Comins Tea House is tucked down a side-street just off Kingsmead square. Rob and Michelle Comin’s family-run business offers a moment of peace and quiet in the bustle of city and university life, and makes a brilliant study spot for deadline season!
For a moment, let’s imagine it’s Christmas 2016. It’s my second time experiencing the dream and the nightmare that is the Bath Christmas Market, and having spent the day attempting to do my Christmas shopping on a student budget, the holiday cheer is beginning to wear off.
So instead of taking my usual route home, I opt to take a side street that heads in roughly the right direction. At this point, I’ve been living in Bath for a year and a half, and in the spirit of proving the Bath Chronicle wrong about student engagement in the community, I’ve begun to make a point of getting to know the city’s ins and outs more intimately. Which is why it’s surprising that not only have I never taken this street before, but I’ve never noticed the tiny tea house nestled part way along it either.
“I take in the walls of fine tea and handmade tea sets… and begin to think that walking through the door was the best choice I’d made that day”
Peace and serenity inside the Tea House
It’s a curious place. I first notice the little table set up outside, and the black thing on it that looks like a cross between a teapot and an urn. Beside it sit two glasses, and a little sign telling me I’m welcome to try some of their tea – A+ student marketing. However instead of taking a free sample, I take one look inside at the serene and blissfully quiet café, and decide that my brain needs a people break.
Comins, as it turns out, isn’t actually that empty. Most of the tables are occupied. However, it’s not full of the bustle of my usual café haunts. In fact, despite the space being so small, it feels like the first place I’ve been able to breathe my own air all day.
I take in the walls of fine tea and handmade tea sets, the little cabinet of cakes that are labelled enticingly as ‘Assam Infused Tea Bread’, ‘Matcha and White Chocolate Cookies’, and ‘Darjeeling Infused Caramel Shortbread’, and begin to think that walking through the door was the best choice I’d made that day. Then Michelle hands me the tea menu, and I decide that actually, it might have been the best choice I’d made that month.
I am a tea nerd. This isn’t news to anyone who knows me, but up until that point, I drank English Breakfast 99% of the time, and usually only branched out to try other black teas. Although, I must admit, I was already a convert to loose leaf. (Honestly, it’s so much better. Trust me on this one).
In the year or so since discovering Comins, I have introduced several friends, acquaintances, Instagram followers and even my parents to what soon became my favourite place in the whole of Bath. Mostly their reaction to the menu has been less of the ‘unbridled excitement’ that mine was, and more of the ‘oh god, what has she dragged me into’ brand. Bless them all for being willing to try new things for my sake. Thankfully, it’s my favourite for a reason.
Try something new
There’s a few easy choices for the tea newbie; if you’ve never branched out beyond PG Tips, there’s plenty of black teas on offer, and the menu is marked with the ones that do and don’t suit milk. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, there are a few names that might jump out at you; Dong Ding Oolong is a perfect start, a beautiful tea that will also get you a brief introduction to the ideas and processes behind a tea ceremony. It can be a little more expensive than your average cup, setting you back £3.60, but the wonderful thing about oolongs is that you can re-infuse them. So in reality, you’re actually getting six or seven cups of tea for that.
“Whether you’re a tea lover or a sceptic, seeking culinary adventure or mental escape, I can recommend Comins Tea House”
A few recent specials that are also worth trying are Rainbow Darjeeling (£3.20) and Oriental Beauty (£5). And, of course, there’s always Matcha (£3.60/£5). Which, by the way, you haven’t really tried if you haven’t tried it at Comins. This is what real, fresh Matcha tastes like when made properly – although I’m sure Rob would say that he’s nothing on the tea masters of Japan. Their tea bowls are all handmade and totally unique, too. I’m especially fond of the dripped glaze.
This is the heart of Comins. In many Asian cultures, tea is important not just because it’s so popular, but because time and effort goes into making it. In England, we have perfected the art of making tea in a hurry, and drinking it while we’re doing something else. I’m definitely guilty – I can go through three flasks of tea on a long study day. But in Comins, they encourage you to take time over your tea; to use it as a moment of reflection and rest. This appreciation is infused in every aspect of their teahouse. There is no background music playing. The walls are white, the tables light wood, the décor minimalist – the only wall hangings are beautifully hand painted maps of tea-growing countries. It took me a couple of visits to realise that their ink is actually made with the type of teas grown there.
Rob and Michelle Comin have both travelled the tea-producing regions of the world extensively. You may notice that many of the teas on the menu are named after actual farmers that they have met; and they do source their teas themselves. Every tea on offer has been deliberately chosen. And it’s impossible to not thoroughly enjoy the experience when you’re surrounded by evidence of how much skill, time and love has gone into producing it.
This is what makes it so special to me. It’s so unique a place, not just in its products but in its whole mentality. It’s like a balm to modern life. I would hesitate to call it a café – you won’t find coffee or even Wifi here. In fact, you won’t even get an Earl Grey. What Comins offers is entirely different – it’s the experience of the culture that surrounds tea.
They’re a bright patch in Bath’s rich tapestry of culture, and that’s why I love it. So whether you’re a tea lover or a sceptic, seeking culinary adventure or mental escape, I can recommend Comins Tea House. At first I was tempted to keep its joys to myself, but the more people I have introduced to it, the more I find I love the place all over again.