What Is Portuguese Coffee?

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what is Portuguese coffee

Portuguese really love their coffee. But what is Portuguese coffee, and how to make it? Let’s find out.

Coffee plays an important role in Portuguese culture. With that in mind, it’s no wonder this country is home to unique coffee drinks, including their own authentic Portuguese coffee.

But what is Portuguese coffee, anyway? Well, it took me a few trips around the country to get to the bottom of that question. As it turns out, Portuguese coffee is a drink similar to a caffe latte called Galão.

And today, we’ll talk about this drink and how to make it at home.

So let’s dive in. You might also be wondering, what is Argentinian coffee?

History of Coffee in Portugal

Coffee has been an intrinsic part of the Portuguese lifestyle for centuries now. But what’s interesting is that the country doesn’t grow coffee – except for the tiny farm on the Azore islands. But about 99% of Portuguese coffee is imported, mostly from South America and Africa.

Well, this actually doesn’t come as such a surprise, given Portugal’s colonization history. In fact, the Portuguese were at least partially responsible for Francisco de Mello Palheta bringing a coffee plant from French Guiana to Brazil back in 1727.

In the upcoming years, coffee was shipped from Brazil to Portugal for roasting and distribution. It wasn’t long before the first cafés started opening in larger cities, which quickly became centers for debate for artists and politicians. Check out our guide on the best Guatemalan coffee.

What Is Portuguese Coffee Exactly?

Since the country doesn’t produce its coffee, the term “Portuguese coffee” often causes confusion. While it can be used to simply refer to coffee roasted and packaged in this country, the term is most often used for a specific drink called Galão.

Galão is like a Portuguese cousin of latte coffee. Just like its Italian counterpart, Galão consists of espresso and steamed milk. However, the differences between the two drinks lie in the coffee-to-milk ratio and the texture of the milk.

Galão is one part coffee and three parts milk, so it’s milder and more creamier than a latte. As for the foam, it’s somewhat drier, kind of like the foam on a cappuccino.

Now, it’s also worth noting that an authentic Galão requires a blend of Arabica and Robusta beans. You see, while most other coffee-consuming countries prefer 100% Arabica, Robusta plays an essential role in Portuguese coffee.

Of course, this also can be explained historically. Many ex-Portugal colonies grow Robusta, including:

  • Brazil
  • Mozambique
  • Angola
  • Sao Tome and Principe
  • Timor

Back in the day, Portugal sourced most coffee from its colonies, so a good portion of that coffee was Robusta. And since old habits die hard, Robusta still plays an important part in Portuguese coffee today.

A blend of Arabica and Robusta makes espresso less acidic and gives it a thicker mouthfeel compared to all Arabica blends. And that’s what makes Portuguese coffee stand out from the crowd. 

As for the roast, most Portuguese coffee is roasted to a dark level, which brings out the bold flavor and a robust body.

Galão Variations to Try

What’s great about a galão is that sticking to the standard ratio is not a must. Even with so much milk, a galão can seem too bold for casual drinkers. If that’s the case with you, consider getting a galão clarinho, which is an even milkier version of the original drink.

On the other hand, if you want a stronger caffeine kick, you can get a galão escuro instead. As you might have guessed, this variation contains more espresso. 

Serving Portuguese Coffee

People sit outside Café Pastelaria Bénard, a traditional Pastry-Shop first opened in 1868 in the Chiado district of Lisbon. What is Portuguese coffee?
Pastelarias is where most Portuguese get coffee and breakfast to start their day

With coffee being such an important part of everyday life for the majority of Portuguese people, it’s no surprise you can get one on every street corner. 

However, don’t expect to see specialty coffee shops everywhere. Instead, you might encounter pastelarias, which is basically a bakery and a café in one. In other words, it’s a place where you can get coffee and breakfast and where most Portuguese start their day.

When you order a galão, you also get a glass of water with it. Since Portuguese espresso has that thick mouthfeel that lingers for a while, a sip of water can help you get rid of the aftertaste to enjoy your breakfast.

Galão is typically served in a tall glass, along with a packet of sugar. Of course, sugar is not a must – but many people like to make their galão sweeter to go along with their pastry.

Speaking of pastries, getting a galão in a pastelaria often means you get a pastel de nata along with it. Pastel de nata is an egg custard tart traditionally dusted with sugar and cinnamon. However, nowadays, people prefer them without flavoring so that they pair better with coffee.

Finally, it’s worth noting that, although you can drink a galão at any part of the day, it’s considered a breakfast drink. So don’t be surprised if you get a weird look from the locals by ordering one later in the day.

Health Benefits and Nutrition

Since galão consists of ¾ milk, you might want to think twice before drinking a gallon of this delicious drink in a single day. While coffee has no calories, that’s not the case with milk.

A standard galão serving is 6.7 ounces, and it contains about 120 calories. When it comes to daily values, this drink has roughly:

  • 3% fat
  • 6% carbs
  • 13% protein
  • 18% calcium 

Of course, if you add sugar to it, these numbers only go higher. On the other hand, you can keep the numbers down by switching to skimmed milk and zero-calorie sweeteners. 

How to Make Portuguese Coffee at Home

Now, you don’t need to visit Portugal to have your own galão experience – you can make your own drink at home. For a more authentic experience, you should have all the tools used in a café:

  • Espresso machine with a steam wand
  • Coffee grinder
  • Coffee scale
  • Tall glass

Without an espresso machine, you can’t make an authentic espresso. Simply, no other brewer can achieve the required 9-bar pressure to create the concentrated drink with a layer of crema. 

With that being said, there are coffee makers that come pretty close in terms of the final result. The Moka pot and AeroPress both make very concentrated drinks that come as close as they get to real espresso.

As for the steam wand, it’s the best tool for achieving the perfect galão foam. But if you don’t have one, a good ol’ handheld frother will give you decent results.

A scale will help you measure the right amount of coffee for your espresso. Finally, grinding the beans right before brewing will give you the freshest possible results.

As for the ingredients, you’ll need:

  • 1-ounce coffee beans
  • 2 ounces water
  • 6 ounces of cold milk
  • Sugar (optional)

As we already mentioned, Portuguese coffee is a dark-roasted blend of Arabica and Robusta. If you can get your hands on such a blend, it will give you the most authentic flavor. Grind the beans to a fine setting, typical for espresso.

As for the milk, 2% cow’s milk is typically used for making a galão. Of course, you can always substitute for skimmed or non-dairy alternatives. Just make sure you go with milk that froths well. If unsure, get a product labeled as “barista.” 

Alright, let’s get brewing. Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Add the coffee grounds to a portafilter, and distribute them with your finger before tamping evenly and consistently.
  2. Insert the portafilter into the group head and pull the shot. The original galão is made with a standard shot of espresso, but you can pull a ristretto or lungo, depending on your preference.
  3. Add milk to a pitcher, then make a froth using a steam wand. To make the foam more frothy, don’t fill more than ⅓ of the pitcher. The tip of the wand should be about ½ inch below the surface of the milk.
  4. Pour milk over the espresso, then add the remaining foam with a spoon.
  5. Optionally, you can add sugar to your drink to make it sweeter. This should be done as the last step, right before you start sipping on it.

Recipe Box

Portuguese Coffee

Prep Time 2 minutes
Cook Time 4 minutes
Total Time 6 minutes


  • Espresso machine with a steam wand
  • Coffee grinder
  • Coffee Scale
  • Tall glass


  • 1 ounce coffee beans
  • 2 ounces water
  • 6 ounces cold milk
  • Sugar (optional)


  • Add the coffee grounds to a portafilter.
  • Insert the portafilter into the group head and pull the shot.
  • Add milk to a pitcher, then make a froth using a steam wand. Keep the tip about ½ inch below the surface of the milk.
  • Pour milk over the espresso, then add the remaining foam with a spoon.
  • Optionally, add sugar to your drink to make it sweeter.

Final Thoughts on Portuguese Coffee

breakfast set with a espresso coffee and Portuguese "pastel de nata" (isolated on white background)
Galão is made of ¼ espresso and ¾ frothed milk, perfect for a morning pastry

The Portuguese are all about perfecting their brew, which is obvious from their variation of coffee with milk – a galão. Made of ¼ espresso and ¾ frothed milk, this is the perfect drink to sip on while enjoying your morning pastry.

What’s also great about this delicious beverage is that you can easily make it at home. So what are you waiting for? Let’s get brewing!
Trying out coffee from different countries? Here’s our article on authentic Bosnian coffee.

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Viktoria Marks
Viktoria is a writer and a journalist who can't imagine sitting by her computer without a large cup of java in her hand. She loves sampling coffee from all over the world as much as writing about it.