Mizuno ‘Ceremony Of Tea’ with Comins Tea, Bath

At Footpatrol, we love combining worlds. When we saw Mizuno’s latest pack dubbed ‘Ceremony of Tea’, we saw this as the perfect opportunity to delve into the world of Tea… of course!

An early morning alarm followed by just over an hour on the train, we left the concrete streets of London and traded them for the delights of Bath. Nestled in the South-West of England, on one of their beautifully quaint streets, you’ll find Michelle and Rob. Founders of Comins Tea, this duo are on a mission to find, import and brew the worlds finest teas.

Focussing on the Mizuno Sky Medal and Contender, each silhouette comes with multiple bursts of Green across the upper that just scream Matcha.

To celebrate, we catch up with Michelle and Rob to learn more about the world of tea, we hope you enjoy and why not check out this latest pack from Mizuno here.

Footpatrol: Hey Michelle & Rob, thanks so much for having us at Footpatrol visit you and help celebrate the Mizuno ‘Ceremony of Tea’ pack, how are you both?

Comins: We are doing really well thanks & it was so nice to welcome Bradley & Alice to the Tea House & share tea together.  Always amazes us how tea offers us the opportunity to connect with wonderful people that we would otherwise not have the chance to meet. We very much enjoyed learning about your world while we shared ours.

FP: Jumping straight into things, I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited you a few times whilst I lived in the South-West but for our audience, could you tell us a bit more about yourselves and how you both ended up bringing the world of tea to the streets of Bath and Dorset?

Comins: One of the many wonderful aspects of the Comins Community is how people who have visited us & moved away to start new chapters of their lives get back in touch; so it was great to hear from you & get the opportunity to understand your world over tea! 

Well, we are Michelle & Rob Comins, direct trade tea merchants. We have spent the last 15 years travelling the world sourcing & learning about tea & we still feel like we are only just starting!  How did we come to be in the SW?  Well, before tea we both had different careers – it was Michelle who had a deep interest in tea & a desire to explore it – Rob was less keen on tea – put off by early childhood experiences of very strong bitter black tea with milk. It was a trip to Darjeeling in 2017 & a chance meeting that changed everything – sitting in the office of one of the most famous faces in the world of tea; Rajah Banerjee; we experienced tea like never before. We left that tasting room on a cold December day in the Darjeeling hills determined to make a life in tea & share the amazing experience we had enjoyed with others. Historically, teahouses have always been places to meet up and connect, whether purely socially, for debate and discussion, or for business. Over the centuries, the formal rituals and ceremonies that have developed around tea have needed physical spaces to facilitate them so we knew from the very start that we wanted to build a physical space in which people could meet, explore & enjoy tea. Our experiences around the world had shown us that the best spaces to enjoy tea are rarely in prime commercial locations.  More important than that are the host, the beauty of the experience offered & a space that allows people to escape & purely appreciate tea. With Michelle’s family in the SW our search led us to a Georgian house with a shop front in the small market town of Sturminster Newton in Dorset. Here we could quietly bring our vision to life and indeed tucked away from the pressures of modern life, the space has attracted tea lovers from all over the world who enjoy tea in the heart of the countryside with few other distractions. Two years later we decided to move to Bath – in keeping with the above we are not on the high street, rather tucked away waiting to be discovered.

Central to Comins is the belief that great tea should be an everyday pleasure, not just for special occasions or for rarefied, elite enjoyment so we aim to present our teas with the same openness, grace and enthusiasm with which they have been shared with us. The design of the Tea House is minimal with tea, of course, taking centre stage. Our menu is global with many of the items on the menu having been taught to us by our friends and partners in tea. Over time, a tea community has developed, keen to experience, learn about and enjoy fine tea and we are delighted that it is a space where lone tea drinkers feel comfortable to enjoy peace and tranquility alongside the more sociable aspect of tea where drinkers offer tastes of their chosen tea to complete strangers, conversations start, topics are debated & connections are made.

FP: Sourcing teas from all corners of the globe, what is it you look for when you’re looking at the different makers, regions of tea producers? Does it solely come down to just taste?

Comins: Partnership is at the heart of our company, when you come for tea at Comins we will of course discuss the leaves but we will also share more about where the leaves are from and the people who have grown & processed them. We often talk about our tea sourcing trips in terms of plant, planet & people; an approach that always leads us to delicious tea. Key to our decisions are the approach to caring for the land on which the tea is grown & the wider environment (only ask Michelle about soil if you have a fair amount of time on your hands!), the way that tea is planted, nurtured & processed & of course the values and vision of the people growing and making the tea. It works both ways – our partners are highly skilled and put huge care and attention into their land and their leaves – so all the while we are asking questions of them they are also asking questions of us – just as it should be. We have to also convince them that we will represent and prepare their teas in the best possible way. There is a lot that sits behind a cup of tea & we are always keen to discuss, share & exchange ideas with people who are interested to learn more.

FP: Did we see you managed to get Bradley to drink a tea on our visit? A man who doesn’t drink hot drinks, how did you convince him!

Comins: He did indeed! What can we say – the world of tea is captivating!

For many people their only experience of tea has been a teabag in a mug or perhaps lower quality leaves which may deliver a bitter cup & although today there are more Tea Houses in the UK (and awareness and interest in orthodox teas and the different ways to enjoy them are growing in Britain) spaces dedicated to the exploration of tea are still far fewer than say coffee houses. Many people are simply not aware of the sheer diversity of tea, the different types and importantly in todays’ fast paced world the slower pace that can come from the ritual of enjoying multiple infusions of quality leaf tea. This gives people far less opportunity to regularly explore and means that many tea drinkers still don’t know too much about tea’s heritage and the basics of its preparation, which varies between types and according to how it has been grown and processed.  

Our Tea Houses aim to offer a window into the world of tea which is what Bradley experienced. We will have to ask Bradley to describe his experience in his own words – but to us it was wonderful to see his surprise and excitement at the fresh grassy tones of a Japanese Sencha simply prepared in a Kyusu – a realisation that quality green tea leaves prepared quite simply and with care & attention need not be bitter & that loose leaf is not cumbersome and complicated but beautiful and ritualistic!  We look forward to welcoming him back to continue his tea journey.

FP: When we talk about personal favourites, where is your go to region of tea?

Michelle: For Michelle it will always be Darjeeling. The place where our tea adventure began & where some of her most life changing moments have taken place. A trip to Darjeeling will open a window on the tea world to any tea drinker highlighting the importance of terroir, the affect of cultivar on tea profile, the skill of the tea maker….

Rob: For Rob has to be Japan; the home of some of our most popular teas.  Japan holds a special place in the history and culture of tea. From the introduction of tea by Buddhist monks returning from study in China to the development of the Matcha ceremony and then on to the development of highly advanced picking and processing technology Japan has forged its own path. This uniqueness is shown in its teas, whether it is the rich umami of gyokuro or the sweet bitter tang of Koucha. We could quite easily fill the teahouse with the different senchas created by the intricacies of varying regions and farmers around this beautiful country. This is even before looking at the incredible culture not concerned with tea! For Rob, Japan has it all.

FP: Much like coffee (or even a well crafted cocktail), I see tea as something that isn’t just about the ‘drinking’ aspect but more so about the time and the process taken to brew a cup, would you agree?

Comins: Most definitely – at Comins talk about ritual every single day. If you get the chance to visit the Tea House (you can also look online) you will see the different tea vessels from all over the world that can be used to prepare tea & help you get the very best from your leaves. You will also see more simple pieces of tea kit, tea filters, tea infusers. The one thing that both these simple and more specific pieces of tea kit have in common is that they introduce the concept of taking time over tea. Adding in a step of putting leaves into an infuser and waiting for 3 minutes can be just as transformative to someones day as laying out a tea table with a beautiful mat, South Korean tea pot, jug & cups. Quite simply quality tea, prepared properly, offers us a chance to stop and because most of us are already familiar with the concept of a tea break it is a really accessible way to introduce rest into your day. We get many phone calls, emails & letters from people in our tea community each week & this is the aspect of tea that people talk about the most.

FP: From previous visits to Comins, it definitely provides a journey, an experience. From discussing flavours, to the different teas that may cater for that down to the hand pouring experience. Is this something you wanted your customers to get hands on with?

Comins: From the very beginning we have wanted to make tea & the culture that surrounds tea more accessible. Central to that is creating a space & environment that makes it normal to question, discuss & explore. We always offer to explain the menu and encourage people to try something different. Because there are so many teas we will always swap a tea if someone who is exploring for the first time chooses a profile they don’t like & one of us is always in the Tea House to offer advice. When you come to visit you will notice how we always prepare the first infusion at the table, explaining each step, before leaving the tea drinker to continue the remaining infusions themselves. This hands on approach allows people to explore and adjust infusion times etc to their own preferences – although we offer guidance on time, temperature etc tea is incredibly personal and we encourage tea drinkers to experiment. We have found that this approach makes people far more confident to take the ritual of quality tea home and into their own lives where they can enjoy tea on their own terms on a daily basis.

FP: One thing that is clear is your desire to share your love of tea with your audience, whether it’s the tea makers across your Youtube channel or your Tea School located here in your Bath location. Is this something you always wanted to offer? 

Maybe the tea drinkers of Footpatrol will have to pay a visit one day to explore the world of tea, not just Yorkshire’s finest… if you know what I mean!

Comins: Comins Tea is only made possible due to the dedication & generosity of the tea partners we are lucky to know around the world. Over the years they have shared their time and expertise with us both at origin and through visits to the UK and we naturally feel that it is really important to pass what we have learnt onto our community here at home. In the last month alone we have enjoyed a visit from our great mentor Rajah Banerjee who as mentioned earlier started us off on our life in tea, as well as held two workshops on Taiwanese tea with our great friend from Nantou County. You can read more about some of the discussions at those events on our blog here and if you go back further through the history on our website you will find similar blogs on events with Japanese & South Korean tea masters and so much more.

As well as sharing these deeper insights into tea we also want more people to discover tea for the first time – our Tea School offers classes that range from a general introduction to more detailed sessions on green, oolong, white and black tea – each category of tea is so diverse that it needs its own dedicated session. For people visiting the Tea Houses we also offer in Tea Houses sessions for individuals or groups – an hour dedicated to exploration in the calm environment of the Tea House. We really hope that some of your readers will feel inspired to explore tea & look forward to welcoming them!

FP: A key reason for our visit today is to not only explore the world of tea but also, the Mizuno Sky Medal and Mizuno Contender which is part of their latest pack, ‘Ceremony of Tea’. Could you tell us what this Ceremony means to you?

Comins: For us the ‘chanoyu’, or the Japanese way of tea is synonymous with hospitality. When visiting Japan and being welcomed by this ceremony it becomes very clear that it is a powerful way of sharing a moment and showing respect both as a host and a guest. Matcha is prepared in this way by tea masters who have practised this art for many years, often decades. This depth of understanding of every element of the ‘ceremony’ is humbling and a privilege to experience. This is also true of other tea ‘ceremonies’ practiced around the world but the Japanese way has a special resonance. The Zen Buddhist term ‘ichigo-ichie’ (one opportunity, one encounter) summarises this perfectly meaning that every meeting in the tea practice should be treasured and treated with the utmost sincerity, as they will never recur. 

FP: The bursts of green on the Mizuno Sky Medal and Contender are the perfect resemblance of ‘Matcha’ tea in its powered state, could you share an insight in how to brew the perfect cup of Matcha?

Comins: Ah the beautiful bright vibrancy of Matcha is hard to beat. Matcha has been central to the Japanese chanoyu or ‘the way of tea’ since it began in the twelfth century. This cultural practice today consists of hundreds of carefully choreographed steps according to rituals laid down over many centuries. The most elaborate expression of chanoyu can last for up to 3–4 hours, including a meal and meditation. This is called chaji and is an extremely rare occasion. A much shorter and more widespread version is named chakai and lasts around half an hour. There are many factors to these practices, and to do them justice is beyond the scope of this short blog. Indeed as mentioned above, it takes ten years to master chanoyu to a level where it can be performed in public.

There are two main types of matcha: koicha (thick tea) and usucha (thin tea). During a chaji guests are served koicha and usucha as part of the ritual. Guests at a chakai recieve usucha.

In our teahouses we serve usucha, which we whisk in front of our guests, ensuring we reference chanoyu in its structure and form, as well as its history. We believe this is important for furthering the understanding of this amazing art. Our time spent studying and talking with matcha producers in Japan has allowed us to practise a way of serving that is a balance between the formal practice & a practical way of enjoying matcha as a tea in the home.

You will need: chawan (tea bowl), chasen (tea whisk), chashaku (tea scoop), matcha powder, sifter.

Types of tea: Matcha. Matcha powder can be categorized from low grade to high grade depending on its quality. Usucha can be made with any grade of matcha, whereas koicha requires high-grade matcha to ensure an acceptable level of bitterness and astringency.

Example: superior-grade matcha (usucha).

Method: Before you start, warm the chawan and the chasen with hot water. Discard the water once the chawan is hot and carefully wipe the inside with a cloth.

Sift the measured amount of freshly opened matcha using a fine sieve. For one bowl, 2 chashaku (1 level teaspoon) is required. This ensures there are no lumps, making the final froth smoother. Place the sifted powder in the chawan. Pour around 60ml of water at 70–75°C into the chawan. We use a yuzamashi water cooler to reduce the temperature of nearly boiling water. Using the chasen, whisk the tea in a ‘W’ action until a froth forms. Remove the whisk carefully from the foam, ensuring any larger bubbles are burst. Enjoy your tea.

FP: Thanks so much for letting us come down and visit you today, it’s been a real insight and a pleasure!

Thank you so much for your interest in the world of tea, it was a pleasure to welcome you and your team! We hope your readers feel inspired to explore more!

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