Michelle Comins, co-founder of Comins Tea House, explains where the idea for the tea house came from and how it started with a tea lover and tea sceptic...
I grew up taking tea every Saturday afternoon with my mum. Back then it was never about the quality of the tea, more about the quality of the time spent together, but it was (although I didn't know it then) the start of a fascinating relationship and adventure with tea.
Rob and I met at University and got married in 2003. For years we existed happily side by side as one tea lover and one tea sceptic. That all changed on trip to Northern India when I persuaded Rob to venture up to Darjeeling to see the plantations. Here we had a chance meeting with Mr Rajah Banerjee, of the Makaibari Tea Estate, who took us on an unforgettable walk though his estate and offered us a personal tasting which completely changed Rob's perception of tea.
Inspired by our trip to India and unable to find the quality of single estate tea we had shared with Mr Banerjee in the UK, we made the decision to set up on our own. It was, back then, as much for the adventure as for the tea. Mr Banerjee had given us hope and a little confidence that we might meet more tea producers and experts happy to indulge a few English tea amateurs. So, with the little knowledge we had and some big ideas, we set to directly source fine loose leaf teas from estates around the world.
We agreed on our business aim and direction which was to make it simple for customers to find and enjoy good value, quality, single estate loose leaf teas. We believed then, as we do now, 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. Our direct approach actually seemed to work and soon saw us in contact with gardens across the world. We still never fail to be surprised and impressed by the kindness of so many people in the tea world. Producers and experts with hundreds of collective years experience were prepared to meet with us, listen to our vision and discuss which teas and tea gardens would best suit our, at the time, very small enterprise. Trips to China, Sri Lanka and Japan soon saw us broadening our horizons in tea.
As this was all happening we moved to Brussels for a few years with my work. Unlike the UK where specialist stores struggle to survive on the high street, beautiful stores dedicated purely to the art of tea seemed to thrive. The Saturday tea ritual returned - only this time with fine teas from all over the world. We were discovering a far more contemporary tea experience - one that embraced the origins of the teas and the different ways of preparing them but did so in a simple and accessible way. It was all very different from the traditional British tearooms we were used to.
Naturally, we started to plot and plan. How could we create a more modern British tea experience that bought people back to the excitement and ritual of taking tea?
The British craft scene was undergoing a revival and we had long been admirers of contemporary British design. Two close friends of ours were in the design & art industry so we often attended events with them. Through our tea travels we had started to catalogue interesting items and we started to meet British craftspeople whose approach and work we really liked. We were soon having discussions with artists and makers to see if they would be interested in working with us and to cut a (very) long story short this is how our exclusive range of British teaware was born.
We were well on the way with our range of personally sourced single estate teas and teaware but as we looked back to the moment that changed Rob's whole perception on tea one key element was missing. We always knew that the key to an amazing tea experience did not depend on the leaves alone, but with the time taken, the place and the people with whom it is enjoyed. Obviously we can’t take care of all of this (!) and much of our mission is to encourage people to create their own unique ceremony at home. We did however have a burning ambition - to open our own take on a modern British Tea House where we could meet and talk tea face to face with customers.
So, Comins Tea House now has a physical home in a small but perfectly formed Dorset town with some lovely shops and amazing countryside. We only sell and serve our fine teas alongside a selection of locally sourced pastries, homemade light lunches and afternoon treats. We are a little different - you can choose freshly prepared gyoza to accompany your Japanese green tea, but we also pay respect to our British roots - freshly baked blueberry scones with local clotted cream are part of our afternoon tea menu.
We respect the origins of the tea, preparing our single estate teas in a way that makes the most of their fantastic natural flavours; aiming to keep it simple and not make it stuffy.
If you are reading this - welcome to our online tea house! We hope you enjoyed reading the story so far and that we can tempt you to try our teas and invest in some beautiful original teaware.
While you are here - why not read our dedicated Tea Blog? Or start to plan your tea escape and come and visit our Tea House in person. We would love to share a few bowls with you!