The Slow Life: Caravela Café & Bistro is quintessentially Goan in character 

Goa’s favourite cafe, Caravela Cafe and Bistro eschews all the trappings of a modern cafe, with its warm eclectic interiors, hand-roasted coffee and uncomplicated, simple comfort food.

A request for suggestions for the best café in Panjim in the Offbeat Goa Facebook group threw up one name repeatedly: Caravela Café and Bistro.

Caravala Cafe and Bistro’s flagship in San Tome is a perfect space to take a break from the buzz of Panjim city. Image: FB/Caravela Cafe and Bistro

A member of this close-knit group insisted that if you want to really understand Goa’s local café culture, you have to head to one of Caravela’s outlets.

They have three now.

The flagship at Sao Tome in Fontainhas, my favourite because of its eclectic interiors and the street on which it stands; a new one on 18th June Road in the capital city, spread over two levels; and the Candolim outpost close to the beach.

Caravela 18 june road
The new 18 June Road outpost of Caravela Cafe & Bistro is right in the centre of all the commerical buzz of Panjim city.

I first went to the 18th June Road outpost for a review. My order was a crisp rissoi, Vietnamese-style coffee with sweet, condensed milk, which is rather popular, and Egg Florentine with spinach and mushrooms. This is a great space to stop over when you are in the neighbourhood or work in one of the offices around. 

Caravela Cafe & Bistro serves a sumptuous breakfast. Image: FB/Caravela Cafe and Bistro.

But it is their São Tomé flagship that I fell in love with. It reminds me of the charming Irani cafes of Mumbai, of which few are left. Square tables with red chequered tablecloths under glass surfaces, wooden chairs, dim lighting, illustrated posters on the walls, and wooden rooster sculptures on shelves (roosters are emblematic of Goa and its erstwhile Portuguese rulers, and you still find them on the brick red-tiled roofs of some old homes).

The precinct in which the café stands is lined on both sides by vibrant-coloured homes, some red, some blue and a few yellows. São Tomé is all about atmosphere. Here, you’ll find architecture reflective of the city’s Portuguese roots, small shops and taverns serving the favourite local spirit, feni, and urrak in summer, besides a host of other spirits.

In keeping with the history and ambience of the lane, the board outside Caravela states, ‘Laptop free zone’. 

A no-laptop policy ensures that Caravela Café and Bistro is an outlier in the world of digitally networked cafes. This is where you go to eat great café food including Goan delicacies, drink coffee hand-roasted in the in-café roastery, indulge in long conversations with friends, or watch the world go by.

The origin story of Caravela Cafe and Bistro

Carlos Noronha Jr., a member of the Noronha family, is an adept coffee roaster.
Image: Deepali Nandwani

It was in 2015 that Caravela Café & Bistro’s São Tomé flagship opened. It served sandwiches, coffee, and quality bakes. Two generations of Noronhas continue to run the business, which has expanded into a chain of three.

Carlos Noronha Jr, a member of the Noronha family, says both locals and tourists visit the café to enjoy the digital-free time, take a break from shopping, or enjoy a hearty breakfast, a mid-day break over lunch, or a tea-time rendezvous with family or friends. 

The food: Goa meets the world

How do you like your eggs? Fried, scrambled, or poached? Order your style of eggs with The Full English Breakfast. There is a vegetarian breakfast too, with rissois and pancakes. 

During tea time, my pick is their soft and warm classic apple pie, with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. 

Caravela Café & Bistro has a large egg menu — the popular Eggs Benedict served with chicken and pork ham; Scrambled eggs with Goan Chorizo; Ross Omelette served in vegetarian gravy (instead of the traditional chicken gravy), besides a bacon omelette. 

Caravela encourages a gadgets-free environment, encouraging you to focus on the food.

The menu also lists pasta, sandwiches (I swear by their honey mustard and cottage cheese sandwich), snacks and desserts. Among Caravela’s stellar offerings are the Beef and Chicken Samosas, and the Prawn and Cheese Rissois.

The Cheese Rissoi particularly is a weakness due to its soft insides and crispy outside, perfect for that evening indulgence.

The coffee advantage

Over the years, the bistro’s excellent single-estate coffees have earned it legions of followers. Caravela has a small roasting machine at the top level of its São Tomé flagship, where it roasts nearly 400 kilos of its signature Latin Quarter coffee every month.

Says Noronha Jr. “The beans are sourced from Coorg. We do both AA and AAA quality coffees and all three roasts — light, medium and dark. “We also courier the coffee and have clients all over the country,” he adds. “Benglauru, Mumbai, Delhi… We blend the single light roast with Robusta, so it has a light aromatic flavour, which in our experience suits the Indian palette the best. We have two variants of medium to dark roast and one light roast as well.”

While Latin Quarter Premium is a medium-to-dark roast with notes that go from fruity to earthy, Latin Quarter Regular is a full-bodied single estate AA beans, while Latin Quarter Mestizo is a blend of Robusta and Arabica and has perfect smoky and robust flavours of coffee. While Arabica lends the roast a sweet berry flavour, Arabica imbues it with bitter, woody notes.

Caravela Cafe and Bistro is equally famous for its bakes and coffee.

So, you drop in at Caravela Café and Bistro for good coffee and delicious café food. 

But I go to Caravela for more than just that. I go for the feeling of peace that creeps onto me as I spend a morning or an afternoon in an old-world cafe not yet touched by the fake sleekness and soullessness of modern cafes. I hope to get that corner seat next to the window so that I can order my favourite coffee and a plate of warm rissois, and watch people walk by. On any good day, I have seen lovers walking down the road hand-in-hand, tourists photographing a colourful street, a man hurrying to get to his place of work may be, an elderly woman in a sparkling floral dress, a scooter riding past, a child going home after school finishes on a lazy afternoon…

Everything seems good with the world.