Comins Tea House in Sturminster Newton reveals the secret to the perfect cup of tea
PUBLISHED: 12:48 15 April 2019
The owners of Comins Tea House in Sturminster Newton travel the tea-growing world to source rare, delicate and memorable leaves for discerning tea drinkers
“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea,” wrote Henry James in The Portrait of a Lady. And, traditionally, we English agree with him.
Except these days many of us are more likely to have a coffee-to-go (hopefully in a reusable cup!) in one hand and a smartphone in the other as we go about our busy lives.
But why not slow down? Unwind a little over a proper cup of tea, served from a real teapot, prepared by people who know their Darjeeling from their Assam and their Orange Pekoe from their Oolong.
Rob and Michelle Comins, whose tiny Comins Tea House in Bridge Street in Sturminster Newton is a place of worship for serious tea-drinkers, travel all over the tea-growing world to source their leaves. They can tell you where and how they are grown, and the best way to prepare them to get the finest drink in your own home. Their skill, infectious enthusiasm and extensive range of around 40 different teas – black, green, white, oolong – have won over many whose declared tea preference was 'Builders' with milk and two sugars'.
If dark and strong is how you like it, that's what you will be served, but made with real tea leaves, not some dessicated black powder in a bag; and as those leaves unfurl they will give you a deeper, more intense cuppa.
Comins Tea House represents a successful marriage of a tea lover and a tea sceptic. Michelle grew up taking tea every Saturday afternoon with her mother, as she recalls: “Back then it was never about the quality of the tea, more about the quality of the time spent together, but it was the start of a fascinating relationship and adventure with tea.”
Rob was a coffee drinker. They met at university and married in 2003. However their divergence on beverages changed after a visit to Darjeeling in northern India to see the plantations. Rajah Banerjee of the Makaibari Tea Estate took them on a walk through his estate and gave them a personal tasting which completely changed Rob's perception of tea.
Back in the UK, unable to find tea of the quality they had enjoyed with Mr Banerjee, they decided to set up their own tea business. Their quest for great tea took them on many adventures as they sourced fine loose leaf teas from estates around the world. Their aim was to make it easy for customers to find and enjoy good value, high quality, single estate loose leaf teas.
“We believe that the preparation and enjoyment of loose leaf tea can be an every day activity which can fit in with, and indeed enhance, our increasingly busy lives,” declares Michelle.
Within a short time the couple were getting to know growers not only in India, but also in China, Japan and Sri Lanka, benefitting from the hundreds of years of collective knowledge and experience of the producers and experts they met.
One of the most distinctive features of Comins Tea House – both the Dorset original and their second tea house in Bath, opened in 2016 near the Theatre Royal's Ustinov Studio – is its stylish minimalist look: from the striking furniture, made by Littons of Sturminster Newton, to the exquisite ceramic teaware, made to the Comins' design.
A visit to Comins Tea House is a delicious way to discover delicate, rare and memorable teas. Customers can also enjoy freshly prepared food reflecting both the Asian influences and the Dorset food scene – locally sourced pastries, gyoza (Japanese dumplings) accompany your Japanese green tea at lunchtime while afternoon treats include warm scones with Dorset clotted cream.
The tea-mad couple continue to meet new growers. Last year, as well as their visits to India, Nepal, Japan, Korea and Taiwan, Michelle spent two weeks in China, and returned with some interesting new teas, including Tai Ping Hou Kui, which comes in long green strips. “It's prepared by being twisted, laid out and pressed flat, and has to be brewed in a big jar,” she says.
China is the world's biggest producer of tea and the top 30 per cent of the crop stays in the country. “It is part of their way of life – there is a ceremony to tea drinking,” Michelle explains. “The West can benefit massively from understanding the ceremonial aspects of tea.”
Among the teas I tried when I visited their Sturminster Newton tea house was a first flush Darjeeling, which, said Rob, was still on the bush four weeks before. Eagerly anticipated by serious tea drinkers, it was easy to see why – subtle and full of soft fruity notes, it was the perfect thirst-quenching cup of tea.
With three young children, two tea houses and regular fact finding missions to tea plantations across the globe, this very busy couple still find time to give tea talks and run tea master-classes. Look out for these on their website, or visit Comins Tea House at Sturminster Newton (open Thurs & Fri 11am – 3pm & Sat 11am – 5pm). Once you taste real tea, thoughtfully sourced, expertly brewed and served with care you will be unearthing that teapot and finding loose leaf blends to delight your taste buds too.
After all when Douglas Adams, writing just a few miles away at Stalbridge, pictured Arthur Dent lurching into space, clutching his Hitchhikers Guide, he didn't ask for a salted caramel latte. He said: “Is there any tea on this spaceship?”
Find out more at cominstea.com or call 01258 475389
The Secret of a Perfect Cup of Tea
In his essay, A Nice Cup of Tea, George Orwell gave 11 rules for correct tea-making, and, like Douglas Adams, he insisted that it should be made in a proper teapot which had been warmed. “Tea is one of the mainstays of civilisation in this country,” said Orwell.
So how do Rob and Michelle make the perfect cup of tea?
“In order to get the most out of your tea you should brew each tea using traditional methods as we do at our tea houses. However most people probably don't own all the equipment to make this possible! So here is our guide to making a great cup of tea whatever the leaf.”
Measure your loose leaf tea (about 5g per 500ml pot)
Heat the water to the correct temperature (in general 80ºC for white and green, 90 ºC for oolong and 100 ºC for black.)
Pour onto the leaves and brew for the recommended time (1 minute for green, 2 minutes for oolong and 3 minutes for white or black)
Remove the leaves to stop the tea over-brewing
Pour and enjoy!