Portuguese lesson: how to order an espresso

February 4, 2013 § 5 Comments

Uma bica, Rui Barreiros Duarte, ink on paper, 2012.

You can order an espresso by saying:  “Um espresso, por favor. “ (oom espresso poer faevoer). “Um” means “one,” and “por favor” means “please.” This method works fine, but the Portuguese don’t use the word espresso. So, here’s how to order coffee like a local.

In Lisbon, an espresso is called a “bica” (pronounced beeca), so the right thing to say is: “Uma bica por favor” (ooma beeca poer faevoer). In case you’re wondering, “bica” means spout, so the name probably comes from the spout that channels the coffee into the cup.

Now that we covered the basics, let’s discuss some advanced topics. There are two types of “bica.” The “bica curta” (beeca coorta) is a short espresso, sometimes so short that you can barely taste any coffee. A “bica cheia” (beeca sheia) is a long espresso. Your choice of bica reveals a lot about your personality. People who like the “bica curta” are usually intense, while those who enjoy the “bica cheia” tend to be more relaxed.

In Oporto they call an espresso a “cimbalino” (ceenbaleeno) in homage to La Cimbali, a popular Italian brand of espresso machines. Foreigners who know this arcane fact are often honored with a state banquet and given the keys to the city.

Where can you find a list of the best coffee shops in Portugal?  There’s no such list. With more than three centuries of experience brewing coffee, Portugal has as many great coffee shops as beautiful beaches.

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