The Portuguese take their coffee very seriously, and the country’s dedication to the drink has rendered it something of a national obsession. The appreciation of coffee is particularly ardent in Lisbon and Porto where there’s a wealth of charming cafés and coffee bars. Visitors to these appealing cities may find it hard to avoid stopping for a traditional Portuguese coffee – a bica.
This is served black in a short, narrow cup and is around the size of the Italian counterpart, espresso. Enjoying a bica is part of the nation’s morning ritual, and this form of coffee is far more popular than the Portuguese equivalent of milk-based cappuccino or latte. Throughout the day the Portuguese may have up to four or five bicas, with breakfast, lunch or a sweet treat, such as a traditional custard tart. But with or without an accompaniment, enjoy a cup of coffee and you’ll be getting a real flavour of Portugal.
Founded in 1921, Majestic Café is one of Porto’s oldest and grandest cafés. Designed by the renowned Porto-born architect João Queiroz, it is a magnificent example of the art nouveau style of the period, and has been acknowledged as one of the most beautiful cafés in the world. Be sure to sample some of the specialities here; the French toast with creamy egg custard and dried fruit is perfectly accompanied by Majestic Café’s award-winning coffee.
Majestic Café, Rua de Santa Catarina 112, 4000-442 Porto, +351 22 200 3887
Behind an unassuming façade on a quiet street close to some of Lisbon’s most popular attractions, you’ll find one of the city’s best kept secrets, Vertigo Café. It’s a charmingly boho space with walls adorned with centuries-old black and white portraits and family photographs, and it makes an ideal spot for a rest after a day exploring the Portuguese capital. With a variety of cakes and pastries on offer as well as a menu full of delicious freshly made meals and an enticing wine list, this is one café to make a point of visiting.
Vertigo Café, Travessa do Carmo 4, 1200-095 Lisbon, +351 21 343 3112
Café A Brasileira
One of Lisbon’s classic cafés, Café A Brasileira opened on Rua Garrett, in the city’s picturesque Largo do Chiado neighbourhood, in 1905. Its name was inspired by the half-kilo sacks of Brazilian coffee beans originally sold in the store. One of the first cafés in Lisbon to serve the now famous Portuguese bica, Café A Brasileira was the favoured haunt of the city’s intellectuals and academics throughout the 20th century and today attracts a lively mix of visitors and locals.
Café A Brasileira, Rua Garrett 120, 1200-205 Lisbon, +351 21 346 9541
Pastéis de Belém
Founded in 1837 beside one of Portugal’s grandest monasteries, Pastéis de Belém is renowned for producing some of Portugal’s best pastéis de nata, or custard tarts. The café is set in a former sugarcane refinery and its handcrafted pastries are said to be based on an ancient, secret recipe that originated in the next-door monastery. Pastéis de Belém is a must-visit for those looking to sample Portuguese traditions ‒ here you can not only taste authentic pastries but also relax over a bica surrounded by classic decor of blue and white azulejos tiles.
Pastéis de Belém, Rua Belém 84-92, 1300-085 Lisbon, +351 21 363 7423
One of the more recent additions to Portugal’s restaurant scene, Royale Café was founded in 2005 and has a Scandinavian-style atmosphere and decor. Its menu, though, combines Portuguese cuisine with fresh Mediterranean ingredients; show-stopping main dishes include octopus with roasted smashed potatoes, but if you’d like something lighter, try the Royale Tartines open sandwiches. There’s an impressive coffee menu, too, from mazagran traditional iced coffee to intriguing tiramisu coffee.
Royale Café, Largo Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro 29, 1200-369 Lisbon, +351 21 3469 1250