Café Com Cheirinho: Portuguese Alcoholic Coffee
If you’ve made any of our previous recipes, you’ll know we love to be extra. Whipped cream, chocolate curls, and making different coffee syrups from scratch—we’re all about that.
But sometimes, it’s nice to enjoy a no-frills, back-to-basics drink. Enter the Portuguese café com cheirinho.
What Is Café Com Cheirinho?
Café com cheirinho is one of the best coffee cocktails from Portugal. The direct translation of its name from Portuguese is “Coffee with Smell,” but don’t let that put you off. It refers to the fact that café com cheirinho is made by adding a bit of wine, fruit, or pomace brandy – the smell – to Bica, Portuguese coffee.
Learn more about Portuguese coffee drinks in this video:
The café com cheirinho is usually enjoyed as a digestive after a heavy meal, similar to the Portuguese Galao or the Mexican carajillo. But if you have room, these popular coffee drinks are also great with traditional desserts, like a bolo de amendoa or a pastéis de nata.
Type of Coffee Used in Café com Cheirinho
Café com cheirinho is traditionally made using Portuguese bica coffee. Bica is similar to an espresso but with greater volume, more like an Italian lungo. Portuguese baristas most often use a dark or medium roast blend of Arabica and Robusta beans for the brew.
The Robusta coffee beans provide intensity and an extra caffeine boost, and the Arabica lends delicacy and nuance to the cup.
Café com cheirinho can also be made with strong brewed coffee as you would get from an Aeropress or Moka pot. Sweeteners, milk, or cream are never added.
Types of Alcohol Used in a Café com Cheirinho
The most common alcohol choices are aguardente bagaceira, aguardente de medronhos, or wine. Aguardente is a generic Portuguese term for strong spirits; the direct translation is firewater. The alcohol can be added to the coffee or, less commonly, served alongside.
Richard Thomas, a contributor at Chilled Magazine, explains the appeal of Portuguese aguardente (1).
The wines behind these Portuguese spirits are generally quite drinkable in and of themselves, so it’s a good bet that even an unaged aguardente will be superior to a comparable brandy.
Aguardente bagaceira is used in most cafes to make café com cheirinho. Aguardente bagaceira is made with grape pomace, which is the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes after they’ve been pressed for wine.
Aguardente de Medronhos
Aguardente de medronhos is another popular choice for café com cheirinho. It is made from fermented medronho berries. Resembling strawberries, these fruits are picked, mashed, and kept humid until they ferment (2). The resulting liquid is distilled to a high-quality spirit. There is little national regulation, so aguardente de medronho can be anywhere from 42% to 56% alcohol by volume.
If you’re looking for a back-to-basics digestive after a heavy meal, the café com cheirinho might hit the spot. With hot brewed coffee and “firewater” spirits, it’s a warm and cozy way to wind down the day.
Have you tried café com cheirinho? Let us know your thoughts by dropping a comment below or in our Home Grounds Facebook group.
The best brewing method for café com cheirinho is an espresso machine. But if you don’t have one at home, any strong brewed coffee will work. An Aeropress, Moka pot, or French press can produce a suitably strong cup.
Yes, you can use other types of liqueurs or spirits. Though aguardente bagaceira and aguardente de medronho are the traditional choices, don’t be afraid to experiment and use what you like. You can craft an unusual and delicious café com cheirinho by pairing the alcohol with the flavor profile of the coffee.
Yes, you can garnish the café com cheirinho with whipped cream, though it isn’t traditional. You won’t find it served this way in Portugal. If you want a sweet treat, a more authentic option is to pair your café com cheirinho with a creamy dessert.
- Thomas, R. (2020, July 9). Get to Know Aguardente, Portuguese Fire Water. Chilled Magazine. https://chilledmagazine.com/get-to-know-aguardente/
- Medronho – Portugal’s local firewater. (2021, March 19). Theportugalnews.com. https://www.theportugalnews.com/news/2021-03-19/medronho-portugals-local-firewater/58870