Sujay Gupta, @SujayGupta0832If Arabica doesn’t wake you up robusta surely will. And does AA rated do for you or AAA rated? Coffee beans that is. Even before the famed Rooster, that gallinaceous character who announces the arrival of dawn in most Goan villages and towns as he crows, the universe of coffee beans and coffee artists are at work. Especially in Panjim, where this still little town, is now really waking up to smell the coffee. And before the cock does crow, the steady soft mellow roar of beans getting grounded, water getting poured over fresh powder is heard. French presses are cleaned for plungers to settle the coffee, steel containers are placed on stoves and hundreds of cups poured over and over, in cafes, hostels, coffee shops, each in quaint settings, where world class coffee is topped ,not really with milk, but with conversations.Yes the truth is out- in black (if its espresso) and white (if its latte). Panjim is indeed on the world map for coffee. Hear it from travelers making a pit stop.Tucked away in Fontainhas, literally at the precipice of where the hurly burly of Panjim’s daily life turns into a narrow lane into Rua 31 de Janeiro , where time and pace goes back by fifty years, where the Latin quarter begins. That’s where the Noronha family lives, Carlos and his wife and sons, Carlos Junior and Cyrus and the while the jury is still out, there is growing consensus that the Café this family runs, with rooms for lodgers, Caravela, is the best place to park if you need great coffee. Well, the tag hasn’t come easy. Up the narrow steps of the café, through the gorgeous cottage is the “laboratory”. That is where the big roaster is kept, the simple magical contraption that transforms green raw beans, into aromatic coffee beans which plunge out of the giant container after getting roasted.Watching the process is fascinating. The green beans twirl and swirl and gradually change colour, almost like the blossoming of a flower. When the beans get optimum heat, touching about 115 degrees plus, they turn from pale green to dark brown, each filled with flavour and fervor. Then they drop down from the level above into a vessel below with blades and rotate till they cool down.Watching this process, in this café, the only one with a roaster, in a setting which could be in the early 1900’s, was a confluence of the ancient and the new, with charm that is transfixed. Coffee lovers are indeed a breed apart, both the creators and the consumers. There is Carlos, the patriarch, who while running a Café Caravella, from within his home, figured that a great breakfast reaches pinnacles of greatness with good coffee. They were lucky with the beans they got, till Carlos deep dived into the art and craft of coffee procuring and sourcing the best beans from Coorg. Now they have the AAA and the AA Arabica, good robusta and the blends that emerge plus myriad other brands, in a baffling range and combinations.We realize little that these are touches that actually endear places to people. For instance, the turning point on his journey of upping the ante in coffee began when he overheard tourists having breakfast in his café chatting in Portuguese that this was the best coffee they had in Goa. It is then that he decided to go the whole hog and source and roast his beans, a task which his son Carlos (junior) handles while Cyrus is a the prince of the kitchen whipping up great full English breakfasts and soft sandwiches embedded in fluffy croissantsThere are cafes dotting the by lanes of Fontainhas and around. Though they don’t roast the beans, they do grind them, each place stocking a variety of beans. In some places, like the Blue Tokai Café behind the post office, at Sao Tome, another place for conversations around a big tree in a courtyard or the cozy insides, they will grind a afresh for your cuppa if you so desire, with your ricotta salad with caramelised walnuts or tuna melt sandwiches. On the other side of Fontainhas, in the main inside road connecting this gorgeous quarter to Mala and beyond are two quaint hostels, the Old Quarter ( also known as Bombay Coffee Roaster) and the relatively new White Balcao. This is where people hang in the open spaces, chat, read, play music and drink liters of coffee. While both these places offer coffee with your breakfast of either toast, eggs and fruit or the goan pao bhaji and samosa, which is Americano, the White Balcao, a gem of a lodging created by the Pune based couple Alok and Swati, offers a slightly more eclectic variety. The architecture of White Balcao can pass off as Portuguese but it has greco- roman and Spanish elements, giving you the gentle caress of a Spanish hacienda locked in matrimony with a Goan balcao. During a coffee chat one morning, which became a roundtable of folks, there was a lady from Luxemburg, about to ease out from practicing psychiatry to something more evolved. While the search is on, a longish stay in Fontainhas with coffee, friends and chats, is as good a transition she could dream of. A young man from Russian was also there, escaping the cold of St Petersburg but also wondering why his homeland is seeing less snow and higher temperatures. Giving us company was a soul traveller from Hyderabad called Guru, who makes APPs user friendly and can do it from Fontainhas or Finland, for clients from Vizag or Melbourne. He has stayed on and on and may never leave. And he wants and gets his two coffees as soon as he wakes.
Coffee does make the world go round. But it also brings it closer. Panjim is now waking up to sell the coffee.