In 2022 one of our co-founders, Chris, hit up the remote working capital of the world to discover if Portugal's coffee scene was up to scratch - spoiler alert - it was!
Portugal is a country roughly the same size as Scotland and roughly double the population. Despite this my expectations were high! For three weeks travelling the length of Portugal I thought there would be unlimited speciality coffee to be found. In this respect, I was slightly wrong. There were pockets of greatness, centred unsurprisingly, around Lisbon and Porto, but upon escaping the top two major cities I ran into a dry spell.
It immediately seemed to me that being such a hilly city would be a nightmare to transport a coffee roaster to a premises on a hill or on a ridiculous incline that is oh so common in Lisbon. Nevertheless, a few entrepreneurs have overcome barriers to do this. First two on my list were Fabrica Coffee Roasters and Copenhagen Coffee Lab - both with a very high budget feel and immensely chain like. Both have bucketloads of locations across the city. The coffee was fine and the atmosphere was also fine. So I decided to head straight to the source of speciality and next visited So Coffee Roasters and Buna Speciality Cafe.
So Coffee Roasters was super interesting as they roast in Porto but their shop in Lisbon is based in a hipster clothing store. An excellent Brazilian barista named Bruna was coffee obsessed and I had a great experience there.
Buna Speciality Cafe was also extremely cool, situated west of Barrio Alto, on a corner where you can sit outside and watch the trams flow past. Coffee was imported, mostly from Drop but also from other random Dutch and Scandi roasters. Very enjoyable. The hipster barista wrote me a list of 5 coffee places to visit in Lisbon and this was my list for the next few days.
Someone in a hostel had recommended a coffee shop called The Folks Coffee for brunch, which was super central. As we were getting hungry we headed there for some eggs benedict, very Portuguese. The coffee was good although the layout of the cafe was a little unambitious.
Before heading to others we stopped by Torra Coffee Roasters and met the owner Evuardo (no typo!) who imports and sells coffee beans from Brazil. His attention to detail was incredible and the coffee was superb. We arrived after closing time but he immediately sensed my enthusiasm and we were invited to sit and relax with him while we chatted about coffee. An older American couple came to the door as we were sat there and asked if they could buy a bag of coffee. They asked for a "really dark roast". The dismay on all of our faces was palpable....
Next on my "must go to" list was Simpli Coffee Roasters. Their main cafe is located in a business-like district in the north of Lisbon, quite far from the main tourist thoroughfare - thus, well worth the wander! It was a carbon copy of the posh places Neil and I have visited across the world - 1/15th Coffee in Jakarta, Blue Bottle in Tokyo or Ozone in London. Just really good... and expensive. Personally I really enjoyed it because they had a Giesen W6A in full view, just like at Unorthodox. As a side note, it was the smallest batch brew I've ever been served - must have been around 120ml in volume, which I was okay with because the quality was high - it was a washed Kenyan.
During our 7 days in Lisbon it would have been rude not to have sampled coffee everywhere, and so I did. Most places served an espresso for between 75c and €1.20 which I considered basically free. You can guess the quality - absolute tar. The worst of the worst I stomached was a Segafredo espresso from Fabrica da Nata and the only way I could finish the last half of espresso was to ask for it to be topped back up with hot water. This pricing structure is totally fine with me - €1 for the worst coffee ever and for the speciality americanos it was almost always €2, which was bargain of the century. In Buna it was even €1.50...
Last in Lisbon was Fauna & Flora. We spotted it on the way to the bus station and on my final day in Lisbon I headed back to sample their coffee. F&F is cool, hipster and as you would guess full of green plants. A co-working space adjoins for the millennials and gen z. I couldn't for the life of me work out which coffee roaster they were using or if it was their own (even after asking!) but the coffee was excellent in a strange way. It tasted darker than your usual speciality cup, but was incredibly tasty - definitely one of the best coffees I'd had in Lisbon. But not my normal go to. Maybe that's why I enjoyed it the most.
After the success in Lisbon I was looking forward to exploring the Porto scene for both coffee and of course the main drink which comes from Porto. To start we headed straight for So Coffee's Roastery. It's a beautifully narrow building designed exactly as you'd expect; full of Scandi minimalism and a "study table" up the stairs. Unconventionally the coffee roaster was situated up the stairs on the first floor where it looked like they definitely didn't roast tonnes a month. But a girl was cleaning it so it was definitely operational unlike the Giesen in Simpli's Lisbon cafe. The coffee was average which was quite disappointing for the first Porto coffee.
Our next coffee stop was 7g Coffee Roasters based South of the Douro River in the Vila Nova de Gaia area. The cafe is well kitted out with huge glass windows, showcasing coffee sacks and a large terrace. The roasting area was relatively small and busy, situated behind a counter but still in full view. We sampled two coffees, a Brazilian Natural and a Mexican Washed and honestly this was the best coffee I had in Portugal. Maybe some of the best coffee I've ever had - and I've drunk a lot of coffee! Both origins exhibited incredible sweetness, cleanliness and clarity of flavour. This was two god shot filters in one cafe. Meaning their roasting was on point! I was extremely impressed.
Our last two pit stops in Porto were Combi Coffee Roasters and Zenith. In Combi I met the owner as he was finishing his roasting session on his Joper Roaster (pretty much the only brand of coffee roaster I saw in Portugal! It is Portuguese so....) The cafe was exploding with people and he confirmed this was testament to his commitment to Porto's coffee scene. He was doing a fantastic job and the coffee was good, just not as good as 7g. Zenith was literally our last stop before catching the bus south so we heaved all of our luggage into the massive queue and waited for our table. Zenith is penned as "Brunch and Cocktails" but don't be put off - Zenith is Porto's answer to Caravan or Ozone in London. We were given one of the 30 or so tables outside and ordered eggs on toast and smoked salmon. The brunch was amazing (and semi-affordable) and the coffee tasted amazing albeit a little weak. It was so good in fact that I had a second Americano. Would highly recommend if you don't mind waiting for a table.
After departing Porto we had around two weeks to explore Aveiro, Costa Nova, Sagres, Lagos and Faro. Only two places had a hint of speciality - Lagos, which is understandable from the millions of tourists visiting and commendably Sagres also!
Sagres is a pure beach town and surferville with a laidback nature. Even the houses are laid back with huge plots of land and patches of wasteland everywhere. In roughly the midst of it all (if there is a midst!) was a cafe called Picnic. Immediately we noticed it was a cut above the norm. It would not be out of place in Japan or South Korea with impeccable style, design and pricing - a bag of coffee was €15 for 200g. After speaking to the (Scottish) barista we learned that Picnic was actually first a bakery owned by a German couple. They obviously have great taste because it's worth a trip to Sagres just to visit Picnic. The coffee was excellent and they had a few tables outside where we drank and ate our pastries while watching the posh locals pull up in their Range Rovers to grab takeaways. Picnic was also the only place I've ever seen where the opening hours are sunrise to sunset and thus the hours change frequently over the year. Interesting.
Lagos you may have heard of? It's situated in the South of Portugal and is famous for beautiful alcove beaches. I had visited a few years ago and was keen to go back to get coffee from the place I loved called Coffee and Waves. What I discovered this time is that there are three main speciality cafes - Black and White, Coffee and Waves, and Coffee Studio.
Black and White Coffee Shop is situated very centrally on the corner of two main thoroughfares. The cafe has high ceilings and open windows (at least in the summer) giving a great open space feel. There is always a queue, always! There are too many tourists in Lagos and not enough brunch. What struck me was that the owners definitely know how to run a speciality coffee shop. Pretty much everything was perfect, from the mushrooms on toast to the coffee which was excellent. It's a fantastic place to eat and drink coffee but it would feel weird to "hang out" there as it's very busy and table based, if you know what I mean by this.
Coffee and Waves was a little disappointing mainly because I had held it in such high regard from the previous visit. Obviously things had to change through covid but the cafe felt much more impersonal, the seating structure was rigid and the coffee was only good (I was still spoiled by 7g at this point!). Coffee Studio was much the same. The coffee was pretty good but the atmosphere was a little stale. C&W and Coffee Studio are still worth the visit, don't get me wrong, they just don't have my heart as much as B&W does.
Faro is the largest city in the south of Portugal and many tourists fly into here to then make onward journeys to Albufeira, Lagos and other places in the Algarve. There is zero speciality coffee in Faro. I know. It surprised me to! A city with no speciality coffee. I must give a shout out to Chelsea and Lofi Cafe which were the only two places with potential on my list. It's such a shame to say but both places were so disappointing that my friend even dropped a 1 star review. The coffee in Chelsea was roasted in-house on a Nescafe home roaster and the result was beyond terrible. This was combined with a €5 pastry which was a cheap wholesale knockoff and stuffed with fake pistachio. In Lofi coffee the barista had no clue whatsoever and we were left with a milk screaming (like hell) latte and an Americano that I'm still waiting to cool down two weeks later....
Portugal sure does have some hidden gems when it comes to speciality coffee. You may need to hunt them out but it certainly is worth it. Below is my list, in order of coffee quality, of all the speciality cafes we visited:
7g (Porto) - One of the best filter coffees I've ever had
Buna (Lisbon) - Top quality coffee from roasters around the globe
Torra (Lisbon) - Focus on the detail, obsessed with coffee
Picnic (Sagres) - Design, style and quality wrapped in a cafe/bakery
Zenith (Porto) - Amazing brunch with amazing coffee
Black and White (Lagos) - Amazing brunch with amazing coffee #2
Simpli (Lisbon) - Business persons top quality place for coffee and chat
Fauna & Flora (Lisbon) - Co-working dream cafe with superb coffee
So Coffee Roasters (Lisbon + Porto) - Trying so hard but coffee only good
Coffee and Waves (Lagos) - Very hipster with good coffee
The Folks (Lisbon) - Decent brunch and coffee but you'll find better
Coffee Studio (Lagos) - Good coffee and place to chill
Fabrica Coffee Roasters (Lisbon) - Chain of cafes that are good
Copenhagen Coffee Lab (Lisbon) - Chain of cafes that are good
That's it for this blog post - hope you enjoyed! Let us know if you find any other cool places to visit in Portugal. In the meantime, keep drinking amazing coffee!
Until the next blog post,