Have you ever sipped a coffee in Lisbon? After discovering so many Italian and European coffee shops, this time we’re setting out to discover the historical cafes of Portugal’s magical capital, the westernmost European capital city and the only one overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
Lisbon was conquered by the Romans and the Arabs, and those two currents intersect and intertwine in the city, making for a truly impressive urban landscape. Like all European capitals, Lisbon is a city with an ancient history behind it. Many of its cafes have also occupied an important place in its history, including one on our list that was first opened back in the 1700s!
Let’s start with an interesting piece of coffee trivia: the nickname for a cup of coffee in Lisbon and throughout Portugal is bica, an acronym of Beba Isto Com Açúzar, which literally means “Drink this with sugar”.
Let’s discover the three most important cafes worth a visit in Lisbon.
Cafes in Lisbon: A Brasileira
On November 5, 1905 a shop opened in Lisbon, in the prestigious Chiado district, selling products from Brazil, especially coffee. The slogan on its sign was “O genuíno café do Brasil, de Minas Gerais”, and its owner would offer piping hot cups of coffee to his customers, who would usually purchase it either ground or in beans. Then, in 1908, the shop became a real coffee shop. Over the years it became a meeting place for writers, novelists, artists of various genres, and journalists.
The owner Adriano Soares Telles do Vale belonged to the third generation of a family of coffee merchants. As a teenager, he had grown up in the Brazilian coffee fields, developing such a great passion for the black drink that he opened A Brasileira and made it the most famous and renowned coffee shop in the city for many years. The cafe was held in high esteem by the politicians and artists of the time and is still famous today. But Adriano didn’t stop in Lisbon: in fact, he opened a series of coffee shops throughout Portugal and even in Spain.
Between 1924 and 1925, the cafe was renovated and the artist Almada Negreiros painted several paintings, including one depicting himself drinking coffee at its tables. Painters Eduardo Viana and Jorge Barradas also produced works especially for the cafe. Over the years, and in particular in 1971, which saw the addition of eleven new original paintings, the cafeteria exhibited various works of art by Portuguese and foreign artists.
To visit the cafe, go to number 120 Rua Garrett!
Pastries and coffee in Lisbon: Antigua Confeitaria de Belém
Founded in 1837, this coffee shop was mainly established to serve dragées (as the name suggests) and sweets of all kinds. It soon became the most important and impressive pastry shop in the city. Shortly afterwards, an area dedicated to drinking coffee and coffee products was added. However, it has maintained its supremacy as a pastry shop, and in fact a well-known Portuguese cake still bears its name: the pastéis de Belém. These are puff pastries made with egg and flavoured with cinnamon. The cafe is well worth a visit, not only for its products but also for its decor: splendid traditional ceramic tiles decorate the walls.
Cafes in Lisbon: Café Nicola
Founded in 1779 by Nicola Vitaliano in Don Pedro IV Square – or Praça Dom Pedro IV in Portuguese-, Nicola is also a well-known Portuguese coffee brand founded by the Massimo Zanetti Beverage Group. If you’re wondering whether an Italian has something to do with this then, yes, you’d be right! Massimo Zanetti is indeed an Italian, and he holds the record for having opened the first literary cafe in Portugal. Café Nicola was originally called Il Botequim do Nicola.
The cafe was frequented by artists of various genres and currents from the end of the 18th century until the mid-19th century, when it closed for a long period, reopening in 1928 under its current name. Since then, it has been considered a historic shop and is therefore protected by the municipality of Lisbon. The coffee served there is truly remarkable and patrons can also enjoy it on the large terrace. In addition, an area of the shop has recently been converted into a bookshop.
Ordering an espresso in Lisbon is very simple: just ask for “uno café expresso”. Be careful not to ask for “an Italian coffee” or you’ll receive a very strong coffee, maybe too strong for our tastes. Discover other small but important details about how to correctly order a delicious cup of espresso in other countries in our guide to ordering an espresso coffee abroad.