When the weather is grey and cold, there's nothing better than sitting in a warm cosy place, armed with a hot cup of coffee and a good book. We’ve dedicated this month’s second journal post to coffee shops (cafés, in Portuguese) and bookstores.
Portugal is old and so are some of our bookstores and coffee shops
Portugal is one of the oldest countries in Europe, having the same borders since 1297. That's why we have a rich and ancient heritage. The historical centres of the cities and smaller towns are filled with castles, palaces, manor houses and churches. We've also managed to preserve many ancient cafés and bookstores.
Across the country there are incredibly good examples, some of which have been featured in foreign magazines and sometimes highlighted at the top of the chart. That's the case of Livraria Lello, a stunning bookstore with over 100 years located in Porto. But there are others on the run, such as Livraria Bertrand Chiado, the oldest in the country, and Livraria Esperança, located in Funchal and where over 10.000 books are hanging by the cover.
The historical coffee shops do not fall behind and are usually located in magnificent buildings and preserve the posh interior where only the elite sat debating important issues and trivialities. There are iconic ones from north to south, but we'll name some of our favourite ones: Café Majestic in Porto, Pastelaria Versailles in Lisboa, Café Vianna in Braga, Café Santa Cruz in Coimbra, Café Águias d'Ouro in Estremoz and Café Calcinha in Loulé.
Modern times shout for hipster bookstores
However, times are changing and cool edgy projects started appearing here and there, creating a curious contrast against the ones mentioned above.
Bookstores with a cool architecture, more eclectic items on offer and betting on new creative initiatives started popping up in the past few years. This breath of fresh air is clearer in Lisboa and Porto, cities that usually lead the way when it comes to innovation and change.
We are fans of many hybrid bookstores and here you have an awesome handful: Ler Devagar in the country's capital (and the one featured in the picture), Manifesto in Matosinhos markethall, A Centésima Página in Braga and Fonte de Letras in Évora.
Luckily not only we find coffee pairs beautifully with book reading, as all these bookstores have in-house cafés.
Followed by specialty coffee and coffee roasters
It's no news that Portuguese love their coffee (which we also call café to make it easier for you) and wherever you go you'll spot locals in the cafés, particularly early in the morning and after lunch. Grabbing an espresso is part of our culture and a habit that we cherish. What's harder to come across are specialty coffee stores, a trend that only recently appeared in the country, most likely due to the wave of immigrants that returned from abroad with the will to innovate and broaden the traditional offer.
But what makes coffee a specialty? Great quality coffee starts at the beginning of the chain, with the coffee farmers; then the green coffee is sold and the beans are roasted obeying to thermodynamic laws; in the end the barista wraps up the process by brewing it to perfection and serving it to us.
Naturally it is in the main cities that this expert coffee roasters popped up first. There are many worth visiting, and our favourites are Combi in Porto, 7g Roaster in Gaia and Copenhagen Coffee Lab in Lisboa. These do not have books on the shelves, so carry your own...
But in the end.... What's what?
To ask for a regular coffee in Portugal, meaning the typical espresso, just ask for a café (which can be full to the brim - cheio/comprido - or short - curto). Then there are slight nuances for the picky ones, but only with a longer stay in the country you'll be able to notice the difference.
For those who do not conceive coffee without milk, then there are a two main options: meia de leite - latte served in a cup - and galão - latte served in a taller glass.
For capuccinos, mochas and iced coffees you're better off in more modern coffee shops, as the most typical ones don't usually serve them. If you manage these, you'll be fine!
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