Portugal Travel Tips

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How to order coffee in Portugal

Meia-de-leite coffee

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 small cup with about 50/50 milk to coffee ratio. “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. The word comes from the translation of the English word “tie”.
  • Weak, watery espresso – “uma carioca” is a weak espresso made from grounds that have already been run through with water, then the cup is filled with water. This coffee is “um café cheio com agua” but it’s easier to say “carioca”.
  • 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“.
  • Tall black coffee, like an Americano – ask for “um abatanado“. If you want a bit of milk in it, ask for “um abatanado com um pouco de leite”. You could ask for an Americano, but this may be translated as an instant coffee.
  • Instant coffee – asking for “um nescafe” will get you a cup of coffee made from powder.

Changing flavours depending on coffee 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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4 Comments

  1. Helpful list but if I want a longer black coffee, I always ask for an abatanado. Same size as a meia de leite.
    If you want a longer coffee with a bit of milk (and find a galao too weak) ask for an ‘abatanado com un pouco de leite’.

  2. Joana

    Hi! Good post, don’t forget you can always ask for decaffeinated.

    You got a little mix up there:
    – Weak, milky espresso – “um garoto” is a normal espresso cup filled with milk.
    – Weaker espresso without milk – is called “um Carioca” – is a full espresso cup made from grounds that have already been run through with water by drawing another Espresso right before.

    My favorite brand is Delta – especially the Diamante edition. There is usually a sign outside that tells which brand they use. And the flavour also varies with frequency at which the ground mill works (it might burn the coffee), the cleanliness of the machine (which changes throughout the day) and the water pressure and temperature.

    I used to work in a small bakery and coffee the first coffee of the day doesn’t taste the same as last one. The waiter should be open to adjusting it to your wishes: a little more or a little less milk, filter coffee or cold milk. Use a smile, be creative and find your favorite.

    • Expatter

      Thanks Joana, I appreciate you offering that correction. Good advice about the coffee changing through the day. Locals usually go to the same café each morning for their breakfast coffee, so they are probably used to what they get, but for tourists who move around, it’s good to know that not all coffee is the same.

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