When it comes to tea, there is not a lot that Duncan Davis doesn’t know.
So much so, he can tell what temperature his kettle has reached simply from the sound it is making.
His partner Aine McGuckian shares his passion and together they have established Northern Ireland’s first ever dedicated Tea Bar.
Located on a quiet side street in Coleraine, Infuse Artisan Tea is home to a huge range of loose leaf varieties of the much loved drink, including their own collection.
When Duncan asks me if I would like a cup he doesn’t want to know if I require milk and sugar.
Instead, he asks how I am feeling and what sort of tastes I prefer. “Something citrusy like orange, or something smokier”? he enquires as I scan the large array on display.
Goblin Market, Big Red Robe and Dragon’s Well are just some of the more unusually named offerings. Currently, their range sits at just over 40 varieties but as Duncan says, he is always looking for more.
Traditional brewing methods are very important at Infuse, alongside Duncan’s keen ear for boiling kettles.
“All our tea is brewed to specific temperatures, and the blending depends on your chosen tea,” he explains. “We have done a lot of research and focused on tasting and testing. My understanding has all been self-taught but at some stage I would really like to do a tea sommelier course.”
In 2016, Northern Ireland’s Year of Food and Drink, the pair completed Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council’s Journey to Market programme. Surrounded by other like-minded entrepreneurs, Aine and Duncan were able to share their passion and focus on developing their ‘Infuse’ range.
“A lot of the other participants were food-orientated as well so we were able to bounce around ideas. It was a really interesting programme which got us to market and retailing our teas,” said Duncan.
Locally, Causeway Speciality Market and Naturally North Coast and Glens Artisan Market provided the first platform for their products.
Duncan said: “The Markets were great for meeting people and allowing us to talk to potential customers and encourage them to try other flavours.”
The transition to the Tea Bar was helped by an online Kickstarter campaign which raised over £5000. The couple were delighted with the level of support it received, especially from other local businesses.
Duncan, who is originally from South Africa, met Garvagh girl Aine while they were at university in Lincoln studying acupuncture and herbal medicine respectively.
Aine’s background has led her to create functional blends like ‘Essential Goddess’ which includes rose petals and ginseng with the final version tweaked to perfection by Duncan and his well-trained tea palate.
Causeway Breakfast Blend, one of their signature offerings, has been specially designed to reflect the history of tea in the region. It strikes a balance between Chinese, Indian and Sri Lankan black teas, reflecting how supplies were affected by events during World War Two when alternative sources were utilised for the first time.
So how have the public taken to the idea of a Tea Bar?
“We have had a really interesting reaction so far. We know we could have taken the idea to a bigger city but we both liked Coleraine and feel there is a lot of potential. We have taken a slow growth approach and that suits us as now as we are still developing. People have been surprisingly open to the idea and a lot of what we do is education based,” said Duncan.
For those interested in finding out more, Duncan and Aine host monthly tea-tasting evenings at the Tea Bar. This gives participants an opportunity to try different varieties, including their unique mocktails and tea-infused hot chocolate, while learning more about the story behind each blend.
You can find out more on Facebook and Twitter or go to www.letsinfuse.co.uk.