In a time when coffee was king, one man, Thomas Twining, went against the tide to share his love of tea. His passion turned a little-known drink into the nation’s favourite hot beverage. For us, tea is more than just a drink. It's been part of our daily lives and the lives of generations of tea lovers for over 300 years.
The Twining Family
We wouldn’t have our beloved tea without this family; they are truly remarkable and have taught the world what there is to know about good quality tea. So far, ten generations of the Twining family have been there to watch it all happen, from the creation of our famous English Breakfast blend to supplying tea to the Red Cross for food parcels during the war.
In fact, Stephen Twining still works at the Twinings HQ and he is an important figure in making sure that everything is up to standard, spreading the Twinings message across the globe and helping to make sure Thomas’s promise is never broken.
Where did they come from?
The Twining family originate from Gloucestershire and there they held the occupation of weavers and fulling millers. Although their ties with the county went back many centuries, recession drove the family to London in 1684. With them went nine-year-old Thomas Twining, founder of the tea business.
In London, it seemed natural for Thomas to follow his father’s profession by taking an apprenticeship with a London weaver. Attaining a trade was an essential for becoming a Freeman of the City of London; it was the key to any future business career.
The ambitious young Thomas Twining became a Freeman in 1701 at the age of 26. By that time he had turned his back on weaving and was learning a new trade working for a wealthy merchant and handling some of the early shipments of tea.
Thomas Twining went to learn his new trade from an East India Company merchant, Thomas D’Aeth. At that time, the East India Company was importing many exotic new products from around the world, including tea.
So how did it go from Tom's coffee Shop to Twinings?
Knowledge of tea gave Thomas Twining a competitive edge over other coffee houses. Despite high taxes and opposition from vested interests, the fashionable classes flocked to buy tea from Tom’s Coffee House.
Competition between coffee houses was stiff. Fresh ideas and unusual promotional twists were what kept the business alive. The difference at Tom’s was the tea.
Concentrating on tea showed great insight. Thomas knew it was a drink with great potential. Despite efforts to repress tea-drinking through ridiculous taxes, tea became increasingly fashionable during the early part of the eighteenth century, especially among the upper classes.
Soon Thomas Twining was selling more dry tea than wet. He even sold it to competing coffee houses. But only the wealthy could afford to drink tea. In 1706, Twinings Gunpowder Green Tea was selling for a price that is equivalent today in the UK to more than £160 for 100g!!!
Women are banned!
The custom of the day discouraged ‘women of high class’ from entering the masculine world of the coffee house. But Thomas Twining was fast building a reputation for selling only the finest teas – teas that well-heeled London ladies were eager to serve in their drawing rooms.
Convention may have prevented these ladies from stepping inside Tom’s Coffee House, but it didn’t stop them waiting outside. While they sat in their carriage and their footmen would buy the sought-after tea.
Tea for Everyone!
In 1837, Queen Victoria granted Twinings its first Royal Warrant for tea – she appointed Twinings as supplier of teas to her household. Twinings has had the honour of supplying every successive British Monarch to date.
When World War II broke out, neither bombs nor rationing could halt the flow of morale-boosting cups of Twinings tea. Tea-rationing, which had been introduced the year before, also failed to damage the business.
Twinings continued to supply wartime Britain with tea. Twinings produced tea for Red Cross prisoner-of war parcels, for the Women’s Voluntary Service, and for many YMCA wartime canteens.
And now women could buy tea!
Respectability & expansion
By the time of his death, Thomas Twining was serving customers with royal connections. His son, Daniel was the first Twining to export tea. His ledgers show that in1749, Twinings tea was being sold to America. The Governor of Boston was a customer. The Governor’s tea seems to have got through without mishap. When, a few years’ later, American patriots’ dumped English tea in Boston harbour, a distinguished writer noted: “…it was not Twinings tea the Boston rebels tossed into the sea.” With success came expansion. By 1717, Thomas had acquired three adjacent houses and converted them to a shop. In those days there was no numbering but it was this house that is now number 216 Strand, the famous Twinings shop that exists today. This was probably the world’s first dry tea and coffee shop. After 300 years, the Twinings shop on the Strand is better than ever before. Join the team for a Tea Masterclass or sample one of our delicious teas at our state of the art tea bar.
Richard Twining took over from his mother in 1771. Richard’s knowledge of the tea trade was supreme. At a time when tea was high on the political agenda, his negotiating skills made him a natural choice for Chairman of the London Tea Dealers.
As head of the tea trade, Richard had the ear of William Pitt, the Prime Minister. He argued persuasively that revenues would be greater from lower taxation. High levels of duty only served to encourage smuggling. Pitt listened and he acted. The Commutation Act of 1784 slashed tea taxes and at last made tea affordable to all.
This marked the beginning of tea-drinking as part of everyday life and in that fact the tea revolution!
More than 300 years later, the passion for tea is still here – and so are we. We still sell tea from Thomas’s shop, and we still work hard to bring the most exciting new blends to tea lovers around the world. Now, we have over 500 varieties and our teas are cherished all over the world. Our expert master blenders taste more than 3,000 cups of tea every week. So you can be sure the next cup you taste will be every bit as good as the one yesterday or the day before.