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Coffee in Portugal: An exotic experience

In Portugal one actively gets involved in choosing the right kind of taste and size of coffee, writes Annie Datta From the Varsity.
PTI | By Annie Datta, Portugal
PUBLISHED ON JAN 22, 2005 07:39 PM IST

Elsewhere perhaps coffee means just coffee at the beginning of a monotonous day. The newspaper that ritually accompanies the morning cup brings variety but the daily cup of hot coffee does not. It’s just the same day in and day out. But here in Portugal things are different. Here you are not a passive drinker, gulping down whatever is given to you but actively involved in choosing the right kind of taste and size of coffee. What if you do not wish to have too much quantity of coffee in the morning or wish to alter its taste according to your need?

All you have to do is to walk into a café here and translate your need. Say in a university town of Coimbra. The coffee machine hisses incessantly and the euros clink in the backdrop. One is offered a range. There is café the most preferred one. It’s strong with no milk. The cup is small enough to contain just a single measure, suitable mostly to those hard pressed for time. If you have more leisure you could go for meia de leite which literally means half filled with milk in a tea sized cup. University students prefer escuro.

Coffee break is here just not a sip of one’s favourite drink but a regular habit of frequenting a café. From professors to hangers-on to real coffee addicts, consuming cup after cup of bica. They all just walk into their chosen café as a reflex. Coffee becomes an essential part of Portuguese ethos, not ignoring the economic aspect. It is worth noting here that coffee drinkers, along with habitual smokers, contribute largely to Portuguese economic market. On an average, roughly speaking, a Portuguese would spend on coffee about €500 per year assuming he drinks three cups of coffee every day. And another similar amount on cigarette smoking. This sums up to be approximately two months salary of an average Portuguese worker.

It might be awkward for some who feel it’s just too much out of the way of things to ask for something apart from their regular cup of acceptable bitterness but Portuguese hospitality includes variation and range. A cup of coffee here costs just a few cents and your experience of the morning cup could be very much interactive and enjoyable. And the bizarre thing is that coffee is served smilingly hot with a cube of ice for clients with wildest tastes. However, there is no such concept of cold coffee here, so much part of the Indian coffee habit.

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