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.
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.
- 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.