Coffee is a serious business in Portugal. Look at any menu in a café, bar or restaurant and there will be a bewildering selection of coffees listed, many with strange-sounding names and no description, further complicated by regional variations in what different coffees are called. For a long time I ordered a café com leite (coffee with milk) and usually got the type of coffee I liked (a strong white coffee with a froth on the top, served in a regular-sized coffee cup). This worked in the Algarve, but on a recent trip to the north of Portugal ordering a coffee became more challenging. Asking for a café com leite was met with a string of questions regarding what size cup I wanted and often resulted in a disappointingly weak, milky mug of coffee or an espresso-sized cup of strong coffee with a dash of milk. After talking to Portuguese friends I discovered that café com leite is not a term used in Portugal and most waiters wouldn’t understand what I wanted. I realized that I needed to learn the language of coffee in Portugal and leave my café com leite comfort zone. Here is a short guide to successfully ordering a coffee Portugal. Where possible I have included regional variations in the names. This list is not definitive and I will continue in my quest to gain a comprehensive understanding of successfully ordering coffee in Portugal.
Uma carioca is a weak, black coffee served in an espresso-sized cup.
Uma bica (in Lisbon and the south) / Um cimbalino (in Porto) / Um café (other parts of the country) is a black espresso-type coffee served in an espresso-sized cup. A variant of this is uma bica escaldada / um café escaldada, which is the same drink as described above, but served in a heated cup.
Uma meia de leite is usually a strong, white coffee with a froth on the top, served in a regular-sized coffee cup. If you want to ensure it is strong, ask for uma meia de leite escura.
Um café duplo is a double espresso-type coffee served in a regular-sized cup.
Um café duplo com um pouco de leite is a double espresso-type coffee with a little milk served in a regular-sized cup. Sometimes it comes with a small jug of milk for you to add as you require.
Um galão is a large, weak, milky coffee served in a glass.
Um garoto (in Lisbon and the south) / Um pingo (in the north) is a coffee with a dash of milk served in an espresso-sized cup.
Um abatanado is a black coffee served in a regular-sized cup. It is made with espresso beans and is similar to a caffè americano.
Um café com gelo is a cold, black coffee with ice cubes.
Um café com gelado is a black coffee served with a scoop of ice-cream.
Um cappuccino is best avoided unless you like weak, milky coffee with a thick layer of artificial whipped cream on the top. It is better to order a uma meia de leite escura, which in my experience is the closest to the Italian-style cappuccino.