Portuguese lesson: how to order an espresso

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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5 thoughts on “Portuguese lesson: how to order an espresso

  1. Thank the Lord we don’t have our Lisbon Java jolt “to go” in those horrid styrofoam coffee mugs – nice little porcelain cups are the only thing we want our “bicas” in here. Italians love our coffee too, just remember to have them order up the “italiana” version and they will be in heaven. Just more proof that the only two countries in Europe where you can be sure of a great espresso are Italy & of course Portugal!

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