Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tea or Coffee?

Tea or coffee?  I’m a tea drinker myself, when I’m at home that is – loose leaf Assam and my own teapot, at any time of day, but especially when I’m writing. My husband likes China tea before 11am – after that he’s a coffee man. But I don’t drink tea when I’m out – tea bags in not-quite-boiling water ruin it for me.

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?

Louise Allen
Snowbound Wedding Wishes. Harlequin November 2012


Melinda Hammond/Sarah Mallory said...

Great post, Louise. I like them all, but tea is my drink of choice at home, especially in the mornings. When I am out I tend to drink coffee (like you, I am a bit fussy about how my tea is made)

Chocolate is for those chilly days when I need warming up after taking the dog out over the moors.

Marguerite Kaye said...

I have a pot of tea when I get up, then usually coffee mid-morning. I don't drink tea when I go out either, because it's always too weak or too strong, and I'm just as fussy about coffee - never drink instant.

I love those tea caddies which tell stores, with a different part of the story on each side. My Nana had one that my grandfather brough her back from China and I found it fascinating.

Michelle Styles said...

I love tea but it tends to be green or herbal these days. I just went to a tea shop in Lancaster that has been there for 175 years (probably not really modernised since then) it was fantastic with a fab scent. they had to get the teas out huge cannisters. they also do a range of coffees. The potbelly stove in the centre of the shop gave out a load of heat.
I also love going to the few remaining coffee houses -- for example El Grecco's in Rome and Florian's in Venice where you can get proper hot chocolate where you have to add the sugar.

Ann Lethbridge said...

Coffee in the morning, tea with biscuits in the afternoon. Stems back to when I first started work and a tea lady would come around to each office with a trolley. She always made the coffee with hot milk and I loved it. But she only brought tea in the afternoons. Old habits die hard.
Love the post and the information about Twinings. I always look for their teas when I shop. I usually go for Earl Grey given the choice.

penney said...
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Barbara Monajem said...

I love both tea and coffee. We brew our tea on a samovar, and there is a hot pot of it all day long! I prefer coffee as a cappuccino or latte...

I have a dish towel which I bought at Twinings several years ago. I haven't been able to bring myself to use it, though.

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