‘Tea drinking is an umbilical cord to British way of life’

June 3, 2013




TEA TIME: Jane Pettigrew formally opens the new tea garden at Comins Tea House in Sturminster Newton.


 CTH Darjeeling Makaibari Estate

INDIAN INSPIRATION: The Makaibari tea estate, owned by Mr Banerjee, in Kurseong, Darjeeling, India, where Rob and Michelle’s journey started.


Jane Pettifer and Comins

EXPERT ADVICE: Jane Pettigrew shows one of her books with Rob and Michelle Comins at the tea house in Bridge Street. Picture by Matthew Bell


Comins Tea cafe


FRONT OF HOUSE: Looking at the tea house as a passing motorist would see it.  Picture by Matthew Bell


AN expert on Britain’s favourite beverage came to North Dorset to open a new tea garden and support a local couple who have launched  into the industry.

Jane Pettigrew came to Sturminster Newton to open the new facility at Comins Tea House, the business owned by Rob and Michelle Comins. Jane is a specialist and historian on the subject of tea, having written 13 books on its’ production, history and culture and came to speak to a group of 30 people.

She also gives regular tea masterclasses and tea tastings, speaks on radio and TV and acts as a consultant to tea companies, new tea businesses, table ware and tea ware companies.

Right up until 1839 all tea imports came from China. The East India Company, made partly famous by the Boston Tea Party, had a monopoly on the control of it as they imported everything from the Orient.

In exchange for tea and other speciality products, the Chinese only asked for one major item in return – raw opium.

This all changed when the tea plant was found growing wild in Assam, India and it was subsequently bred for commercial benefit. Wherever coffee is generally grown, tea is too.

Tea is considered very beneficial in breaking down fat in the body and is found in six forms, five of them being Puer, Yellow, White, Green and Black.

Oxidation is a chemical process that results in the browning of tea leaves and the production of flavor and aroma compounds in finished teas. The longer the oxidation, the darker the category is. White teas are said to be full of anti-oxidants.

Tea affects the metabolism of individuals in different ways, causing insomnia or tiredness in its extreme forms.

Jane said: “The tea plant is a chamylia and it is grown in 58 different countries. The British have an umbilical cord attached to them when it comes to tea drinking. Nothing can be done until we have made a nice cup of tea. It is essential to our way of life.

“We have been drinking tea for 360 years and contrary to what some might think, it was initially imported by the Dutch, not ourselves.

“Tea drinking was an unbelievably eccentric habit at that time. It cost between £2 and £6, the equivalent of an annual wage, and only the Royal Palace could afford it. It really was an upper crust habit for a 100 years and it eventually got down to the lower classes.

“By the middle of the 18th Century the working classes were drinking the dregs and had it instead of ale for breakfast.”

Due to successful attempts at smuggling tea, hoarding and distribution of it saw it used by a wide variety of people, as it was considered “respectable”.

Jane said: “Benevolent employers allowed their workers to drink tea twice a day, and it was even common for servants to have their tea twice a day too. Tea time was now something everyone expected. Jane Austen’s books refer to her meeting people through tea drinking and tea.”

Tea rooms were always acceptable places to be seen and in the early 21st Century they were frequented by the leaders of the Suffragette movement

Rob and Michelle Comins’ adventure started at the Makaibari tea estate of Mr Banerjee in the hills of Kurseong Darjeeling. He shared some of his finest teas with the couple and took them on a tour of the estate.

They wanted to experience the quality of tea they experienced at Makaibari and so their destination was to launch a business that source some of the world’s finest loose leaf teas and so Comins Tea House was born.

Alongside the import of teas, they sell their own range of teaware, consisting of tins, tea bowls, napkins and caddy spoons.

Rob said: “The tea and the teaware together allow us to bring our customers a unique and accessible tea experience which meets our company aim – to make it simple for our customers to find and enjoy loose leaf tea.”

The launch of the teahouse is the culmination of their on-line launch on 2011 with their teaware and a small collection of teas and subsequent visits to new tea estates and discoveries of new teas too.

The teas can be purchased in 15g, 50g and 100g packs and advice can be sought and teas sampled before a purchase is made.

Rob added: “So we created the Tea House where we only serve and sell our personally sourced fine teas alongside our teaware and a locally sourced menu including morning pastries, light lunches and afternoon tea.

“We prepare everything in the Tea House kitchen and invite our customers to visit us and take time over tea in a calm and relaxed atmosphere.”


  • THE   Comins Tea House can be found at the Quarterjack, Bridge Street,      Sturminster Newton and they can be phoned on 01258 475389.


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