A return to Portugal and specialty coffee: Coffee shops, roasters and coffee

Portugal has always had a vibrant coffee culture, with cafes playing a central role in many people’s lives, but as in many places, coffee culture is changing. When I first started to visit Portugal, you would struggle to find places that served anything but the traditional coffees, as I discussed in a previous blog post. But now there is a growing presence of both coffee shop chains, such as Costa coffee and Starbucks, as well independent specialty coffee shops and roasters. When I last looked (in May 2017) there were only a couple of Starbucks in Lisbon, and a few branches of Costa Coffee in Porto and on the south coast. Shortly after arriving in Porto we noticed quite a few people walking around with Starbucks cups, and the Starbucks website suggests there are now branches in Porto, Braga, Lisbon, and Faro.

7G Roasters Vila Nova de Gaia Porto Portugal

On a previous visit to Porto we explored some of the specialty coffee offerings that were there at the time, most notably Mesa 325, the Combi Coffee van and Luso Coffee Roasters. This year we had a range of new places to try, with specialty coffee places located in different areas of the city.

The first stop was the Combi coffee shop, which was a short walk from the main shopping area. When we arrived the Combi Coffee van we had visited before was parked outside, and the shop was open at the front, making it seem even more spacious. We opted to try coffee via aeropress, a smooth coffee to get us started for the day. The Combi shop is definitely a nice addition to the van, and good to see that the business has grown since I last visited. I also noticed that what the coffee shop at the top of the fashion shop ‘The Feeting Room’ now had a window saying the Combi x The Coffee Room, so clearly Combi has a presence there too.

Combi Coffee Porto Portugal

On another day we stopped by Fabrica Coffee Roasters, again in central Porto just a short walk from the main shopping streets. I’ve been reading about Fabrica and their activities in Lisbon so I was pleased to see they had expanded and opened a store in Porto. This coffee shop was much bigger than I had expected, beyond the coffee bar it stretched quite far back with lots of different seating options. There were a few coffees on offer, and we opted for a couple of espressos, one Brazilian and one Rwandan, both were excellent. As with Combi Coffee, there was a range of coffee brewing equipment for sale as well as coffees to brew at home, we decided to get a bag of Burundi beans which was recommended for filter to try later. Having now started to drink it at home, I wish I had bought more! We arrived a few minutes after it had opened (quite a lot of specialty coffee places in Porto only open around 10am), and while we were there it had a steady stream of customers, from what we could tell a mix of both local people and tourists.

Before travelling to Portugal I had heard about another new coffee shop that had recently opened in the centre of Porto. C’Alma Specialty coffee room is housed inside a historic building, up a few steps which means if you sit by the window you get to look down on the street – great for people watching. This place had a range of coffees on offer, both from Portuguese roasters such as Luso Coffee Roasters and its own C’Alma espresso blend, as well as those from further afield including Tim Wendleboe (Oslo) and Five Elephant (Berlin). It’s clearly a place that likes to champion the different tastes that specialty coffee can provide. It offered a range of tasting flights so you could try different coffees prepared via different methods. We didn’t have the option of staying very long so opted for a couple of macchiatos, made with the C’Alma blend which was really smooth. The C’Alma blend we noticed when purchasing a bag was roasted in 7g roaster over in Vila Nova de Gaia, on the other side of the river.

We’d been hoping to visit 7g roaster after reading the article on European Coffee Trip, but weren’t sure if we would have the time. However, with a couple of spare hours we made a quick trip down to the Port wine area of Gaia to see if we could find it. Just a minute from the waterfront, 7g roaster is nestled among the historic buildings and port winery’s of the area. It’s an interesting set up which includes several rental apartments with a coffee shop and roaster at the bottom. The article by Domas Draginis on European Coffee Trip provides a more in-depth look at what this place does. The coffee shop/roastery was another large open space with plenty of tables.

There was an extensive coffee menu, as well as a range of food on offer too. We didn’t have time to stop for food, though what we saw coming out of the kitchen looked great. For this stop we had a naturally processed Ethiopian coffee via V60 an a panama coffee in a cortado. From my perspective one of the great things about this place was how the roaster was a central part of the coffee shop – the large Joper roaster was visible from pretty much anywhere in the shop and was set up behind a bar where people could sit if they wanted to. Clearly 7g roasters are an active part of the coffee community in Porto. On talking with the staff we found out that they worked with C’Alma to get the particular blend they wanted for their coffee, the one we had tried earlier in the week.

There are a growing number of coffee related events, cuppings, and talks taking place in Portugal, and 7g roasters have already been a part of this, hosting the 2018 Portugal Aeropress championship. There were several coffees to purchase for brewing at home on offer, and we decided to go with a Brazilian coffee roasted for espresso.

Something we’ve found in many of the Portuguese specialty coffee places is the both the friendliness of the people working there and the enthusiasm for specialty coffee, and how they encourage people to try, and learn about, specialty coffee. This is something we have found on previous visits but continues to be the case as new places open. There were quite a few other specialty coffee places around Porto that we didn’t get around to visiting, but hopefully will do on future trips including Birds of Passage, Alambique and Café Progresso. If you’re considering visiting Porto, European Coffee Trip have a helpful map with coffee shop guides. Outside of central Porto there were a couple of places around Matosinhos that we were hoping to visit but didn’t get around to it including, Booínga Café and Wanderlust Coffee Lab. Just not enough time on this trip, but clearly there is a growing demand for specialty coffee in the area.

Specialty coffee is clearly on the rise in Portugal, in some of the larger cities such as Lisbon and Porto, but also in other places such as Aveiro which is home to the coffee training organisation Fábrica do Barista. The pace of growth is interesting to watch, and it will be interesting to see if it continues to grow, and what impact that this may have on the coffee culture in the country. I look forward to future visits to explore even more. In the meantime I have a range of coffee roasted in Portugal to try at home. I was spoilt for choice!

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