Oct 282015
 

Twinings Tea Tasting in London

Sampling teas at the oldest shop in the City of Westminster

Twinings has been selling teas for over 300 years. I visited its London shop at 216 Strand, the location where it all started, for a unique tea-tasting experience.

Today, we associate the British with tea drinking, but that wasn’t always the case. Tea did not come to Britain until the 17th century. Writings from the mid-17th century suggest it was still an unusual beverage at that time. In the 17th and 18th century, men (no women) gathered in coffee-houses to learn the news of the day and to do business. Thomas Twining bought Tom’s Coffee House on London’s Strand, an ideal location straddling Westminster and the City of London. But with a proliferation of coffee-houses, competition was fierce and shop-owners looked for ways to distinguish themselves. Tom’s started selling tea. In the 18th century, tea became fashionable and people flocked to Tom’s shop.

Today, Twinings sells over 500 varieties of tea throughout the world. And it still sells tea from the shop on The Strand.

Twingins Tea Tasting in London - the shop
Twinings Tea Shop in London

I visited with my husband and a friend. We walked to the back of the narrow shop and sat on stools in front of the Sampling Counter. A wooden shelf sat on the counter in front of me, ready to hold my tea samples.

Twinings Tea Tasting in London

On the wall behind the counter, a television screen showed scenes of tea production in the Far East and tea mixing in the Twinings head office. Two pots of tea are already steeped and we sample those, as the person working at the counter tells us about them and lets us smell the loose leaves. When we asked to sample other varieties, she carefully measured amounts into an immersion basket, added boiling water from a tap at the counter, and set the timer (3 minutes for most teas, 2 minutes for green teas). Twinings has a Tea Academy program which sends people from head office to tea growing regions around the world for a week to experience the tea making process from field to cup. Our server had not been on one of these trips, but nonetheless displayed an amazing amount of knowledge about the entire process.

Twinings Tea Tasting in London

I do not remember the exact names of all the teas we sampled. I do remember that all were very good. Even my husband, not a tea drinker, enjoyed them. There was a green tea with jasmine and popped rice, a Rooibus with orange and cinnamon, a white tea, and an oolong tea.

Tea sampling is free of charge, but it is likely you will not leave the shop without spending something on teas to take home. Loose leaf teas, packages of tea bags, and gift collections are all available for purchase. The new “Pick’n Mix” section, where you can choose individual tea bag selections to create you own collection, is a great option for taking home a variety of teas to taste.

There is also a small museum, a display case highlighting the history of Twinings.

Here are a few interesting facts about Twinings and tea:

  • In 1837, Queen Victoria appointed Twinings as supplier of teas to her household. Twinings has supplied every successive monarch to date.
  • Twinings made tea bags for the first time in 1956.
  • Twinings blenders taste more than 3,000 cups of tea a week.
Twining Tea Tasting - original entrance
The entrance to the original shop, much smaller than today,
the back part of current shop, was on Devereux Court
Twining Tea Tasting in London
Here I am at current entrance

  34 Responses to “Twinings Tea Tasting in London”

  1. I only knew a little of this history because I was invited to a tea lecture by a friend in Florida. I did not know that you could visit in London, however. How charming!

  2. A very interesting history of Twinings. I am currently enjoying their “Apple and Elderflower” blend, thanks to my intrepid travelling friend.

  3. Can’t wait to visit Twinings. Interesting history.

  4. I love my teas and always pack a few days worth in my luggage. Twining’s teas are a favorite although I like the Bigelow’s too. A tea tasting would be fun and I’d love the chance to sample some different flavors to get me our of my rut of just a couple of blends. Anita

    • Anita, the tea tasting is a great way to sample something new. Staff can help find a tea based on what you tell them you generally like or prefer. But sometimes it is also good to sample something completely different.

  5. I love Twinings tea–especially their chamomile flavors. Fun post to get me thinking about the history of my favorite tea!

  6. I’m always amazed that every British person I meet absolutely loves tea. I drink tea from time to time but I much prefer coffee. I guess that is so “American” of me. However, now that I’ve read your article, I’m kind of craving a cup of tea. Perhaps there is hope for me after all.

  7. Thanks for the history lesson. Love tea and now I love them more! I didn’t know about “pick and mix” but I will be hesitant to do that on my own. I guess I need a “tea expert”? Love the post!

    • Mahal, I think you’d likely manage to pick a few tea bags without help – just select something with flavours that appeal to you. The selection includes a few of the fairly standard teas as well.

  8. Donna, interesting write-up of the history of Twinings. Being dutch we do the tea thing mid afternoon and I like to try different teas – usually my own herbs but I do like Twinings Christmas blend.
    when you showed the two doorways, I must admit that I like the older one best – almost looked like you were entering an exclusive club or something.

  9. Wonderful article Donna! Other than the rare opportunity to indulge in High Tea I’ve never been much of a tea drinker but I do love history and London so this was a real treat.

  10. Twinings tea is one of the more luxurious teas. I did not realise there were so many different varieties. Perfect for afternoon tea!

  11. Wow. Tasting 3,000 cups of tea a week? I don’t think I could say anyting coherent about them after that. Personally I’m not a tea drinker but I’m interested in the Twinings history.

    • Ken, I liked learning the history. I suspect there is more than one blender tasting those cups of tea, but even so I bet each one tastes a large number.

  12. What a fun experience! As a coffee drinker myself, I found it fascinating to learn the history of how Twinings started out. I know that even in the US, coffeehouses are starting to offer more tea selections too. Thanks for sharing this with us!

  13. I love tea! Next time I’m in London, I will do this and I thank you for telling about it! Can’t wait!

  14. Tea time is one of my absolutely favourite things to do, I’m so envious of your trip to the Grand Doyenne of tea, Twinings on the Strand!. And I don’t think I’ve ever walked into any tea shop without buying a bagful of unusual teas, at least one gorgeous tea cup and/or assorted tea accessories!

    • And you can usually find room in a suitcase for a bag or two of tea, although you may need to go easy on the accessories if you’re flying home.

  15. You’re a wonderful explorer Donna! I would enjoy this tour. I have a friend whose parents were from the UK We took a e week course in Portland and every afternoon she sat for one hour and had tea. At first, I was surprised that she just stopped her work and sat for tea. then I decided to join her. I couldn’t belief how I felt, it was energizing, kind of like “rebooting” the brain. I just really like the “tea” thing : )

  16. Oh wow! A very interesting history of Twinnings. I can’t wait to visit. Thanks for the history lesson Donna

  17. Such an interesting historic perspective about tea tasting in London! On some of our travels, my husband and I have met some Brits (is that the correct term?) who indeed enjoy coffee. Twinings sounds like a delightful place to visit. Thanks Donna.

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