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Discussions > Regional > Western Europe > Good coffee...  
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sfalch
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Posted Thu Sep 28, 2006, 12:00am
Subject: Good coffee places in Lisbon?
 

This is almost becoming a tradition, but I like it, I think it's a good tradition, so why not continue...?

Anyway, my wife and I are fortunate enough to be able to go on a kid-free vacation to Portugal / Lisbon next week, the plan is to stroll about, hang around in cafés -  well, basically do all that we don't have time to do in our daily live, having two 'daiper-kids' around.

So, if anyone knows a café in the Lisbon area with good baristas, or with a cozy atmosphere, I'd be happy to hear about it!

Cheers! :-)

/ Søren
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BicaGuy
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Posted Mon Oct 9, 2006, 6:08am
Subject: Re: Good coffee places in Lisbon?
 

Well, considering when you posted the thread, sfalch, I guess coming with some tips now is a bit late - did you have a good time in Lisboa?  Too bad I only joined the forum a month or so ago.  So I guess this post is for anyone else who wants to go to Lisboa.

Cafés are abundant in Portugal and no more so than in Lisboa.  Most of them are good, serve great coffees, pastries and snacks.  Sometimes even full meals.  Often cafés are called Pastelaria because they serve pastries and sell bread, and sometimes they can be served in a Salão de Chá (tea house).

Many times you chose your café based on what brand they serve.  The biggest brand in Portugal is Delta and you will not be able to miss it. They make good espressos (called bica in Lisboa), typical of the portuguese style.  Another good portuguese coffee producer is Sical, but they are not as common in cafés as Delta, others portuguese brands served in cafés are Nicola and Chave D'Ouro (from the same company).  Italian brands Segafredo and Buondi are these almost as big as Delta, whereas Illy are less widespread.  

Coffeegeek features an excellent article on Portuguese coffe culture by João Luis Vieira Leitão.  I suggest reading it if you are interested in the portuguese types of coffees: "Coffee: Portugal's Other National Drink"

To give suggestions to cafés in Lisboa is almost impossible, in the end we will just list tourist attractions (or traps).  Everyone has their favourite café and bar, usually on the corner or in the next block.  Usually they are low key, unassuming, every-day, cafés where you know the coffee is great, the pastries tasty and the service good.  But I will give a few suggestions, just so I can get hanged by another alfasinha (name of someone from Lisboa) for suggesting something outragous.

  1. Pastelaria Suiça, Rossio (the heart of Lisboa): classic old style café with waitors in uniforms
  2. A Brasileria, Rua Garrett: classic café, immortalized by national poet Camões
  3. Café Miradouro da Graça: outdoor café by one of the best views of Lisboa
  4. Pastelaria Imperial, Praca Londres: nice pastry café in good shopping area
  5. Pasteis de Belem, Belem: the classic home of the legendary Pasteis de Belem pastries
  6. A Tentadora: Rua Ferreira Borges: my café in Campo de Ourique

There will be 10.000 more cafés worth visiting in addition to those 6 and a handful to stay away from.
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BicaGuy
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Posted Mon Oct 9, 2006, 6:14am
Subject: Re: Good coffee places in Lisbon?
 

Well, I deserve to be shot now: how can anyone in their right mind mix up Camões and Pessoa?  Shame on me!

Please replace the above line with this:

  1. A Brasileria, Rua Garrett: classic café, immortalized by national poet Fernando Pessoa.

I'll go and hang myself now, some alfasinha I am....
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sfalch
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Posted Mon Oct 9, 2006, 1:55pm
Subject: Re: Good coffee places in Lisbon?
 

Thanks for a very informative post BicaGuy!!! I will definitely check out the sites you mention, next time I visit Lisboa! :-)

I figured I'd give a little sum up of my experiences with the Lisboa coffee culture.

While walking the hilly streets of Lisboa, I came to think about why there seems to be only few southern Europeans in the CG forums: I guess it is because of the well developed coffee / café / bar culture - you basically just need to walk 100m in any direction to get to a café/bar where you can get a good espresso. And it's cheap: around €1.10 for a double espresso (Café Duplo) and €0.70 for a café com leite (something similar to a flat white) - no wonder if southern Europeans don't want to spend a lot of time and money in their homes brewing espressos when it is available everywhere. Also, the culture is much more outgoing - people often go to the local bar/restaurant to eat, meet friends for a beer, a Ginja (I'm actually enjoying a Ginja Espinheira as I write this :-9) … or a Bica.

I can see from BicaGuys list that I have a lot of good coffee experiences to come in Lisboa. We did make it to the Pasteis de Belem – the famous bakery, and I MUST say that those cakes are delicious – a crispy cup of flaky puff pastry filled with warm vanilla cream, all you need is a good shot of coffee to balance out the sweetness. We didn’t discover the proposed view of Café Miradouro da Graça. But we found another nice spot: Miradouro Das Portas Do Sol (on the corner of Rua de são Tomé and Largo de Santa Luzia), with a nice view over the bay, and good coffee (and a sweet barista) in the outdoor café.

The only thing I didn’t see was latte art and other forms of experimenting coffee art, but I think that might be because I didn’t find the right places.

/ Søren

sfalch: Lisboa_coffee.jpg
(Click for larger image)
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BicaGuy
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Posted Tue Oct 10, 2006, 12:53am
Subject: Re: Good coffee places in Lisbon?
 

I am glad you had a good time in Lisboa, Sören, and that you think of going back.  Your pics give me saudades, home-sickness portuguese style.  I love Lisboa.

And I know the outdoor café you mention, I've been there many times.  The views over Alfama and the ria are great.

I think you're spot on about the coffee culture.  It's so part of everyday life, the portuguese takes it for granted.  That's why few portuguese would find a forum like this interesting, why speak about it when you live it everyday?  And you are spot on about the café culture too.  Going out for a coffee is a way to socialize. You meet your friends at the café and besides coffee you can have beer, drinks, or even a large meal there.  The difference between a bar and a café is actually quite subtle in Portugal, is the emphasis on coffee or beer?  If you want a boozer, it's not called a bar anymore but a tasca, or to be specific "a tasca da esquina" (the boozer on the corner), where wine is served on tap.

You think the portuguese coffee is cheap?  In fact the price doubled with the euro conversion.  The coffee went from 75$00 escudos to €0.75 euros (when it should have been €0.35). An outragous scandal!  Interestingly, the sales of home espresso machines have increased dramatically after the Euro.  Maybe a coincidence but the price increase has certainly much to do with it.  However, home espresso machines will not affect the portuguese café culture - that is in the blood.
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coffecanudo
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Posted Tue Oct 10, 2006, 5:04pm
Subject: Re: Good coffee places in Lisbon?
 

Haah Portugal,vim de lá de férias em Agosto,o corpo veio ,mas a alma ficou lá :-(...
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BicaGuy
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Posted Wed Oct 11, 2006, 2:53am
Subject: Re: Good coffee places in Lisbon?
 

My soul's there too, pá.  

On the other hand, this morning I made the first shot with my new La Pavoni Pro Lever and with my Sical Cinco Estrelas coffee beans which tasted just like any great shot in any pastelaria in Lisboa.  My first "real" bica with my new machine.  The wife and kids thought pai had won the lottery.  So for a few moments, my body joined my soul in Lisboa.  It was a great breakfast.  

From now on, I will make tosta mistas in the morning...
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swag
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swag
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Posted Fri Oct 27, 2006, 3:07pm
Subject: Re: Good coffee places in Lisbon?
 

Talk about timing. I just got back from three weeks in Portugal last night. Had a lot of great (though not exceptional) espresso while I was there.

BicaGuy Said:

Many times you chose your café based on what brand they serve.  The biggest brand in Portugal is Delta and you will not be able to miss it. They make good espressos (called bica in Lisboa), typical of the portuguese style.

Posted October 9, 2006 link

You know why they are called "bica"s, right? (I figure with the name BicaGuy, you just might ;). It is a Lisbon thing - in other parts of Portugal, they know what a bica is but will call it a Lisboa term for a café. The proprietor of the fantastic Casa Mariazinha in Porto tipped me to this a couple weeks ago. BICA is a holdover from when the first espresso machines came to Portugal ... with instructions for how to serve from them. BICA is really an acronym for "bebida isto chávena aquesida", or Portuguese for pretty much "drink in a warmed cup".

My favorites of the national chains were Nicola cafés. The simple Nicola-branded kiosks you can find in shopping areas, for example, are excellent and serve among the best espressos in Portugal. Delta is generally pretty good too as a second favorite -- particularly if you can get Delta Platina instead of the usual Diamante, etc. Beira Douro is also one of the best ones around, though more popular up north. Chave D'ouro is good. Buondi is one of the weaker ones, and I felt Sical was one of their worst... but still decent by world standards. And there are cafés with hip, modern, healthy food offerings and interesting cappuccino art but with coffee that doesn't measure up (Magnolia Caffé, for example).

Strangely enough, one of the best espressos I had in all of Portugal was in the Illy Espressamente in the walls of the refurbished Praça de Touros do Campo Pequeno.

The thing about coffee in Portugal, I found, is that it has the reverse problem of, say, a Seattle. Whereas Seattle has a handful of outstanding cafés to counter a baseline that's pretty lousy, in Portugal the baseline standards are high enough that it seems the notion of seeking out exceptional coffee is kind of pointless. As a result, you don't find a culture where people say "blah blah blah" is the best place to get an espresso in town.

Another tendency I found... I liked the average espresso in Portugal the further north I went. In Lisbon, a number of places served it with a somewhat weaker body than what you can typically find further north in places like Coimbra, Porto, or even Braga and Guimarães. With the exception of Nicola chains, etc.

And despite the "Cimbalinho" reference, I predominantly found mostly Brasilia machines in use throughout the country... followed by La Spaziale and then maybe La Cimbali and then Kappa.

(As far as the Pastêis de Belem are concerned, here's a little discovery I made. While the crust on the pastêis there is incredibly flaky and warm, I liked the pastêis de nata at Pastelaria Suiça just as much ... as their crusts were almost as good, but they toned down the amount of nata cream to a better balance.)

 
--
^sv
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BicaGuy
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Posted Thu Nov 2, 2006, 3:05am
Subject: Re: Good coffee places in Lisbon?
 

I will keep the best place in Portugal to get a pasteis de nata type of pastry for myself, but it involves visiting a monestry close to Serra da Estrela!  

Interesting observations, Swag.  I think you're right about the coffee culture.  The café is so integrated with the culture that people takes it for granted.  The average is high but there are necessarily no peaks, and not really an market for it (a quality bica place) either.  The portuguese go for a coffee, not for an espresso, nor for coffee art.   There is simply no hype about the coffee and no room for hype either.  What is considered a great café is a place that serves a good coffee and (more importantly) has great pastries and cakes.  Right now the hype in Portugal is about shots (alcoholic shots).

As for coffee having a different body in the north, I must say I never thought about it.  Delta is really the boss in Lisboa and the south whereas other brands are more competitive in the north, maybe this has something to do with it.  Certainly, becuase of the size, you will have more poor cafés in Lisboa than in smaller cities.  And a different mentality too.  Just the fact that a typical bica in Lisboa will go for 75 cents or more, in the north they would be embarrassed to ask for more than 50 cents.  Maybe the care of making the coffee is greater too.  I think so.

Swag, any thoughts about the difference of taste between the portuguese espresso and the italian?
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swag
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swag
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Posted Thu Nov 2, 2006, 2:58pm
Subject: Re: Good coffee places in Lisbon?
 

Delta definitely seems to have a stronger presence around Lisbon, Évora, and parts south. Up north there seems to be more of a clutter of competitive brands with no clear leader.

One thing I thought that was completely different about the Portuguese approach in general was the lack of mark-up you found. In the U.S., if you find yourself in a stadium at a football game, or on some tour boat down a river, or near some famous national monument, you habitually get gouged with tourist or "captive customer" prices that are often 2-3x normal. And usually the quality is comparatively bad. Not so in Portugal. A café at a small neighborhood place versus some café across the big town Sé or the team stadium all costs about the same, whether for café or a bottle of water. And the quality is comparable.

The Portuguese versus the Italian café? Wow, that's a great question. Both Italian and Portuguese culture engrain the café almost unceremoniously. The differences in the beverage seem few overall. One difference is milk-based drinks. While both the Italians and Portuguese only drink them in the mornings, the Portuguese seem to opt far more for the galão (closer to an espresso au lait) than a cappuccino. As a result, the Portuguese seem pretty poor - comparatively - at milk frothing. But the flipside of that means the Portuguese almost seem to relish the single espresso shot more than even the Italians. It is almost a given that it is what you will have, as is, after every meal. The Portuguese also seem to use more sugar than the Italians do, though I didn't find Portuguese espresso to be any more or less "bitter" (and ideally sweet, of course).

As far as characteristics go, I actually think a café in Portugal is more consistent across the country than it is in Italy. In Italy, there's a weird mix of the old school baristas who make a professional shot versus the more cosmopolitan version (Starbucks influence, a devaluation of the profession, etc.) often made by less skilled youth. As a result, I found most espresso in Portugal to be better than anything I could get in Milan, for example, but not as good as what I could get in Roma or Napoli.

 
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