People say I’m passionate about coffee. They know me well! And coupled with travel, I’ve taken to exploring and writing about the coffee scene wherever I roam. I have a passion for supporting local roasters and coffee houses. Recently, I had a wonderful holiday in Portugal, which focused on Lisbon. And though it was hard to tear myself away from the incredible pastry scene, I did explore the coffee houses, and I’m glad I did. Lisbon, because of it’s traditional ways of drinking coffee, has one of the more challenging scenes when it comes to the one-off local roaster and coffee shop business. I drank plenty of coffee, talked with baristas, and I’ve got lots to share with you. So let’s talk coffee, Lisbon style.
When I travel, I only review and choose to support coffee houses that roast their own beans or use locally roasted beans. But before understanding what’s called the “New Wave” of coffee houses, it’s important to understand the history of how people in Lisbon take their coffee. If you’ve been in Lisbon, you’ve heard the locals order “bica.” Bica is the term for coffee and it stands for Beba Isto Com Acucar. You’ll receive an espresso Italian style, and the custom is to drink it standing up at the coffee bar. It will cost you under 1 euro. B.I.C.A. actually stands for Please Drink With Sugar, because the espresso can have a rather sour taste. The main supplier of coffee for the espresso is Delta. Delta is a Portuguese coffee roasting company and even though they have their own cafes, they still supply most of the Iberian Peninsula with coffee. So basically people in Lisbon are getting their “espresso for kicks”, as they say, all day long! In fact, hanging out with friends who live in Lisbon meant stopping for many shots all day long.
Starbucks is not a big player in Lisbon at all. The one I saw at the train station was busy with tourists. I went in to take a look and talked with a guy from Brazil who was visiting Lisbon. When I asked him why he chose Starbucks, he mentioned that he could sit and read for a bit with his coffee. The stand-up espresso scene was too hectic for him. When I told him about some of the local roasters and coffee houses I had discovered, he was thrilled!
The Challenge for Lisbon Cafes
So how do you make money and create a taste for a different kind of coffee experience in a place where the locals can have 4 or 5 espressos throughout the day? All these espressos add up to the same price as one coffee from a local one-off cafe that roasts their own beans and makes specialty beverages. That being said, I did find some local roasters and coffee shops and was very impressed by the cafes I visited and the owners and baristas I met.
Who Are The Players On The Lisbon Coffee Scene?
I started with Fabrica Coffee Roasters. Ana, the manager, sat and talked with me for a long while. She told me that the local roasting coffee house scene was a young industry that’s been happening for about two years. Fabrica is an original player and its owner is a seasoned business manager so he had business acumen but not the coffee-specific type.
One sign you’ll notice as you enter says, “No wifi, drink coffee!” My kind of place 🙂 They use single origin beans for their beverages. When I was there, they were using Guatemalan beans or a blend from Brazil and Ethiopia. You can pick which to order from these choices. They do roast on site, and Fabrica has a relationship with the farms that provide the beans.
I sampled a flat white using the single origin beans. It was really good and had that smooth taste that I always look for in a flat white. It cost 3.30 euros. For their coffee beverages, they sell 50% single origin, so customers have caught on to the single origin trend. They do have a small pour over crowd and I did see a few people have aeropress style coffee.
Right now, their customers are about 80% tourists who come primarily to drink latte / cappuccino / flat white. I spoke with a German couple from Munich who did like the coffee but told me they wouldn’t come back because they make coffee at home and go out for drinks rather than coffee. It’s so interesting to talk with people from all over the world about their coffee rituals! Ana mentioned that the locals who are drawn to Fabrica are the under 30 crowd. Coffee art is not normal, so there’s a fascination with coffee art in Lisbon!
Fabrica has two locations and a truck. This location that I originally went to has space for ten tables inside and a few outside. Most of the local coffee shops I visited have no outdoor space, which really was too bad for a sunny climate like Lisbon. These cafes lose local business because the locals smoke and if there isn’t outdoor seating, they are likely to go to a cafe that does have seats outside.
I always wonder about the economics of these small roasters and coffee houses. Ana explained that the minimum wage in Lisbon is low so they can make money owning a coffee shop. Fabrica also offered some homemade pastries and a few sandwiches. All in all, I really liked the coffee, space, and the whole vibe of the place. I also enjoyed their other space on Rua das Flores a lot. It was larger, had more comfortable seating, and would be my choice for hanging out with friends and coffee.
Bettina and Niccolo Corallo is a Lisbon favorite, and became a favorite of mine, as well. It’s a family-run chocolate and coffee cafe and they do both exceptionally well. Their beans are roasted in-house and their espresso and flat white were delicious. The artisan chocolate is worth the visit even if you don’t drink coffee. If you order an espresso, you’ll get a free sample of chocolate so you can discover your favorite chocolate before committing to a purchase.
The shop is small but they do have a few tables and I was lucky enough to be there at 11am when they open, so I was able to enjoy a seat watching all the local people come in for their espresso and chocolate. I also talked for a while with Bettina as well as other family members who were working that day. They don’t serve food and their chocolate sales are 50% of the business. The chocolate is made on the premises and they serve mostly a local crowd.
Bettina’s flat white was better than Fabrica’s. It’s a very smooth blend and they only do one roast, which is a blend of Indian, Brazilian, and Indonesian beans that they roast on the premises. The most popular beverages requested are espresso and cappuccino and they told me that the people who order offerings other than espresso have traveled outside of Portugal and know of different beverages. They have a 1 kilo roaster, which means they are roasting all day long!
The business and both Bettina and Niccolo have interesting histories. He’s Italian, she’s Portuguese. Her father was the ambassador to Zaire 30 years ago. When they were married, they had a coffee plantation (20 years ago) in Zaire, so their relationship with coffee and farmers go way back. Their current cafe location has been open for three years but they’ve been in the Principe Real area for nine years.
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Bettina and Nicollo Corallo is not a coffee house in the traditional sense because it’s small with very limited seating. As a tourist, you will for sure be in this neighborhood of Lisbon, so do stop in and enjoy some coffee and chocolate. It could just be one of the highlights of your Lisbon time!
Copenhagen Coffee Lab is a roaster from Copenhagen, but now they have a cafe in Lisbon. I was there twice and both times it was very busy. On a Saturday, they were super busy with food orders and they do bake their own goodies.
They’ve been open for 2.5 years. This area of Lisbon is popular for Airbnb so lots of foreigners find this cafe and 60% of their customers are not Portuguese. I had a flat white. They have two roasts for espresso drinks, a Brazil single origin and a Guatemala coffee. I didn’t care for the flat white. It seemed a bit sour and bitter, if that makes sense. Their most popular request is for cappuccino.
They get coffee from Copenhagen but are thinking of starting to roast their own in Lisbon. I think that would make a difference because it doesn’t compare to the other coffees I sampled in Lisbon, where the beans were being roasted locally. Neither the coffee nor the crowds and noise level appealed to me. It is a nice space though so it might appeal to you.
One off thing I noticed was that they did offer wifi but they had no outlets. Interesting and maybe the first time I’ve seen a cafe make a statement like that. The manager at Copenhagen Coffee Lab told me that there’s a good relationship amongst coffee house owners and baristas. The manager’s choice for best barista in Lisbon was Bruno from Fabrica. Unfortunately, Bruno was out of town when I was in Lisbon. She felt Kristoff has the best bean!
Hello, Kristof grew on me over time. It opened in September of 2016. Ricardo, the owner of Hello, Kristof is/was a freelance graphic designer. Needing a change and after being inspired by a trip to NYC and seeing some small coffee shops there, he opened up Hello, Kristof. He renovated the space and gave it a big Nordic-influence look but also wanted to keep the original structure of the place so it’s got a great look both inside and out. Besides coffee, they serve light lunches, juices and locally made great cakes.
There are three tables and one long communal table. It’s a small place and can get a bit stuffy with the door closed, which is usually the case because it’s on a noisy street with the trolley running right outside the door. The owner, Ricardo, is warm and friendly. The staff seemed very formal and a bit tense compared to Fabrica, Copenhagen and Bettina. Only three people can work at a time because the preparation space is so small so maybe they just felt overwhelmed with serving everyone. We waited the longest time of all the cafes for our coffee. Not that this is a deal breaker if the coffee is good but…
Having heard from the manager at Copenhagen Coffee Lab that Hello, Kristof had the best bean, I have to say I was quite disappointed. Their flat white was 3.30 euros and the cappuccino was 2.80 euros and only came with one shot of espresso. Both beverages tasted weak. The milk tasted like skim milk even though it was full fat. Hello, Kristof has a couple that roasts the coffee, so it’s done locally but not on the premises. They use a single origin Costa Rican bean.
Their customers are English speaking people who live or visit there. It was the most non-local crowd of all the cafes and I heard no Portuguese being spoken while I was there. They do have outlets and offer wifi. There’s also a fun artsy magazine rack with most magazines in English.
So there you have it. My very own caffeinated take on the current Lisbon coffee scene. It is a city that’s passionate about coffee, whether it’s BICA style or from a local cafe that’s roasting and serving up specialty coffee beverages and dedicated to educating people about beans and coffee possibilities. I had a wonderful time visiting all these coffee shops and meeting the owners and staff, and I very much appreciate all they shared with me. Did I miss any local coffee houses in Lisbon that you enjoyed? Have you ever tried the places I’ve mentioned?
- Guide to Portugal, Europe’s Most Ascendant Destination
- A Guide to Porto, Portugal and Douro Valley: The Port Wine Region
- Guide to Central Portugal: The Heartland Between Lisbon and Porto
- Portugal Off The Beaten Path: The Algarve and The Azores
- Lisbon, Portugal: A City of Must-Try Pastries
- Buenos Aires Coffee Scene: My Exploration of Favorite Local Coffee Houses
Shelli Stein is a health and fitness entrepreneur who travels the world in search of culture, food, and fun! Besides contributing to PointMeToThePlane, you can find her at Joy in Movement.