A Brasileira

Peter Kingdon Booker


Coffeehouses are an invention of the Muslim world, first coming to prominence in the Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth century. They came to Western Europe through Hungary and Venice and started in England at Oxford in the 1650s. By the 1680s there were hundreds of them in London and over 3 000 in England as a whole and they became centres of political debate and of business. The insurer Lloyd´s of London has its origin in a coffeehouse. Women were not permitted as customers but as employees they made and poured coffee.


The drinking of cups of coffee in public establishments in Portugal is a tradition of relatively modern history. The founder of the cafés A Brasileira (Porto 4 May, 1903, Lisbon 19 November, 1905 and Braga 17 March, 1907 ) was Adriano Telles. Telles was a tripeiro who had qualified as a pharmacist and who had emigrated to Brazil in the late 19th century for a better life. There he enriched himself in the coffee trade before returning to Porto to sell his coffee products. In Porto at the time, there did not exist the habit of taking cups of coffee in public establishments. To sell the idea, he offered a free cup of coffee at the counter to any purchaser of a kilo of his Brazilian coffee beans. This promotion lasted for thirteen years. In a move which anticipated modern marketing methods, Telles had painted on walls and ruined buildings in all parts of the city the slogan “ O melhor café é o d´A Brasileira”. He also gave leaflets showing how the coffee should be prepared.


Opening A Brasileira in the Chiado in Lisbon, Telles discovered that Brazilian coffee was not favoured by the purchasing public, indeed it was a product not appreciated and even avoided by lisboetas. Available in his café were other Brazilian products such as goiabada (guava jam), tapioca, pimentinhas, tea and farinha (manioc flour) as well as a good selection of wines and olive oils. The economic difficulties of coffee producers in Brazil led to A Brasileira abandoning its suppliers of Minas Gerais and sourcing its product from Zaire and Angola.


A Brasileira in the Chiado became in the 1920s a major centre for the chattering classes, different interests occupying different tables – integralists, Carbonária, writers, artists. In this establishment was coined the term bica for a small coffee. Some customers had complained of the quality of the coffee, which at that time was served in a pot and poured at the table. The proprietor ordered that the coffee should be served direct from the bica or the bag, so that the aroma and flavour would be more intense.


The establishment retains its 20s image to this day, and its character is enriched by the bronze statue of the poet Fernando Pessoa, who to this day sits at a table on the esplanade enjoying his coffee. He was sculpted by Lagoa Henriques in the eighties. Pessoa´s brother poet António Aleixo, in another work by Lagoa Henriques has occupied a similar position outside the Calcinha bar in Loulé for nearly twenty years.