Bath has no shortage of cafes – so you might wonder what another new opening could possibly bring to the table. Fortunately, the new Comins Tea House (a second branch for them, following the success of their original teahouse in Dorset) doesn’t lack for unique selling points. Not only do they offer an incredible range of teas in different styles (from the infamous matcha to the rare & special Pu’erh tea), all made in traditional style and served in appropriate vessels with a side helping of expert knowledge, but they’ve got a great twist on the bog-standard afternoon tea as well, with their dim sum. As someone who’s eaten more than her fair share of cucumber sandwiches with a cup of Earl Grey, I was delighted to try something different, and Comins’ feather-light gyoza washed down with a bowl of green tea really hits the spot.
I’ve got to admit, though, I was slightly intimidated by the extensive tea menu, so when I was invited back to attend the first of Comins Bath’s tea tasting evenings and learn a bit more, my answer was an immediate yes. Over two hours, owner Rob talked us through six different teas without notes, hesitation or repetition – his passion for the subject and the depth of his knowledge was truly impressive. We started with White Peony, which is a light, subtle tea with hints of straw and vegetable, and learnt that the longer the leaf is exposed to the air, the more it oxidises, and the darker and more bitter it becomes. White Peony is dried straightaway, in the sun, so the flavours are delicate – and this also preserves the anti-oxidants that make some teas so good for you.
|The lovely (and very knowledgeable)
Rob, doing his thing
Next up was Sencha Karigane, a Japanese green tea that is steamed, preserving its fantastic grassy green colour. As Rob says, this tea isn’t for everyone – it’s got quite a strong, vegetable foretaste (even though it’s actually pretty light, for a green tea), but then it becomes quite floral – it definitely grew on me. Our third tea was probably my favourite of all, Houjicha – another Japanese green tea, but roasted, giving it fabulous hints of smoke, sawdust, hazelnuts and coffee. It was completely unlike any other tea I’ve ever tried and I loved it (although it seems that betrays my lack of sophistication, as this is often called ‘farmer’s tea’).
The fourth tea was an oolong called Dong Ding, which translates as “frozen summit” in Taiwanese – apparently most teas from Taiwan are named for the mountain on which they grow. The higher altitude means that the tea grows much slower, making for a deeper flavour. This was a lovely floral tea with hints of honey and jasmine, partially oxidised (were you paying attention earlier?) so that the flavour is a little stronger, brewed in a tiny yixing teapot and served in a tiny sipping bowl.
|Our tea flight for the evening – teas in order of
writing, from front to back
For our fifth tasting we moved on to black tea, in the form of Darjeeling Rainbow, which had an elegant, malty flavour with a scent of pine. Black tea, we learned, is picked and dried, rolled (which bruises the leaves, speeding up the oxidation) and then fired in a hot oven, accounting for its relatively strong flavour. Tea from the same estate as this one – Ambootia – retails in Harrods for £250 per kilo. Finally, we tried a more vegetable-flavoured black tea from a tiny smallholder in Malawi – call me stupid but I had never really thought about tea-growing in Africa before. I love the Comin’s approach to supporting smallholders, something they intend to keep doing in the future.
All in all, this was a totally fascinating evening – I took pages of notes that I couldn’t possibly fit into this post – and left me with the urge to learn much more. If you feel intimidated by all this tea nerdery, then know that the experts at Comins are incredibly friendly, and very happy to explain and offer tastings to help you decide what you’d like. Highly recommended – and make sure you try the gyoza too.