On one of my most recent sojourns to England, I had the desire to find a special place to buy some tea – I was in London, after all. Now, one might first think of finding a teahouse or restaurant where one could enjoy a high tea experience with all the accoutrements. But I wanted some history with my tea.
In the early 1700’s, Thomas Twining began working for a wealthy merchant from The East India Company who was importing a new beverage from the Orient. Thomas was intrigued by the potential markets for this commodity, and started his own company. He opened a shop on the Strand in 1717, and there began the Twinings family history of English tea.
In 1837, Queen Victoria granted Twinings their first Royal Warrant for tea as “Purveyor in Ordinary to Her Majesty.” And in 2006, Twinings celebrated the company’s 300th anniversary.
I was excited to see this still-thriving icon of English culture. After witnessing the sumptuous food halls of Harrod’s, my anticipation was high for the flagship store and museum, still operating in this very location for three centuries.
I set out on the tube and emerged to a chilly but clear morning. Surprisingly, the neighborhood is a decidedly un-charming business district, which includes the Royal Courts of Justice. The shop looks rather out of place, dwarfed by a bank and a modern coffee house, but there in all its finery, stands the Twinings teashop.
Above the door is a gilded lion and the Royal Crest, flanked by statuettes of men dressed in traditional Oriental costumes, representing the tea’s origin.
I stepped inside and instantly adjusted my expectations. The shop measures about ten feet wide, and a good 60 feet long. It’s strangely deep with high ceilings… but what should I expect from an 18th century building? The walls are lined with dark wooden cabinets, and portraits of the Twinings’ family notables watch from above.
With further inspection, I saw that the displays house a huge variety of teas, herbal infusions, coffees and hot cocoas, as well as an extensive range of accessories, from teapots to caddies to strainers to china.
I was invited by the shop attendant to visit their museum. Far in the back is a small display (to call it a museum is rather lofty) that chronicles the Twinings’ family and the history of tea in England. The ‘museum’ showcases tea advertisements and has a beautiful collection of antique teapots. It’s charming and informative, if not terribly well laid out, but considering the space constraints, it’s perfect. I mean, if tea is nothing else, isn’t it cozy?
I purchased some tea and got my bit of history at the same time. I came with expectations of grandeur, and was properly greeted with genteel English charm. Twinings teashop on the Strand is indeed, a little slice of English heaven.
Twinings Tea, The Strand Shop
216 Strand, London, WC2R 1AP Open: Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, Saturday 10 am to 4pm. Nearest Tube: Temple