Some things we do just go hand-in-hand. Maybe you like to travel and sample different beers around the world. Maybe you travel and ride famous roller coasters or visit Disneyland around the world. For me, travelling and drinking coffee go hand-in-hand. I’m not telling you anything about me you don’t already know, given I write a series called Bean Around The World! I’m a coffee snob who never misses an opportunity to support local roasters, sample local coffee houses, and get to know local baristas and other coffee fanatics wherever I travel. Since the high summer travel season is upon us, I wanted to bring together all the blog posts I’ve written about coffee so you’ll have easy access to use them when you’re planning a visit to these places. I’ve covered quite a bit of caffeinated ground :)
In Europe, the two places I’ve written about so far both hold a special spot in my caffeinated heart. Both Lisbon and Slovenia are places I fell in love with after my first sip. When you visit these places, do not forget to enjoy the very unique coffee scenes. Read about the Lisbon coffee scene here. Slovenia’s local coffee scene required two articles!
I guess it’s time for a true confession. I’m a coffee snob. And when I travel, I have a passion for supporting local roasters and coffee houses. Let’s just say I’ve BEAN Around the World and I’m feeling like now is the time to start sharing the love… and caffeine, one city at a time. 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. Let’s open the TWG cafe society doors and talk coffee, Lisbon style.
When I travel, I only review and like 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.
Last year’s love affair was with sLOVEnia. This year’s love affair, though it’s early in the year, seems destined to be with Portugal, and in particular, Lisbon. Portugal works for me on so many levels. The people, culture, food, geography, and general vibe of the place just suited me perfectly. I know for many travelers, Portugal is likely to be a been-there-done-that destination. For me, it was my first visit, and if I had been-there-and done-that before, I for sure would have gone back over and over again. That’s how much I enjoyed it! Please check out Part 1 and Part 2 of my pastry love affair. Without gushing too much about how wonderful Lisbon is, I want to give you 6 ideas for what to do and see that won’t likely end up on any MUST SEE lists you’ll find online.
1. Campo Pequeno is a bullfight arena that hosted the Portuguese bullfights since 1892. The building is stunning! It’s a beautiful neo-arabian building, all made of bricks, that was entirely renovated in 2006. There’s a museum dedicated to the history of bullfighting. The lowest level is now a shopping mall with a movie theater and restaurants. As I’d never been inside a bullfight arena before, I really found it very interesting just to walk around. I thought turning the bottom level into a mall was actually a good use of the space. It’s always fun to walk through malls when I travel and see what’s different or unique.
Campo Pequeno Bullring. Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campo_Pequeno_bullring
Most cities are known for something, and for me, forever more, Lisbon will be known as the city of pastry! Is it all about the Pastel de Nata? Not at all, though I sure did enjoy my daily dose of nata :) If you haven’t already, please read Lisbon: The City of Pastry (Part 1). Pastries were everywhere in Lisbon. I’ve never seen so many pastry shops, pastelarias, and so many different kinds of pastries. The question became how to narrow it down to which ones to sample. I asked some born / raised / and still living in Lisbon friends to narrow it down for me. They suggested these four pastries: Tortas de Azeitão and Amêndoa, Mil Folhas, Jesuítas, and Pastéis de Tentúgal.
Every time I went into a bakery, I asked if they had these four so I could see what they looked like and perhaps try one. Before I tell you about each pastry, how I ranked them, and where I tasted them, here’s a bit of history about the egg-based pastry world of Portugal. It is fascinating and sets the scene for the pastry world you’re about to enter.
After colonizing Brazil and Madeira in the 16th century, Portugal began importing a steady stream of sugar (formerly a luxury destined only for the wealthy) from their plantations abroad. At this time, there happened to also be a large number of convents in Portugal using egg whites to starch their habits. All those elaborately starched wimples meant a lot of nuns with a lot of extra egg yolks. One of those nuns had the brilliant idea of combining the surplus egg yolks with the newly abundant sugar, and the classic eggy, sweet Portuguese convent pastry was born! Yet, despite the regional differences in pastry in Portugal, there is one common theme throughout every pastry in the country: egg yolk. Egg yolk is the magical ingredient that gave birth to Portugal’s famous pastry industry, with each region expressing their own innovative, unique and historical manner in which they use this one ingredient.
Most cities are known for something, and for me, forever more, Lisbon will be known as the city of pastries! And some would argue that it’s all about the Pastel de Nata! Pastel de Nata is a Portuguese egg tart pastry originally from Portugal but also found in countries with significant Portuguese immigrant populations. Its main ingredient is egg yolks.
Pastries were everywhere in Lisbon. I’ve never seen so many pastry shops, pastelarias, and so many different kinds of pastries. The question became how to narrow it down to which ones to sample. I asked some born / raised / and still living in Lisbon friends to narrow it down for me. They suggested I start with the Pastel de Nata, and in particular, Pastéis de Belém. The pasteis de nata is Portugal’s most famous dessert and it’s found everywhere around Lisbon. But there is a catch. There is a secret recipe that’s closely guarded here at Pasteis de Belem.
On my first full day in Lisbon, a friend who lives there picked me up and off we went. Of course I let him plan the day. While walking to his car, we stopped for my second espresso of the day and it was only 9:30am. Those espressos go down way too easily! As he drove, I had a hunch where he was heading, and I was right. As we pulled into the parking space I saw Pastéis de Belém and knew we were starting my Pastel de Nata tour.