ONE OF Lisbon’s most famous landmarks, the Brasileira coffee shop in Baixa Chiado, celebrated its centenary last year. Recognised the world over as a popular watering hole for tourists and locals alike, Brasileira was founded in November 1905 by Adriano Telles.
He originally owned a coffee retail shop in Porto with business partner Cândido Alves, but when they fell out, Telles decided to open a shop in Lisbon. The entrepreneur joined forces with Vicente de Almeida Ribeiro and his brother-in-law, Dr. Artur Peres, and together they opened shop on November 19, 1905, at 120-122 Rua Garrett, in a former bespoke shirt tailor’s premises, where it has remained ever since.
Admittedly, it was a risky idea, since the coffee shop would specialise in strong and bitter Brazilian coffee rather than the smoother African varieties. Initially, you could only buy coffee beans to take away, not to consume on the premises.
The partners issued a bulletin, distributed around the city, particularly to coffee houses, in the hope that the shop and its products would catch on. At its opening, Lisbon daily broadsheet Diário de Notícias gushed enthusiastically: “The establishment is luxuriously appointed, with all its furnishings made according to the style of Henri II and consisting of two huge sideboards made of waxed American nut tree wood.”
Because Brasileira also specialised in a range of other products including tea, flour, guava paste, tapioca, red peppers, wine and olive oil, it took on the appearance of a Brazilian delicatessen. It was unique in that customers were invited to come in and sample its products, while there were handy brochures explaining how to make and enjoy Brazilian coffee. Not only that, the coffee shop advertised its coffee by the kilo in daily newspapers at a price of 720 reis (a lot of money in those days).
By 1908, Brasileira began to sell cups of coffee, when the premises were transformed into a coffee room with all the modern comforts and elegance, following the new rage for art nouveau.
The interiors took on a northern pseudo-Renaissance style, with carved woods, mirrors and paintings. Pretty soon it was frequented by students from the National Library and Fine Arts School, members of the Science Academy, singers and dancers from São Carlos Theatre, lawyers, doctors and office clerks – the most famous of the last category was poet Fernando Pessoa.
With the fall of the monarchy and the setting up of the First Republic in October 5, 1910, the coffee shop became a magnet for political groups, including left wing Marxists who would while away the evenings discussing politics and world revolution.
Brasileira was entirely refurbished in 1923 to take account of the smoother and simpler art deco lines, with the now vulgar paintings being replaced with more avant-garde works, glued to the walls to endure the onslaughts of the next 45 years – cigarette smoke, alcohol and soda splashes, and potash stains from clumsy cleaning ….
The coffee shop’s last major refurbishment was in 1971. Still in the hands of the same family, they have continued to keep up the underlying spirit of the founders, and the image and purpose which has been built up during more than a century – namely to sit at a table, read the paper, chat with friends and, of course, have a coffee! Chris Graeme