So I was delighted to finally make it to a shop I’ve driven past on the bus many times – Twining’s in the Strand in London. It has been on the same spot since 1706 and the doorway – of which more later – is the fabulous original.
Tomas Twining bought Tom’s Coffee House on this site, virtually on the border line between the City of London and the City of Westminster, and began selling tea alongside the highly popular coffee. Tea was incredibly expensive, thanks to very high taxation, but Twining persisted. Perhaps because of the high price tea soon acquired a certain cachet and became fashionable. Tea caddies came equipped with locks to stop the servants pilfering it and there was a brisk sale of used and re-dried tealeaves – one of the traditional perks of Cook who would sell them at the door after the families used tea had been recycled for the servants a few times.
The use of damp tea leaves to freshen and clean carpets dates from the Victorian era when the tax had been abolished – it was far too valuable for a Georgian housekeeper to use in that way.
The Austen family bought tea from Twining’s. In March 1814 Jane, who was visiting her banker brother Henry, wrote to Cassandra. ‘I am sorry to hear there has been a rise in tea. I do not mean to pay Twining till later in the day, when we may order a fresh supply.’ A few days later she wrote again on a note of indignation, ‘I suppose my Mother recollects that she gave me no Money for paying Brecknell and Twining; & my funds will not supply enough.’
Only the doorway remains of Tom’s, but the interior, besides a vast selection of teas that make choice almost impossible, also has a collection of antique tea caddies, prints, portraits and even original packaging. The Twining’s logo was designed in 1787 and is, apparently, the oldest unchanged trade logo in the world still in use.
The lovely doorcase has the figures of two Chinese gentlemen, a reminder that Indian tea dates from the 1820s when the East India Company began growing it in India to break the Chinese monopoly.
Which do you prefer? Tea, coffee or perhaps chocolate?
Snowbound Wedding Wishes. Harlequin November 2012