A Bangkok couple sells coffee and cakes in an area dominated by tea and Chinese savouries
WHILE VISITORS to Doi Mae Salong in the northern province of Chiang Rai tend to salivate over such delicious Chinese dishes as braised pork knuckle and hot steamed buns, Jinapuck “Mee” Chewanorrasuchakul and Kantamate “Ton” Srikulvarin cater to those with more Western tastes with sweet treats and Java juice rather than the more traditional tea.
Many of the residents of Doi Mae Salong are descendants of the anti-communist Kuomintang (KMT) forces who were granted citizenship in return for policing the area against communist infiltration. Not so Mee and Ton, who settled in this area after lives spent in Bangkok.
The past decade has proved the couple made the right decision and today Sweet Maesalong Cafe earns plenty of praise from tourists and locals alike.
“We reached a turning point 10 years ago,” says 40-year-old Mee. “I was working as a secretary while Ton was involved with advertising. We were stressed out and that made us moody and bad-tempered. We decided to take a break and travelled to Doi Mae Salong where we fell in love with the weather and the local people. Ton and I love coffee but we couldn’t find a decent cup here because this part of the highlands produces high-quality tea. We decided to settle here and open a cafe.”
After finding the perfect location –an old roasting factory with a terrific view – Mee travelled back to Bangkok and resigned from her job.
“We couldn’t let ourselves be overwhelmed by life in the fast lane anymore,” says Mee. “I love baking and Ton knew that my dream was to open a bakery. So we decided to do just that and see if could survive.”
Mee took a course in the baking business at UFM Baking & Cooking School as well as several classes with a dessert focus.
“We sell cakes that local residents aren’t familiar with. While they can buy a margarine cake for Bt120 a pound, my fresh milk one-pound cake is priced at Bt300. A cup of coffee goes for Bt60 to Bt70 in a community that’s dominated by teahouses. It was tough going the first year but today I sell six or seven milk cakes a day. It’s become a popular cake to celebrate birthdays and Mother’s Day,” she adds.
Sweet Maesalong is decked out with wood and bamboo and boasts vintage furniture. The best spot is the terrace from where visitors can enjoy a panoramic view of the mountains.
Most of the customers in the early years were Europeans and Mee took a short time out to hone her skills in French pastry making with chef Eric Perez at the Macaron Pastry Training Centre in Bangkok. She continues to sharpen her skills and takes courses with European pastry chefs whenever she has a chance.
“I’d never eaten a croissant so delicious as the one made by Eric. He told me that to make a proper croissant, I must use only flour and butter imported from France. If I can’t afford to buy the ingredients, I shouldn’t make it. Local flour and butter can’t give the right texture. I followed his advice. The whipping cream, chocolate and vanilla are also imported.”
Mee makes just eight croissants a day and sells them for Bt85 a piece. Her Creme Brulee (Bt135) for which she uses local fresh eggs and imported vanilla beans is also a best seller.
“The eggs are from hens raised in the highlands. They are collected in the morning and delivered to me daily, making them super fresh.”
Strawberry Almond Cake (Bt165) has almond paste as a base and layers of fresh cream and fresh organic strawberries grown at a farm at Doi Mae Salong.
Cruffin (Bt105) is a cross between a croissant and a muffin. The pastry is made with the croissant dough but baked in a muffin mould. It can be filled with a variety of flavours though the salted egg cream is a favourite with locals. During the high season in winter, Mee expands the choice, offering strawberry milk shake, chocolate and vanilla fillings.
Her new creation Kouign-amann (Bt165) is a multi-layered, laminated sweet pastry made from croissant dough that is served with vanilla ice cream with chocolate chips topped with a fresh strawberry. It will go on sale from next month.
During the high season, visitors can tuck into 10 different desserts including Cherry Pistachio Charlotte (Bt165), Earl Grey Mousse (Bt165), Blood Orange Mascapone Mousse Cake (Bt165) and Raspberry Bomb (Bt155).
Ton, a coffee aficionado, helps manage the drink list. Espresso, Long Black, Cappuccino, Caramel Macchiato, and Affogato are all available costing from Bt45 to Bt85 a cup.
MAGIC IN THE MOUNTAINS
Sweet Maesalong Cafe is at Doi Mae Salong in Chiang Rai province.
It’s open daily from 8.30am to 4.30pm. Visitors are recommended to call first in case Mee and Ton are away attending a pastry course.
Keep updated at the “Sweet Maesalong Cafe” page on Facebook or call (089) 874 9656.