Gina Hahn

“Thank God for tea! What would the world do without it?” wrote Sydney Smith in 1850. I’m sure I don’t know, having recently been initiated into the wonderful world of afternoon tea at the Rachamankha. There is tea and there is tea, but tea at the Rachamankha is a special occasion in which only the best of the best is prepared and served, and no detail is left unattended.

The Rachamankha is an oasis of beauty and quiet in the busy heart of Chiang Mai. Located behind Wat Prasing, we entered the building that houses the dining room through elegant antique Chinese doors, and encountered yet another pair of beautiful doors on entering the dining room. General Manager Choochart Lahaudom and Food and Beverage Manager Mihai Olteanu greeted us and showed us into the dining room, which is light and elegant. Framed antique scrolls from the ancient Lanna Kingdom hang on the walls, and orchids are arranged on a table at the end of the room. Indoor and outdoor dining are both available, but we chose an indoor table - and the air-conditioning - for tea.

We were presented with small afternoon tea menus. Nikolaus Prachensky, tea connoisseur and exporter from Siam Traders, personally chooses the tea that is served at the Rachamankha. We spent an afternoon tasting Nikolaus’ teas a few years ago, and were impressed with the quality controls he has in place as well as the tea. Many of his teas are organically grown in the mountains outside of Chiang Rai, and he personally supervises the process. Teas at the Rachamankha range from the Earl of Rachamankha to aromatics to green and oolong teas, and are uniformly priced at 65 baht a pot. We chose a Darjeeling and an aromatic lemon-lime.

I was delighted to note that tea bags are nowhere in sight at afternoon tea. The tea is steeped in each pot, and then poured through filters into the cup. The filters were specially designed for the hotel, and feature the stylized lotus that is the hotel’s logo. The Darjeeling is delicious, but the scent of the lemon-lime is incredibly lovely. Two types of sugar and real milk complete the tea service.

The tea set for two, priced at 500 baht, arrived. Two smoked salmon sandwiches and two tuna sandwiches, scones served with mascarpone cheese and jam, and a selection of delectable cakes were stacked on a three-tiered serving tray featuring blue and white porcelain with a Chinese motif. Butter and whipped cream were also provided, and it was whipped cream with a secret touch – a drop or two of rum gave it a very special flavor.

Suchid von Boehm-Bezing prepares the cakes, and they are masterpieces. Our set menu included both apple and cottage cheese strudels, each delicately flavored with a perfectly browned crust. Last week, we talked about strudels and I learned just how difficult the very thin, multi-layered pastry is to handle. My German companion said that even her mother buys strudel pastry at the store, but Suchid makes every strudel completely by hand. Next came a plum tart, which we topped with whipped cream for good measure. The fruit was tart, the cream sweet, the combination a winner. We enjoyed the pear cake with more whipped cream. We saved the best for last - a chocolate cake full of chopped nuts, topped and filled with a creamy, rich chocolate and chopped nut frosting that Suchid prepares exclusively for the Rachamankha. Decadently delicious.

If you prefer individual slices of cake rather than the set menu, each is priced at 70 baht. The French lemon tart is especially appealing, but so is the chocolate roll with cherry and butter cream. Plan to have a light dinner after you enjoy tea at the Rachamankha. You won’t be able to resist eating every crumb of cake and drinking every drop of tea.

No visit to the Rachamankha is complete without seeing their beautiful boutique. The best of local artisans is gathered there to inspire you with creations in glass, silk, laquerware, and silver.

The Rachamankha, 6 Rachamankha 9, T. Phrasingh, Chiang Mai 50200, Telephone 053-904-111, www. rachamankha.com. Open every day for tea. Parking on the premises.