A LIFELONG passion for loose-leaf tea has inspired a Kirkby Lonsdale couple's latest venture.

John and Renata Strange, who own Crossing Point Cafe in the Market Square, have launched their own range of house-blended teas - called The Tea Keepers.

The husband and wife will celebrate their third anniversary at the coffee shop this December. Creating their own loose-leaf varieties has been a wish since the doors opened and they have overseen every aspect, from blending the teas in a jam jar to designing the distinctive black-and-white labels and the brown paper, pouch-style packaging.

As well as doing all the cafe's cooking and baking, Renata, 30, who hails from Slovakia, is a talented self-taught photographer. Her beautiful pictures are helping to showcase the new teas via social media.

"From as long as I can remember, we have always loved and drunk tea," said 38-year-old John, who hails originally from Northern Ireland, and was previously general manager at Rogan & Co in Cartmel.

"We were both brought up with loose-leaf tea and always preferred it to a straight teabag. As a child I even used to take teabags apart and blend my own flavours."

John and Renata made their first contacts in the tea industry with help from the owner of Irish tea company Barry Teas. They now use just one direct buyer, whose years of experience and knowledge enables the finest leaves to be sourced from every corner of the globe.

"For example, the best peppermint, in our opinion, was in Poland, not the Middle East as most would assume," said John. "We also sourced herbs for our green teas [Satsuma & Sage, and Quince & Plum] from Germany. For us it was about experimenting and taking the time to perfect the flavour.

"We didn't need to rush the teas out and we didn't have a deadline to work to. We had an existing supplier, who was fantastic, and kept the cafe going with quality teas, so there was no hurry."

Belfast Breakfast, named in honour of John's family roots, is the most popular cuppa on Crossing Point Cafe's menu, closely followed by Earl Grey, which is speckled with bright blue flecks of locally grown cornflower, and infused with bergamot.

Also on the cafe menu are intriguingly named teas such as 2nd Flush Darjeeling, Camomile & Mint, Rooibos Blood Orange, and Decaf Ceylon Breakfast.

The Tea Keepers range is so far on sale in just a few places, including the next-door Kirkby Lonsdale Sweet Shop, and the Black Swan Hotel at Ravenstonedale, but a website is in the offing.

To find out more about Crossing Point Cafe, including its Wednesday evening food and wine menus, visit www.crossingpointcafe.co.uk