portuguese coffee photo

Drinking Coffee the Portuguese Way

portuguese coffee photo

By Gemma O’Loughlin

“Would you like a coffee with milk?” asked my Portuguese host.

“No thank you,” I responded, “I prefer a Portuguese espresso.”

With this small remark, I was rewarded with a smile and made an instant best friend.

The Portuguese love their coffee and boy do they do it well. The quality, the process and the overall social element makes me smile just thinking about it.

“Coffee” in Portugal translates to a strong black espresso. If you prefer yours with milk, order a galão, which is similar to a latte. And always add sugar. Always.

Truth be told, I became addicted to Portuguese coffee because it was the one thing that helped me digest the large meal I consumed each evening with my host family, and because it was the only thing that could keep me awake and attentive during long post-dinner conversations.

Most would assume that a country so particular about their coffee actually cultivates it ““ this is not the case. However, the Portuguese are masters at sourcing the best produce throughout the world and this holds true for their coffee.

After an ongoing tumultuous relationship with Spain, the trade routes through neighboring countries were eventually cut off and in the 15th century the Portuguese turned to the sea. As the infamous discoverers claimed territories, they brought back spices and fine furniture from India, people they would force into slavery from Africa and, you guessed it, coffee from Brazil and New Guinea.

Even though the country’s initial introduction to coffee was hundreds of years ago, the Portuguese are always sipping in the most current and stylish of ways. In the cities, they have been standing around coffee bars drinking quality coffee since before hipsters even thought to buy their first pair of Ray-Bans, and in the suburbs, the bars foster a sense of community with the kindly barista playing the central ole.

I am tall with blonde hair, blue eyes and an Australian accent, so I of course stood out like a sore thumb in a country of short, dark-complexioned folk. My name was even the subject of many jokes as phonetically it means “˜egg yolk’ in Portuguese.

But drink coffee the Portuguese way and no matter how you look or talk they will accept you as one of their own.

Which is a great situation to be in.

About the Writer

Gemma O'LoughlinGemma O’Loughlin is based in Perth, Western Australia but has travelled extensively throughout Europe, Northern America and parts of Asia. She visited Portugal as part of a professional exchange program where she stayed with locals and learnt all about their culture and the food. She has a masters degree in Marketing from Curtin University and works in Marketing Communications. Gemma runs a blog “˜here and there’ and invites you to join her on her next unique adventure.

Photo via Wallsank


  1. Being Portuguese myself, this text seems very reductionist about Portuguese population.
    We are short, tall, dark or whitish complexion. A fair part of Portuguese population have light blue or green eyes, and the idea that Southern European countries have an homogeneous population is far from the reality.
    We are, indeed, very heterogeneous, physically speaking.
    Some of us even don’t put sugar in their coffee, like myself.

    It’s true that coffee is a strong part of our gastronomic and social culture.
    But it’s possible to speak about a country’s cultural context without reducing the overall context, which, always, is much more diverse than essentialist ‘travel-guide’ kind of texts tend to show.

    Pedro Pombo

  2. Hi Pedro
    Thank you for your response.
    I can only speak for my personal experience in Portugal where I tended to “˜stick out’. But please don’t take my comments in a negative context, as I have nothing but affection for my hosts after being welcomed with open arms at every stop.

    As for the cultural context, I agree a countries culture could never be defined in a 400 word document. But it is an insight, as the title suggests.


  3. Yes – and with that stature I bet that other part of Portuguese culture was prevalent, the need to stare!

    Coffee yes very good, abatanado pingado faz favor

  4. This was lovely! As an american coffee addict I always want to venture to new coffees, but just can’t do it without milk…maybe one day. 🙂

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