I am always on the lookout for places to go that offer a great tea experience. So, when I came across Comins Tea House on Twitter, I knew I had to go. I visited for the first time a few months back to attend an event about the social history of tea hosted by world tea educator Jane Pettigrew. (I do plan to write the event up now I’m planning to share tea experiences further afield than Cardiff.) I had the most amazing time and spent the whole visit planning a fantasy move to Dorset so I would be able to go to Comins all the time. We finally went back to have their afternoon tea recently and spent the entire afternoon trying as many teas as possible! Afternoon tea must be booked at least 24 hours in advance so make sure you bear this in mind.
Comins Tea House is a family run business and Rob and Michelle Comins are the most passionate tea lovers I have ever met. Their tea house in the small Dorset village of Sturminster Newton came about after an inspiring trip to Northern India. They travel the world sourcing their teas and are very knowledgeable. My two favourite things about visiting their tea house is chatting with them and that the tea is prepared as traditionally as possible but in a very accessible way. The water is filtered just as I would do it at home and temperature control kettles are used. They use the same kettle that I used to have. It makes the tea house feel friendly but also shows that you can achieve the same outcome at home.
When we arrived we were the only people there which meant we got to have a nice chat with Rob about the new teas that had come in since our first visit. The tea house did get very busy throughout our visit and how they manage to prepare tea, food and uphold such outstanding customer service is beyond me. Each person is given the tea list and if they haven’t visited before they are given some background on the teas so they can make an informed choice.
The teas that can be reinfused are prepared at the table for you and the process explained; from rinsing the tea to reinfusions. It’s done in a way that doesn’t assume knowledge but isn’t patronising to anyone who does have prior knowledge. It’s also a great way for seasoned tea drinkers to pick up tips too.
First of all we had the hard of choice of picking which teas to have with the savoury part of the afternoon tea. I really like the idea of being able to pair different teas with the afternoon tea and that the savoury and sweet treats come out separately. I decided to go with Keemun (Anhui Provence, China) as black tea is always a winner with food because it is strong enough to stand up against other flavours. I also like smoky teas so the description on the menu made it stand out to me. As the tea can only be infused once it comes over already prepared in a tea pot. The teapots and tea bowls have been made especially for the tea house with the Comins logo. I had to buy two of the tea bowls to take home!
My husband went for Ruby 18 Brandy (Fu Yan) which is a roasted oolong. It is rich and malty meaning that it’s perfect to have with food. The oolong is brewed in the gong fu style.
[Gong fu is the traditional Chinese way to prepare tea. A small tea pot is used and it differs to Western style brewing in the amount of leaves used and the length of infusion time. The tea pot is filled 1/3 with leaves and, after rinising the leaves, the first infusion is 45 seconds with the subsequent infusions being 20 seconds. Gong fu brewing means that you can get a lot more infusions from the leaves. It also adds to the ceremony of drinking tea as it is the way it is traditionally prepared and uses the correct teaware. At Comins you are given a 1 litre thermos filled with water of the correct temperature. The thermos can keep the water at the same temperature for up to 4 hours. At Comins Tea House you are actively encouraged to explore the tea throughout multiple infusions which is something I really appreciate.]
The savoury section of the afternoon tea consists of four different tartines which reminds me of open sandwiches. They were coronation chicken, hummus and tabouleh, tuna tapenade with roasted red pepper and James’ cheese coastal cheddar, fresh leaves and chutney. My favourites were the cheddar tartine and the coronation chicken.
I loved that coronation chicken was on the menu because it’s very British which suits afternoon tea so well. I found that my Keemum suited the tartines very well as did my husband’s Ruby Oolong.
The sweet section of the afternoon tea consists of Comins caramel shortbread, orange & almond cake, Khongea Assam infused tea bread served with farmhouse butter, mini blueberry scones served with jam and clotted cream and Matcha ice cream.
I opted for Alishan (Wang Ting) Oolong to pair with the sweets. Alishan was the first oolong I ever tried and I’ve never been able to match that first experience until now. Alishan is fresh tasting whilst also being both floral and buttery which makes it perfect to pair with sweet treats. It was served gong fu style along with a litre of water. I bought a bag of Alishan to take home after having such a wonderful experience with it and I’ve been enjoying it gong fu style.
My husband went for Sencha Fukamushi (Uji) with the sweets. It was served in a Japanese kyusu tea pot. It’s more delicate and sweet than other Sencha I’ve tried but still had the umami quintessential of Japanese green teas. It was quite delicate to have with the treats but worked well as it is really refreshing. We also bought some of this tea to take home too along with a kyusu of our own.
We also tried a new Ceylon, a new green Ceylon and some Matcha with all three being delicious. I’d definitely like to have an entire pot of the green Ceylon next time so I can explore the taste a bit more.
Dorset may seem quite a distance to travel from Cardiff just for tea but it is more than worth it. I already can’t wait for my next visit. I’m planning to try either the Japanese or Indian set menu next time. Lastly, I really appreciated this Hovis sign that I spotted in the village…