What’s in a name? That which we call an espresso by any other name would still taste as bitter. This is certainly the case in Portugal where the concentrated coffee is known as bica, or like most places in Southern Europe, simply as café. Compared to the classic Italian version, a traditional Portuguese bica is roasted a little lighter and pulled a little longer. After trying one, we can attest your typical bica will be bitter with a decent amount of robusta and virtually no acidity.
Unless, of course, you’re lucky enough to find yourself at Malabarista Café in Lisbon. The café claims to be the first specialty coffee shop in Anjos, a historic neighborhood popular with Lisbon’s creative class. It’s a little off the beaten tourist path, but the promise of specialty coffee had me eagerly trudging up one of Lisbon’s famous hills, and I was not disappointed.
Visitors are welcomed to Malabarista by a colorful storefront and receive their coffee on intentionally mismatched small wares. This colorful, playful approach is also reflected in the coffees served. Malabarista, brews bright and juicy coffees from local roaster Olisipo Coffee and guest roasters such as Barcelona’s Right Side.
It’s clear the café is popular with Lisbon’s growing population of digital nomads, so a few of the tables are marked as laptop-free zones. It’s a welcome touch for a tourist such as myself who just wants to enjoy a coffee and a moment’s rest.
When I visited, Malabarista was pulling shots of a Tolima, Colombia from Olisipo. My shot was sweet, balanced, with a nice body– everything I look for in a shot of espresso.
On a second visit, I couldn’t resist trying Malabarista’s filter coffee, which I found to be every bit as good as the espresso. As an American, I confess the word “coffee” means “filter,” and few things are more comforting than a hot mug of batch brew.
I found the staff at Malabarista to be welcoming and quick with recommendations for a coffee lover like myself from out of town. Perhaps that is what is most enticing about a café like Malabarista: the chance to feel like you belong in a strange and exciting new place, even if it’s just for a cup of coffee.
Malabarista is located at R. Maria 66B, 1170-213 Lisboa, Portugal