There is a ritual to drinking coffee in Lisbon. It bookends every day life; the kick-starter before breakfast, the mid-morning booster, post lunch espresso and the leisurely coffee after work with friends. It plays such an important role that it is even woven into the fabric of the language – when you arrange to meet someone, you say ‘vamos tomar café?’ Let’s have coffee?
Working out what to order though can be tricky. There are no-nos. The last thing you want to do is rock up to a café in Bairro Alto and order a non-fat latte with caramel drizzle or a triple venti half sweet non-fat (is that even legal?!). And if you order a latte (um galão) after lunch you might get some funny looks – a bona fide Lisbonite wouldn’t really entertain the idea of drinking milky coffee after midday…
So, for those of you visiting for the first time, this is our insider’s guide to drinking coffee like a local:
- You can’t go wrong with um bica. The equivalent of an espresso, this strong caffeine shot is drunk anytime, anywhere, anyplace. (Yep, it’s the martini of coffee). Bear in mind it always comes black – if you like a dash of milk with your espresso you’ll need to order a bica pingado or a pingo.
- It is perfectly acceptable to stand at the counter to have a bica, in fact it’s positively encouraged, and you’ll be in good company with the rest of the locals.
- And the perfect accompaniment to a bica is a Pastéis de Nata which is quite possibly the best pastry in the world. Just saying.
- For a straightforward coffee with milk, order a meia de leite which is half coffee / half hot milk in a tea-sized cup.
- Or go the whole hog and have um galão – basically a double meia de leite or the equivalent of a latte. This is what the locals drink with breakfast. But remember – while you are at liberty to order this whenever you like there may be a few raised eyebrows after a certain time of day! (see above).
- If you fancy a tall black coffee (an americano), your coffee of choice is um abatanado.
- There is even a coffee designed just for the kids. It’s called um garoto and it’s a very milky coffee with a partial shot of espresso.
- All cafe’s in Lisbon serve free tap water, normally available in a jug on the counter. Just help yourself. This is worth remembering because…
- If this is your first trip here you will almost certainly overdo the caffeine, get the shakes and pull an all-nighter when you can’t sleep. This is perfectly normal and in the words of Douglas Adams, ‘don’t panic’! Next time, take advantage of the free water (see above) – apparently drinking a glass of water to every cup of coffee helps counteract the effects of the caffeine.
And as for where to go, that’s the easy bit. For the best cafe’s within walking distance of The Lumiares take a look at our blog from a few weeks ago; ‘Our top ten coffee spots in the neighbourhood’. Or simply enjoy a coffee in our very own Mercado Café on the ground floor or from our bar with a view at Lumni rooftop on the fifth floor. Enjoy!