SPECIALTY COFFEE: Riding the third wave in Lisbon

Let’s face it: Lisbon is no longer the coffee dwarf of the days of yore. Over the last couple of years, the city has seen a tremendous, explosive boom in specialty coffee shops and roasters. It all started in 2015 with Copenhagen Coffee Lab opening its first coffee shop at Praça das Flores which was quickly followed by Fábrica Coffee Roasters a few months later. Back then, they were the only coffee shops around. Now, Copenhagen Coffee Lab has become an international franchise and has had problems in the consistency department. Fábrica’s coffees are still functional and acceptable but there’s no point in denying that they’re running miles behind our favorites.

Just for you to know, in this article, we’re only covering cafés that serve so-called “specialty coffee.” That doesn’t mean that we don’t like the Portuguese espresso (“bica”) that is served in all pastelarias and tascas around town because we very much do. It all just depends on what you’re in the mood for. By specialty coffee we mean coffee that is selected according to the highest grade available, often-times single origin or single estate and that scores at least 80 points or above on the 100-point Coffee Review scale by specialized coffee sommeliers (so-called “Q graders”). It’s also known as coffee that is part of the “third coffee wave” in which the whole processing of the beans, from the way that they are grown to how they are traded, roasted and brewed, gets special attention.

For a complete overview of all specialty coffee places, check out our self-made map here:

OUR ABSOLUTE NOT-TO-MISS FAVORITES

A small word of warning: this list is very biased. Our selection was based on where you could get the best espressos and filter coffees and where the service was the most attentive and personal. They’re places where we go very regularly and that we know inside-out. We prefer to go to local, small-business coffee shops that keep a firm eye on sustainability. Part of our morning routine is to talk with barristas, exchange ideas about coffee and feel like the person who serves our coffee cares just about as much as we do.

OLISIPO COFFEE ROASTERS

The best coffee roaster, the best espresso, the best everything. It does come with a word of warning: they’re only open on Saturday afternoon, from 2 to 6 pm. That’s when Anthony and Sofia turn their little roaster in the neighborhood of Ajuda (not too far from LX Factory) into a coffee tasting lab where you can try the platonic ideal of espresso, a milk coffee (they also have plant-based milk) or have one of their filter coffees. Also important, their coffees are ethically traded (or as ethically as possible) with a general concern for sustainability. They’ve also collaborated with the amazing AMO brewery to make a brilliant coffee beer. Just go there on a Saturday afternoon and let yourself and your senses be surprised by the quality of the coffee and the incredible hospitality of Anthony and Sofia. There’s no food, so make sure you’ve eaten something before. Absolutely essential for any serious coffee lover.

BLOOM COFFEE ROOM

Granted, they’re still the new kids on the block but it was love at first sip. We knew the barista Paulo as one of our fellow sippers at Olisipo Coffee Roasters (always a good start) and now he opened his very own Bloom Coffee Room together with fellow coffee nerd Nick in the business heart of Lisbon, near Marquês de Pombal. It’s exactly the kind of place Lisbon needed: relaxed, a passionate owner and just damn great espresso and filter coffees. It of course helps a lot that they’re working with Olisipo Coffee Roasters (are you detecting a pattern here?) and other coffee roasters with a strong ethical compass such as the amazing Coffee Collective from Denmark. There’s also snacks and food which accompany the coffee very nicely and they have a great selection of craft beer, cider and natural wines and organize the occasional cupping session. Passionate, knowledgeable and dedicated, and the best of all is: you taste it in the cup.

BUNA SPECIALTY COFFEE SHOP

A cute, tiny little specialty coffee shop with great coffee. The exclusively female-managed Buna is a 2-minute walk away from the São Sebastião metro stop. They mostly work with Nomad Coffee Roasters which is located in Barcelona and it’s a great pairing: their filter coffees are very balanced and they normally always have two different espressos on offer: one modern, slightly acidic and fruity and one traditional, darker and more chocolaty notes. It’s also a great place to try nitro cold brew, a mind-boggling coffee dressed up as a beer. We’re also very fond of the personal touch of Anna and her never-ending quest for perfection. What more could you ask for from your barista?

BETTINA AND NICCOLÒ CORALLO

First love never dies and even though it was written years ago, we still stand by our review of this place. It’s nothing new under the sun in that respect, but Corallo is remarkably consistent. The coffee and chocolate are both grown on their piece of land in São Tomé e Principe and they’re both pristine in quality. The coffee is roasted in their shop near Principe Real (and they also have a stand in the Time Out Market in Cais do Sodré) and it’s a traditional darker roast which results in a beautiful Italian-style espresso and fantastically balanced milk coffees too.

OTHER GREAT OPTIONS TO GET CAFFEINATED

The options listed below are great but we don’t go there regularly enough to really call them absolute favorites.

DEDE’S

A nice, little café with good espressos made by Kristina with great, A nice, little café with good espressos and modern, vegan-friendly food a bit further away from the usual, traditional specialty coffee fare. The coffee shop is at least as cute as the neighborhood (Lapa) and will serve you well during your break from a walk through lesser-known parts of the city.

HELLO, KRISTOF

A specialty coffee shop created by Ricardo Galésio in one of the most touristic neighborhoods in Lisbon. It’s small with a long, wooden table in the middle and a rack of lifestyle magazines in the back. Yes, the interior design is Scandinavian-inspired but it doesn’t stand in the way of coziness thankfully. The espresso is very respectable and the place as a whole has a very welcoming kind of feeling. 

HOW ABOUT COFFEE

Hand-pressed espresso, a broad selection of filter coffees and amazing dedication. Very much in the running to be part of our absolute favorites. 

MILKEES

A cute café with great pastries and avocado-on-toast snacks to accompany a very nice espresso or milk coffee. The owners Alexandre Freitas & Joāo Pedro Erthal are very attentive, passionate and caring. 

NEIGHBOURHOOD CAFÉ

A specialty coffee shop near Cais do Sodré with an on-point espresso and several filter options. They regularly switch roasters for their filter coffee which is always interesting and it’s thanks to them that we discovered the wonderful coffee of Girls Who Grind Coffee

SELVA

Selva offers delicious espressos and filter coffees from Olisipo Coffee Roasters and Spanish roaster Café de Finca, which formerly operated this coffee shop. The coffees are great, especially if you’re near LX Factory, and it’s also a good place to meet other digital nomads and participate in cozy co-working days and nights.

SIMPLI

Conveniently situated near Marquês de Pombal, this coffee shop is remarkably consistent for how big of an enterprise the whole thing is. Freshly baked goods, good coffee, this café has the whole package. The interior design is modern, sleek and it has the cosmopolitan flair that Lisbon often lacks.

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