Coffee with a Shot in Portugal

Café com Cheirinho is a Portuguese coffee with a kick!

Pouring aguardente into the coffee (photo: Brent Petersen)

Coffee served with alcohol certainly isn’t an idea that originated in Portugal. You can get similar drinks all over Europe. A shot of grappa in your espresso in Italy, Rakija added in Croatia, Irish Coffee on the Emerald Isle, and so many more.

When you’re in Portugal, you’ll want to try something called Café com Cheirinho which literally translates to “coffee with a scent.” That so-called scent comes from the added alcohol. The name is definitely apt because the strong smell of the Aguardente will make the hair on your neck stand on end.

Sampling a Cafe com cheirinho (you can tell it’s strong!) Photo: Karen L. Campopiano

Usually, the alcohol comes in the form of Aguardente, a distilled spirit made from grape skins, stems, and seeds leftover from the winemaking process. Sort of a Portuguese grappa.

But, there’s several variations on Café com Cheirinho. Sometimes you might get a shot of Medronho, a spirit similar to Aguardente that is made using arbutus berries.

I’ve also seen people claim that sometimes wine is added to coffee and called Café com Cheirinho, but I’ve never seen that.

Occasionally, the Aguardente is served on the side.

If you’re in Madeira or the Azores, the drink is called Café com Música, while in Lisbon, you can ask for a Bica com Cherinho.

Making a Café com Cheirinho (photo: Brent Petersen)

I don’t often order a Café com Cheirinho, but the I’ve enjoyed it the times that I have. The bitterness of the coffee actually mellows the sharpness of the high alcohol Aguardente to make a nice drink.

Most coffee shops will be able to make a Café com Cheirinho and it’s usually not too expensive. That is, unless you’re in a fancy place in Lisbon or Porto. For me, I like to have my Café com Cheirinho at a neighborhood place. A spot near me pours the homemade Aguardente from a 3 liter plastic water jug! Don’t go looking for it, though. They’re not on Yelp or TripAdvisor. In fact, it’s such a hole in the wall place, Google Maps haven’t even found them yet!

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, Porto , SintraÉvoraBragaLouléBeja, and Almada in Portugal. Brent’s podcast, also called Destination Eat Drink, is available on all major podcasting platforms.

Author: Brent