Chaiwala Colombo: Go get your Chai!

The April showers have started and the weather has been more unpredictable than ever – one moment you’re standing in the blaring sun, and the next it’s pouring rain. Despite the indecisive weather, however, you may have noticed all over social media, that people have been lining up at a truck, waiting patiently to drink a hot cup of tea.

Undeterred by the rain, we saw people flock to a brand-new food truck parked in front of the Marine Drive petrol station, painted in hard-to-miss yellow, the newest addition to Colombo’s bustling street food game – the “Chaiwala Colombo” tea truck.

Having seen enough and more Instagram stories of disembodied hands holding a paper cup with “Chaiwala” written on it against the backdrop of the Bamba beach sunset, we too decided to hop right on that trend and go check out what all the hype was about. 

To be entirely honest, we went to Chaiwala with the full intention of tearing into it for selling milk tea to Sri Lankans at Rs. 100. However, once we actually got there, and got to talking with everybody lined up – once again in the rain – we had somewhat of a humbling experience. Many of those waiting for a hot cup of tea and their cake rusk (which was delicious, and we’ll get to that in a minute), they all commented that their intention was to support a local business, and considering that Covid has us in hard times, it was the least they could do, to help a start-up grow. 

Our battle gear fell right off, and we decided to actually give this “chai” a chance. Despite all our whining about the prices, we were able to order almost the entire menu for under Rs. 500, and it was one of our better decisions. 

We had the tandoori chai (their specialty masala tea), cardamom chai, the cake rusk, podi maalu paan, and the spicy chicken cupcake. They also have what they call “sukku coffee” – a ginger-based black coffee – and ginger plain tea on their menu, but the coffee was going to take too long; and despite all our learning, we were just not ready to dish out Rs. 50 for plain tea, even if it promised to blow our mind. The menu items we ordered were truly delicious. 

The tandoori tea packs a punch, and the masala hits just right. Pro tip: You absolutely must dunk your cake rusk in this tea, as it really balances out the sweetness of the tea and the cake, and things just melt together beautifully. The podi maalu paan, which is a regular maalu paan, just miniature-sized, was tasty, with concentrated flavours in its tiny body; and the chicken cupcake, which was actually an adorable meat cupcake, which we thought was clever, too delivered as promised. 

Speaking with Sameen Mohamed, one of six founders of Chaiwala Colombo – among his colleagues Shehan, Omer, Roshan, Imran and Rished – he said that the concept was a long-time dream of theirs, and due to Covid-19 slowing down their otherwise hectic and vastly different lives, they never would have had the opportunity to get this off the ground. 

An airline captain in Vietnam, Sameen said all six founders are from equally diverse backgrounds, unrelated to the food industry, and they are all floored by the overwhelmingly positive response they’ve had for the two weeks they’ve been open. He said that the community has been fantastic, making note of their enthusiasm to support an upcoming business. 

Sameen commented that they are reliant on providing a quality product, and having their wives involved as well, they are able to provide homemade items that evoke a sense of nostalgia as you enjoy it surrounded by the sea breeze, next to the rail tracks, basking in the ambience. He said that they use premium items and brown sugar and mineral water, and will not compromise on quality, despite being low on resources, as they are, after all, just starting out.

Due to Chaiwala Colombo’s growing popularity, their Marine Drive spot has been generating a lot of traffic. Sameen noted that they would greatly appreciate it if, for the time being, until they expand and are able to hire more staff, that customers kindly park their vehicle and walk to the truck to place orders.

Soon, you will be able to enjoy Chaiwala Chai at home, as Sameen shared that they have brought down a portable, inexpensive flask to keep their chai hot until it reaches you, even through a food delivery app, so you too can enjoy the full experience from the comfort of your own home.


PHOTOS Eshan Dasanayaka