Coffee isn’t just coffee in Portugal

There’s a great scene from “Seinfeld” in which George beats himself up because he doesn’t realize that when his date asks him up to his apartment for “coffee” she’s really asking for something else.

“Coffee isn’t coffee!” he screams.

My girlfriend and I often parrot the phrase “Coffee isn’t coffee” in Portugal for a different reason. Here’s how it often plays out.

We invited our neighbor and her friends for a coffee at the museum near our apartment. Turns out they’re closed on Sunday, so our new friend said “I know a place.” I figured it would be a cafe in the neighborhood. Instead, he told us to pile into his car and drove us a few minutes out of town to the Moinho de Mare da Mourisca on the Sado Estuary.

Sculpture at the Moinho de Mare da Mourisca estuary, Setubal (photo: Brent Petersen)

The site is an old mill where the power of the tides were used to make flour from grain. Today, visitors sit on a deck overlooking the marshes and sip coffee.

Afterwards our friend invited us to her apartment where a few bottles of superb local wine were drunk while we snacked on cheese, olives, pickles, and bread.

Eight hours later we begged our leave after a fabulous evening.

The week before that we were meeting our friend at Praca de Bocage for a coffee. We had missed his birthday party and wanted to wish him many happy returns.

Our friend and his husband suggested that we check out a nearby bar for a glass on wine.

Over the course of several bottles of wine, friends of our friends dropped by, said hi, and had a drink. Then, they would move on and another acquaintance would stop, say hi, and have a drink. Then, they’d be on their way.

Well after midnight we made it home from our early afternoon coffee date.

Another time, we met some friends for coffee at a place on Luisa Todi Av., the main drag in Setubal. A few minutes into our conversation, they were complaining about the prices in this part of town. “Three Euro for a glass of wine?! We go to a place where a glass is only 70 cents!”

Wine and a dish of lupini beans and peanuts at O Painel, Setubal (photo: Brent Petersen)

Ten minutes later we were in at O Painel. Without a tourist in sight, we ordered a carafe of wine which came with a dish of lupini beans and peanuts. The wine was good, but the atmosphere made it special. We had a great time talking with the regulars and making new friends. Several hours later, we made our way home.

One of Troia’s beaches at dusk (photo: Brent Petersen)

Then, there was the time we met some other friends for coffee, actually Irish coffee. We wound up taking the ferry to across the river and spending the day (and well into the night) exploring the beaches of Troia.

This scenario has repeated itself over and over again during our time in Portugal and I must say that I love it!

Karen and I joke when we go out that it’ll just be an hour since we’re only having a coffee. But letting the day take us where it will, bumping into old friends, and meeting new friends is what it’s all about in Setubal, Portugal. And besides, coffee is almost always more than just coffee.

About the Author

Brent Petersen is the Editor-in-Chief of Destination Eat Drink. He currently resides in Setubal, Portugal. Brent has written the novel “Truffle Hunt” (Eckhartz Press) and the short story collection “That Bird.” He’s also written dozens of foodie travel guides to cities around the world on Destination Eat Drink, including in-depth eating and drinking guides to Lisbon, PortoSintraMonsaraz, and Evora in Portugal. Brent’s podcast, also called Destination Eat Drink, is available on all major podcasting platforms and is distributed by the Radio Misfits Podcast Network.

Author: Brent