Sparks of coffee

By Jake Cleaver, in Food & Wine · 02-10-2020 01:00:00 · 0 Comments
Sparks of coffee

Jake Cleaver

If you've lived in Portugal for a while you will no doubt know that the nation is essentially powered by the smooth, dark, aromatic, life affirming elixir, known to us as coffee.

Now, maybe that's not entirely fair. We all know that you can't survive on just coffee alone. I like to think that we run similar to cars, and you can't run on an empty tank. So, I would say that as long as, like the Portuguese, you also fill up on a varied diet of fish and meat dishes, but also, importantly not forgetting to get your vegetables in as well (soup is a good hack for that). Then, when your vehicle is all gassed up - a little shot of coffee is like turning the key that sparks the ignition you need to spring into life, get the engine moving, and, if you have a deadline for an article for example, then the cogs (in your brain) turning as well.

The coffee in Portugal is amazing. It goes so well with cakes and even toasties, and the milky Galãos are wonderful to sit with a book (or perhaps you are sat, even now, with this copy of The Portugal News), reading, sipping your coffee and watching the world go by. However, quite often you are in a rush and you need your shot of liquid life, quickly! And you simply can't afford to be waiting, hovering over your scalding hot Galão while you blow on it hoping it will cool down, and inevitably, in your haste to be out the door, ending up with a burnt tongue.

That's why the Portuguese came up with the little espresso, commonly known as a ‘Bica’ (most commonly in Lisbon, but it spread), or simply as a ‘Café’, which means coffee. Your local ‘Pastelaria’ is also quite often called a ‘Café’. I think that speaks volumes about what the most important thing being sold there is.

Fun fact (that I once read on the back of a sugar pack) is that the reason they are called Bica’s, is that it's an acronym for “Beba isso com açúcar”, which means “drink this with sugar”. Ironically, and I asked many a café owner about this, most of their clients defy the clear instructions - and drink it without sugar. Personally, I can't do without the sweet stuff, and you coffee lovers out there will probably say that it's sacrilegious to ruin the taste of coffee this way. I clearly don't like coffee, and that I may as well be drinking a cup of sugar.

That may well be. However, there's something to be said about people who can deal with the harsh reality of black coffee with no sugar (I need my reality sugar coated a little). After all, we evolved to detect bitter things for our survival. We did this so we wouldn't eat poisonous or unripe fruit. It's a curious thing that a lot of us have learned to like to be poisoned a little bit. What kind of emotionless serial killers are you? Or, if you are one of those people who can’t stand to even utter a good morning until you’ve had your first sip of the good stuff at breakfast - what kind of ‘Cereal’ killer?

I think it comes down to the fact that we've learned to associate the bitter taste, with the wonderful spring in your step that soon accompanies it. Apparently, and this is quite counter intuitive, it's the people whose taste buds are most sensitive to bitter tastes that end up liking coffee all the more. It's because they are more aware of the coinciding, enlivening effect.

Now, I suppose I should also tell you, that during my research for this article I found out there's also another reason they say that they are called Bica's. It's because in Portuguese a “Bica de água” is a waterspout, and the way that coffee flows out of its machine when it's turned on, is reminiscent of the way water seeps out of the ground at a water spring. And since, let’s face it, they are both in their way a life giving liquid, I buy this story too.

And, along with the majority of people in this fine country, sugar or no sugar, I do indeed buy it. Every day.


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