Japanese Tea Tasting at Comins Tea House - Bath

 

I am not sure whether I will ever look at my beloved cup of Earl Grey tea in the same way again…

Huh? You might be musing?

Comins Tea House Japanese Tea Tasting Bath

A couple of weekends ago, Scott and I were kindly invited by Rob and Michelle Comins - owners of British Fine Tea Merchants; Comins Tea House, to attend a Japanese tea tasting event at their delightful venue on Monmouth Street in Bath. Our tutorial was hosted by the wonderful Kumiko Koga, 4th generation Tea Master, of the Koga Chagyo Tea Company in Japan…

Comins Tea House Japanese Tea Tasting Bath

After a warm welcome given by Rob, we discovered that earlier this year he visited Yame, a city in the Fukuoko prefecture in Japan. During his trip, Rob visited the aforementioned Koga Chagyo Tea Company. It was here that he met Kumiko for the very first time, and, experienced his first real introduction to the unique ‘Yame-cha’. The flavours of the ‘Gyokuro Sato’ and the ‘Sencha Harashima’ which Rob sampled at Kumiko’s factory, (and which, we too, sampled during our tasting) were much richer and “more umami-ful”* flavours of green tea to which he was previously familiar with. Rob couldn’t wait to spread the message about ‘Yame’ tea, and, Fukuoka, which is the main production region for Gyokuro tea in Japan, to his customers back home.

*More on ‘umami’ further down this post!

Comins Tea House Japanese Tea Tasting Bath

Comins Tea House have thus partnered with the Koga Chagyo Tea Company, selling their delicious teas from their location here in Bath. To celebrate this new working relationship, and as part of a wider education programme, Rob and Michelle were delighted to welcome Kumiko (daughter and next in line of the two current owners of the Koga Chagyo Tea Company) to host a series of intimate, in-depth tea tasting sessions...

Comins Tea House Japanese Tea Tasting Bath
Comins Tea House Japanese Tea Tasting Bath

Kumiko, who is responsible for product development and export, provided a truly immersive, inspiring and thought-provoking session. As an expert in the preparation and tasting of these exquisite green teas, Kumiko taught us how to identify the characteristics of the Gyokuro Sato and Sencha Harashima…

Comins Tea House Bath

Umami. I mentioned it earlier in this post. I’ll be the first to admit that if you were to have asked me what it meant prior to meeting Kumiko, I’d have hazarded a good guess (or, surreptitiously typed it into Google before responding with my answer!) but probably not know! If you may be none the wiser, allow me to fill you in…

Comins Tea House Japanese Tea Tasting Bath

Until the twentieth century, scientists believed that there were only four tastes; salt, sweet, sour and bitter. However, in 1908, Professor Kikunae Ikeda at the University of Tokyo began to investigate the properties of ‘konbu’ - an edible kelp which is used to flavour Japanese cuisine. Being rich in glutamic acid, Ikeda discovered that it was this glutamine in the konbu that brought on a savoury taste. A taste that he decided to name ‘umami’, which to us, translates as ‘delicious.’ And, so there we have it, the ‘fifth’ (‘savoury’) taste after the aforementioned four!

Kumiko explained that the most important factor when sampling Gyokuro tea is to have an “umami experience”. Ah, but to achieve the best umami flavour, you must have a water temperature as low as 60 degrees…

Comins Tea House Japanese Tea Tasting Bath

Kumiko gave us an insight into her family business; sharing her knowledge of its history and cultivation methods. We were then shown how to prepare and enjoy Yame tea (as pictured above), after which we were given the opportunity to prepare the teas ourselves (see photos below)…

Comins Tea House Bath

Since its foundation in 1938, The Koga Chagyo Tea Company have been producing a variety of Japanese teas, especially the distinctive, high-grade Yame-cha. We were told that soil preparation is a crucial factor in ensuring the company produces “the finest Yame-cha in the world”, and, the only way they can do this is with a strong passion in “maintaining healthy, nutritious soil”. As they put it, “healthy soil produces quality tea.”

Comins Tea House Japanese Tea Tasting Bath

We also learnt about some of the health benefits of green tea. For example, in the 9th century, tea in China was considered as a medicine (astonishingly, at that time, they already knew about some of the positive health effects of tea), and, by the 12th century, there was a famous book written in Japan which wrote about its positive health effects too. Green tea was found to have anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties, and was also able to help reduce blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

Comins Tea House Bath

To accompany our tastings, we were treated to a mouth-watering menu of tea inspired patisseries from Suzue Aoyama - a London based Patissier Chocolatier…

Comins Tea House Japanese Tea Tasting Bath

The miso and sesame biscuit and matcha macaron were firm favourites of mine!

Comins Tea House Bath
Comins Tea House Japanese Tea Tasting Bath
Comins Tea House Bath
Comins Tea House Bath
Comins Tea House Bath

To have experienced the care, time and passion it can take to prepare fine tea, and to understand a little about the positive health effects green tea can have on the body, really made me reassess how I would continue to treat my tea drinking habits back home.

Comins Tea House Bath

Because, when I sit and think about just how little respect I have historically shown towards the preparation of my tea, it’s quite shameful…

… it takes a matter of minutes to boil the kettle, then less than a second to mindlessly drop the tea bag into the steaming water. It’s left to brew for a minute or so (I typically don’t have the patience to even allow it to brew for the suggested time - which is usually around 5 minutes), before I top it up with a splash of cold milk.

Comins Tea House Bath

So, you may see now why I can’t quite look at my cup of Earl Grey tea in the same way again?!


Scott and I thoroughly enjoyed Kumiko’s Japanese tea tasting session and, as always, had a wonderful time at Comins Tea House. If you’re in the market for a tasty new tea, then I’d really recommend popping down to Monmouth Street to meet Rob and his team. They will happily help you and talk to you in even more detail about the Yame Tea on offer.

Many thanks Rob and Michelle, and, of course, Kumiko and her fantastic interpreter for a lovely evening!