:

    A correction: “um café cheio”, my favorite drink, is not a weaker espresso and it is not definitely not made by topping it up with water. It is the same as an espresso (um café) but more quantity of it up to the top of the espresso cup (additional liquid is coffee not water). Per milliliter is slightly weaker than a espresso but in the end it has a higher amount of caffeine that a café (express).

    • Expatter Expatter says:

      Pedro, thanks for the correction, but there is confusion among people I have spoken to and lots of sites I have checked online. A friend was told in a café if she wanted an espresso topped up with water to weaken it, she should ask for a café cheio. There are numerous references online to the same thing. Is it possible that the term is translated differently in different parts of Portugal? I’ve edited the blog now to reflect your comments.

      • Carlos Duarte says:

        To complement on Pedro’s post: if you want a “weaker” coffee you should ask for a “carioca”. Basically, it is half-expresso, half-water. If you ask for a “carioca cheio”, you will get what you called a “café cheio”.

        If you want filter coffee (although it is pretty rare nowadays) you can try and ask for a “café de saco”. This used to make a difference on the “galão”, as they were usually made with the weaker, filter coffee. If you wanted a stronger galão, you would ask for a “galão directo” or, if in Porto, a “galão de cimbalino”.

        Finally, and to add even more confusion to the mix, if you want something different (or just plain weird), you can ask for a “carioca de limão”. It is coffee-free and is basically a lemon peel infusion in a expresso cup.

  3. patrícia says:

    nice post. =) well you forgot my favourite coffee “italiana” or “cafe curto”. It’s a small coffee. It’s strong and you can feel more the flavour, it’s more condensated and more consistent than an usual expresso, more “cremoso”. And when u drink it in the end u have like a cream line in the cup. That’s why i always ask for an “italiana”. =) do u have also a “cafe com cheirinho”, a coffee with a little smell. It’s an expresso with some alcohol on it, you can put “favaios” or “oporto wine” or whatever u like.

  4. [...] bola de Berlim is an excellent cake to have with a strong meia-de-leite coffee, as long as it’s reasonably fresh and not one that’s been sitting out all day hardening [...]

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