Portuguese Coffee Legacy: Colonies, Trade, and Local Cafés

Portugal's coffee Culture

The Roots of Portuguese Coffee Influence

The coffee industry has a long and complex history in Portugal, that have impacted global coffee trade in ways few could have predicted. Portugal’s role in introducing coffee to Brazil and other African colonies is well-documented, and has had a significant impact on the growth and development of these regions over time.

Portugal’s Pivotal Role in Global Coffee Trade

During the 1700s, the Portuguese took a bold step by bringing coffee to Brazil, a move that would eventually transform the country into the largest coffee producer in the world. This development, while impressive, was not without its challenges, as the coffee trade in Portugal’s African colonies, including Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau, experienced a decline following their independence from Portugal.

Coastal trading post in Brazil during the 1700s.
Coastal trading post in Brazil during the 1700s

Coffee’s Importance in Timor-Leste

Portugal continued to play an important role in the coffee industry, particularly in Timor-Leste, a former Portuguese colony that has relied heavily on coffee as a major source of income for rural communities since the 1800s. However, this industry is not without its vulnerabilities, as it is highly susceptible to global coffee price fluctuations, deficient infrastructure, and lack of capital.

Colonial Impact and the Coffee Landscape

The impact of Portuguese colonization and slave trade on the production of commodities in the New World, including coffee, cannot be understated. Although the Portuguese did not directly contribute to the growth of the coffee industry, their presence in territories where coffee later became a significant export cannot be ignored. Furthermore, Portugal’s exploration and colonization of African territories, specifically the Gulf of Guinea and Cape Verde Islands, resulted in the establishment of a large slave trade during the 15th century. While the role of Portugal in these events remains controversial, it is important to recognize that it has had a lasting impact on the coffee culture in Portugal today.

Coffee Culture in Modern-Day Portugal

In Portugal, visiting a coffee shop is a deeply ingrained cultural tradition, with cafes being present on nearly every street corner, and espresso being the most popular drink. Beyond being a daily routine, coffee in Portugal also serves as a social activity, with the phrase “Vamos tomar um café” (let’s go for a coffee) reflecting its significance in bringing people together. In fact, drinking coffee at a café is so popular that it is significantly cheaper than making it at home, with an espresso typically costing less than €1 and sometimes as little as €0.50. On average, a Portuguese adult consumes over 4kg of coffee beans per year.

Unique Portuguese Coffee Terminologies

In contrast to many other countries, the Portuguese have their own unique terms for coffee drinks and do not use Italian words such as latte and cappuccino. For example, an espresso is called a bica, a coffee with a little bit of milk is called a pingado, and a latte-like drink made with one part espresso and three parts steamed milk is called a galão. The galão is often paired with a pastry and enjoyed during breakfast or a mid-morning break.

A Pastelero preparing coffee
A Pastelero preparing coffee

The Charm of Traditional Portuguese Cafés

In Portugal, traditional coffee shops are referred to as “cafés” and vary in style, decoration, and atmosphere. In urban areas, most traditional cafes have a modern look with contemporary decor, while cafes in rural areas tend to have a more traditional style. In these traditional cafes, coffee is served at the counter by a “pastelero” or “barista” who is responsible for preparing and serving the coffee. These cafes offer a cozy atmosphere with marble counter tops, large mirrors, and a selection of newspapers and magazines for customers to peruse while enjoying their coffee.

Leading Brands in the Portuguese Coffee Market

Delta is the leading brand in the Portuguese coffee market, holding around 50% of the market share. While traditional cafes typically serve Delta coffee, they may also offer other popular brands such as Buondi, Nicola, Sical (owned by Nestlé), and Chave de Ouro.