A walk along London’s Strand gives one a glimpse into banks, offices, hotels and shops. Nestled, literally, among these is the unassuming shop of Twinings tea. What the building lacks in size, it makes up for in richness of history, of character and of product.
Flanked on either side by multi-level buildings, 216 Strand welcomes shoppers and visitors through a threshold bordered with slim white columns. Below, a tile mosaic of pale blues, rose, beige and brown spells out Twinings, while above, a golden lion and two figures adorn the top of the entranceway. The oldest tea shop in London, the flagship store has been in this, its original location, for over 300 years.
Evidence of the business’ history is packed along the walls of the narrow shop in the form of family portraits, photographs and informational plaques. Perhaps most significant is that it’s believed to be “the oldest company to have traded continuously on the same site with the same family since its foundation,” according to information on one of the plaques.
Thomas Twining, who lived from 1675 to 1741, founded the House of Twining in 1706 after he purchased Tom’s Coffee House, located at the rear of the current site. Twining is said to have introduced tea then and later, in 1717, opened the Golden Lyon, where he sold tea and coffee. Thomas’ son, Daniel, took over the business in 1741, and when he passed away in 1762, his wife, Mary, continued to run the shop. Richard, their son, assumed control in 1771 and is credited with building the doorway in 1787. Richard II followed his father. Fast forward to today, and we learn Associated British Foods now owns the brand. Tenth generation Stephen Twining, though, is still associated with the tea in the form of public relations.
Since 1837, under the rule of Queen Victoria, Twinings has been the official supplier of tea to the British Monarch. And throughout the years, Twinings has created special blends in honor of special occasions, such as the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II in 2016.
Alongside the celebration of history laced through the shop are endless shelves of teas from all around the world. Japan, Mexico, Ireland, Kenya. Classic black, green and English Breakfast rest among the fruit and herbal teas. Lemon, mango, orange, cranberry and raspberry to name a few. Earl Grey, named for Prime Minister Charles Grey, who was the Earl of Grey in the early 1800s, is also a popular choice.
Perhaps the neatest feature of the shop is the loose tea bar where customers can step up to the counter and sample freshly brewed teas as well as recipes using the products. Salted caramel green iced tea and lady Grey lime cooler were two we tried. Staff members sharing the recipes make a point to provide information about the teas and to answer questions.
I used to think, tea is tea. But tea, as we know, is of considerable importance in England. A pretty big deal. And Twinings tea is just about as big as it gets. Even though its home is in a tiny shop on London’s Strand.
(Note: Marjorie Appelman is an English, communications and journalism teacher at Mason County High School and co-founder of the travel blog, Tales from the Trip, which is also on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. She can be reached at [email protected].)