With its ancient coffee grinding equipment, fragrant sacks of substandard local coffee and scant business, I’m not sure how this place still survives. I suppose it’s because it’s owned by Island Coffee, one of the main producers of local coffee. Like the coffee, the shop appears to have come into existence during the 60/70s socialist import substitution era and it hasn’t upgraded in any discernible way since.
For the uninitiated, local coffee is pretty bad – with the exception of maybe Hansa coffee This is frustrating because our neighbours South India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia produce excellent coffee. So why are we left with mud-tasting dregs?
This proviso aside, I actually love the Island Coffee shop. It is so utterly charming and captures perfectly the spirit of a Colombo that is now slipping from the collective memory – an age where nothing was imported and everything made locally. The shop is basically an incredibly sleepy, coffee smelling rip in the space time continuum; primitive weighing and grinding machines, various inefficient processes even for the most simple transactions, and the feeling that the outside world’s perception of hours and minutes just aren’t that important in here.
They do serve a good iced coffee (Rs. 30) which is somewhat different to the usual Colombo iced coffee. They substitute real coffee for the customary Nescafe which gives it that undeniable ‘earthy’ hit of local coffee beans and a few sludgy grains at the bottom of your glass that proves it.
You can also buy their beans cheaply here and have them ground to your liking. The result- it’s better than the packs of pre-ground Island Coffee you get in Supermarkets. There’s also the option of mixing Hansa, Island and Harischandra (the local coffee triumvirate) to create your own overwhelmingly Lankan blend. I’ve tried this and gained exciting results.