A Lesson in Coffee

A Lesson in Coffee

Showered, jetlagged and starving, you wander the narrow streets of Lisbon’s Bairro Alto neighborhood  in search of a simple breakfast. As soon as you set out it dawns on you that, similarities though there are, a) you are not in Spain and b) you speak no Portuguese. While your travel companion handles the navigation, you follow behind attempting to multitask, researching how to order coffee in your pocket phrasebook while trying not to trip on the cobbled sidewalks.

There is no shortage of cafés and pastelarías in this coffee and pastry-loving city. Here, this one appears to be bustling. You enter and approach the long counter where sweets in a variety of shapes and sizes fight for your attention from behind glass. A taller than average man pulls espresso shots from behind the bar while keeping an eye on you, waiting for you to make the first move.

“Olá,” you say with a smile in your voice, “Desculpe, não falo português,” opening with an awkward apology and fighting your own tongue to pronounce each “s” with a “sh” sound. The man raises a sympathetic eyebrow and shrugs his shoulders as if to say, “This café was established in 1932; we’ve handled this scenario before.” So far, so good.

You order a café com leite (pronounced “ka-fe kong lay-te”), the man nods with approval and pulls your drink, half milk, half espresso, served in a glass. You point at a pastry, pay the tab, snag a table just as its being vacated by a pair of businessmen and pour yourself into a snug café chair, half humbled, half victorious.

One sip at a time,