In a previous post, I noted some generalizations about the espresso in Portugal. For this post, I’ve selected a few notable cafés to review in Portugal’s political and cultural capital, Lisbon.

Name Address Neighborhood Espresso [info] Cafe [info] Overall [info]
A Brasileira Rua Garrett, 120 Chiado 6.60 7.00 6.800
Café Nicola Rua 1° Dezembro, 20 Rossio 6.50 7.50 7.000
Pastéis de Belém Rua Belém, 84 a 92 Belém 6.00 7.00 6.500
Terreiro do Paço Praça do Comércio Baixa 7.00 7.50 7.250

The first two are famous examples of Portugal’s historical grand cafés. Both have spawned national franchises. The third, Pastéis de Belém, is classically Portuguese in that it is far more famous for its baked goods (a pastelaria) than for its coffee. The last, Terreiro do Paço, represents one of Lisbon’s many modern restaurants. In 2001, Condé Nast Traveller listed it among the world’s top 50 restaurants.

Lisbon from the Castelo de São Jorge Shoppers in Lisbon's Chiado district Lisbon's Rossio

A Brasileira

This 1800s throwback is one of the most historic cafés in Lisbon. It’s packed with tourists and Chiado shoppers (and ultimately Bairro Alto clubgoers) for about as long as its doors are open. There are deep rows of table seating inside, though most prefer the outside seats beneath parasols. There you can sit next to a statue of the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. They use two-group semi-automatics from both Gaggia and Visacrem (a Spanish-made System KB 200). With them, they produce shots with a good aroma and a medium brown crema of modest thickness. The body is fine, but the cup lacks flavor depth to be truly great. Classically cheap at 0,50€.

Read the review.

The hustle inside A Brasileira, Chiado The A Brasileira bica

Café Nicola

This is the mothership Café Nicola in the Baixa, with a Nicola Gourmet just up the block (definitely recommended). Unlike A Brasileira, Café Nicola expanded beyond a chain of branded cafés and kiosks to licensed coffee service for numerous independent cafés. Given that Café Nicola is my favorite among the major Portuguese chains and coffee distributors, it’s an expansion strategy that has worked well for them.

There’s a row of café tables inside the front door with more restaurant-style seating at the back. Plus some counter service and ample sidewalk seating. Using a three-group Magister Kappa XT and a three-group Promac, they pull shots with a solid, darker brown crema with full textured froth. It has a deeper, darker flavor — more elements of cloves. However, bodywise, it’s still a bit watery. Particularly when compared with their owned-and-operated cafés that you can find in indoor malls — such as at the Armazéns do Chiado just down the block. Shockingly, the mothership café of this quality chain has the worst, and most expensive, espresso of the lot.

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The crowd relaxes in front of Café Nicola The Café Nicola bica

Pastéis de Belém

Since 1837, its namesake is perhaps the most famous pastry in all of Portugal. Started as a church fundraiser by nuns, the recipe is carefully guarded. And they crank out pans among pans of flaky crusted pastéis, served warm. The site is cavernous, with gigantic rooms expanding as you explore further and further back from the busy front counter. The place comes off like New Orleans’ Cafe du Monde when you consider their pilgrimmages for begniets and chicory coffee. Here they serve espresso that has a thin layer of medium brown crema. It’s a touch watery with a flavor of mild spice. Served in Costa Verde Porcelana de Hotel cups branded for Delta Coffee.

Read the review.

The obligatory Pastéis de Belém namesake The Pastéis de Belém bica

Terreiro do Paço

This excellent restaurant covers a couple of levels at the west side of the otherwise ghostly Praça do Comércio. It is quiet, event dining, with well-prepared food derived from native Portuguese ingredients. For espresso, they produce a good medium brown, textured crema. It has a more pungent flavor for Delta Coffee, and they serve it with four unique sugars (a sugar menu?!), a small cup of chocolate, and a small serving of crème brûlée.

In Portugal, restaurants serve espresso that is every bit as good as what the famous pasterlarias or cafés serve. Therefore it’s not a surprise that their shot was the best among those reviewed here.

Read the review.

Terreiro do Paço presents espresso with all sorts of extras I'm still trying to figure out all their sugars...

Still to come… espresso ratings and reviews from other towns and cities in Portugal.