Oct 26 2012
Bangkok’s Chinatown is a must for the culturally inclined Asian-food-loving traveller (or those who just love to shop), but it’s also crowded, sticky, cramped, and most of all, exhausting. Double Dogs Tea Room is an oasis amid the chaos of Yaowarat Road well worth seeking out.
A stroll down Yaowarat, the backbone of Chinatown, takes you past noodles sizzling in the woks of street carts, abundant fresh fruit stacked in colourful mounds, footpath trinket vendors who turn what little walking space there is into storefront, and countless Chinese herb shops that have been in business since Thailand was known as Siam. Fascinating? Very. Relaxing? Not at all.
Until, that is, the glass frontage of Double Dogs emerges from the steamy clutter. Apart from the pricier of Chinatown’s endless shark fin and bird’s nest soup restaurants, this is one of the only places in the area that offers air-con seating. Yet Double Dogs is far more than just a pit-stop refresher with what are probably the cleanest bathrooms in a five-kilometre radius. That, indeed it is, but it’s also one of our favourite cafes in all of Bangkok.
Double Dogs’ white-walled interior with soft, simple lamps and functional wood tables doesn’t look or feel much different from some of the Vietnamese monastery eating halls we’ve visited. A counter and several low-lying wood tables with benches that comfortably seat four front the room, while a long table fit for 20-plus occupies a back-r0om that almost feels like a calligraphy or pottery studio.
It’s not only the room’s calming design and non-rushed vibes that leave us soothed here. One corner of the room features a small but inspiring book shop with titles like “Happiness Beyond Measure” and “Engaged Buddhism in a Globalizing World” from authors like Sulak Sivaraksa and Thich Nhat Hanh. The evocative collection includes Thai, Chinese and English language editions; go on, expand your mind while also cleansing the body with a cup of tea.
Speaking of tea, Double Dogs’ informative tea menu will turn the novice sipper into a blossoming expert in a matter of minutes. Carefully chosen tea selections come from China, Japan and Sri Lanka, and the menu grants each of these countries full information pages complete with maps of important tea producing regions. It was great to learn how low-grown Sri Lankan Sabaragamuwa (Mlesna) tea is “lightly astringent and best enjoyed straight”, but we especially appreciated the poetic lines accompanying a description of Zhu Lan Xian mountain in southern China’s Guangdong province:
“Wallow in ripen lychee,
a wind blows through orange blossom,
dreamed as I was an immortal”
Single cups of house teas are offered for 65 baht, but it’s worth going for the “pot” options, which in fact are not served in typical tea pots but rather medium-size Chinese-style ceramic cups in which hot water is poured directly over the tea. These “pots” are served individually (so one per person) with a lid that keeps the tea hot while at the same time preventing the steeped leaves from entering the mouth while sipping. Each “pot” is good for at least three rounds of steeping; servers appear to refill cups at all the right moments.
We’ve yet to sample the tea room’s more expensive varieties but judging by what we have tried, Double Dogs’ teas are far and away better than the average sacks of leaves sold by many a Chinatown vendor. The standard 65 baht Chinese Oolong is on the earthy side but with subtle floral undertones, while the 80 baht Chinese Yin Zhen is a mild, unprocessed green tea with leaves that resemble tiny needles. All of the teas are loose-leaf and can also be purchased by the ounce for enjoying at home.
Higher quality Chinese Oolongs like Tie Guan Yin and Da Hong Pao fetch 200 baht per pot, four premium Ceylon (Sri Lanka) selections come in at 140 baht, and a Japanese Sencha green goes for 80 baht. Japanese Matcha is also available, recommended as part of a 170 baht set that also includes Chinese mung bean tea cakes.
Several iced teas and “fizzy drinks” (the plum fizz looks interesting) are also available along with cheap beer, wine and cocktails. A “Tea Cocktail” section of the menu piqued our curiosity with offerings like “Red Shirt” for 90 baht, featured on the menu with only the mysterious description, “To know is to drink”.
Double Dogs also serves a small but good selection of small noodle and rice dishes; we were impressed by a 55 baht bowl of egg noodles with roast pork and a large shrimp wonton that seemed to have been hand-made. On the sweeter side of things, a lemon tart cake went well with the Oolong, but we had never tried anything quite like Double Dogs’ mango ice cream with chunks of fresh mango that was almost hearty as ice creams go.
We love Double Dogs so much that we’d seek it out even if it were situated beside a monitor lizard den in Khlong Toei, but its calming presence on Yaowarat make it a no-brainer after a tiring few hours in Chinatown’s markets. The tea room is located on the south (or southwest to be precise) side of Yaowarat Road, less than a kilometre west of Wat Traimit and just over a kilometre from Hualamphong rail and MRT station. If coming from Charawongse Chao Phraya express boat pier, walk north out of the pier until you hit Yaowarat Road, take a right, and Double Dogs will sneak up on the right after about 200 metres. Open daily 11:00 to 22:00.
Double Dogs Tea Room
406 Yaowarat Road, Bangkok
T: (086) 329 3075 ; (080) 439 2227
Travelfish.org always pays its way. No exceptions.