In Portugal, unlike the UK, drinks bought in the café tend to stay in the café, and consequently there isn’t a huge amount of coffee cup waste entering into landfill. The most common coffee, espresso, is often drank at the bar, there is no need for a takeaway cup. However, I’ve noticed that in the centre of Porto signs have begun to appear which highlight that some cafés do now have takeaway options – likely to appeal to the tourists in the area. In some ways it’s sad to see more takeaway coffee available, partly because that isn’t really the culture around there – it’s great to be able to sit in a Portuguese café and really experience the place you are in; and secondly there are issues around sustainability and increased waste. Although it was great to see in Mesa325 which did offer takeaway options, had KeepCups for sale too!
As I discussed in a previous post, some international chain cafés have a presence in Portugal with Costa Coffee being placed right outside the arrivals gate at Porto airport (and in the departure lounge too), and in the very centre of Porto near the Clérigos tower. It’s clearly a popular and busy café, but then given it is right next to a popular tourist site, this isn’t surprising. Unlike the Costa’s in the UK, this one stays open much later into the evening.
There is a growing specialty coffee scene in Porto, and I managed to try Mesa325 (after finding about via Brian’s Coffee Spot), one of the pioneers of specialty coffee in Porto; a lovely place just a short walk from the very centre of Porto. They had both Luso Coffee and Vernazza coffee on offer. This café had a lovely feel to it, a range of seating options, and the decor shows the people who run the place clearly know their coffee (Standart magazines hanging at the side is a nice touch), and are supporting other independent businesses (such as micro-roaster Luso Coffee Roasters, and the craft brewer Musa).
We ended up trying Luso Ethiopian Coffee via V60, one of the nicest V60 brews I’ve had anywhere. One thing readers from the UK might notice is how much cheaper the coffee is here compared to UK prices (€1.60 for V60) – although this is still more expensive than the traditional Portuguese cafés (because of the higher quality coffee). While you can see in the photo of the coffee bar there are a number of cakes and pastries on offer, there is also a much wider food menu available too which I would highly recommend. While it would clearly appeal to tourists looking for a third wave style coffee shop, there were plenty of local people in here too. If I lived in Porto this would definitely become a favourite.
I also dropped by a branch of Armazém do Caffè, a chain of coffee shops in Portugal that are similar to the Costa/Starbucks style, although they sell a wide range of coffee beans here – I was tempted by some of the Jamaica Blue Mountain but we already have so many coffee beans stacking up in the house I decided to hold back this time.
While most of the specialty coffee we found on offer was in the centre of Porto, there is specialty coffee available outside the city too. Combi Coffee, who operate out of a coffee truck, move around and are often based near beaches where surfing is taking place. The week I was there they were based around the Douro Marina in Vila Nova de Gaia, but we didn’t manage to make it over there. However,we did get to try Combi Coffee, in a smaller city just below Porto: Esphinho. This is a small city, known for its beaches, and as one of the best surfing spots in the north of Portugal. Just outside the train station we noticed a takeawy coffee sign one evening and the next day went back to see what the café was like, and were particularly interested given we couldn’t see the usual coffee branding that is usually outside of Portuguese cafés to indicate what coffee they use (Buondi, Sical, Nicola etc).
Pão de Dó which opened last year is a coffee house which serves Combi coffee. It has a musical theme to it, and even has a large piano inside, and describes itself as an artisanal café. Given the specialty coffee and teas, as well as range of cakes and chocolates on offer, you can see why. There was also a range of food available, and it was interesting to hear from the barista that they had recently changed the menu in order to incorporate more ‘American breakfast’ options (granola, bagels etc). Although we couldn’t buy the Combi coffee here to take home, we weren’t the first to ask, so there is clearly some demand for specialty coffee for home consumption.
And then most of the visits to cafés in Portugal were to the more traditional Portuguese cafés/bakeries that I have come to enjoy so much. And of course we visited the café I mentioned as my favourite place before, for the croissants more than the coffee. Novo Século has become our ‘local’ café and what’s lovely about this place is that despite only visiting a couple of times a year the waitress always remembers what we have; particularly impressive when you see the turnover of people that visit here. It’s a proper community café/bakery, based below some apartments and acting as a hub for the people that live nearby. It’s clearly also on some kind of trekking route as there now often seem to be people in walking gear with backpacks stopping here too.
For someone with an interest in coffee, cafés and coffee culture, Portugal is a fascinating place. It has a long-standing and rich coffee culture, but it is experiencing some shifts, not just in the urban centres, and it will undoubtedly be a country I continue to explore.