History of Twinings Tea

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Twinings is a British tea and coffee company, best known for Earl Grey tea.

An old company, Twinings was established in 1706, in London. From humble beginnings, Twinings is now an international brand. Currently, Twinings products are distributed in over 100 countries.

Twinings: The beginnings

The Twining family were originally from Gloucestershire and were weavers and fullers (wool processors). The family was connected to the ancient Gloucestershire village of Twyning, near the Rivers Severn and Avon.

By the 17th century, the family had established themselves as successful fullers. However, the family relocated to London in 1684 due to the recession in the country. Amongst the family members that were moved was the founder of the Twinings tea company - Thomas Twining.

Thomas Twining: Starting the Twinings business

Thomas Twining was born in 1675. After the family moved to London, he followed his father's footsteps into weaving.

At the time, taking a trade was a pre-requisite for becoming a Freeman of the City of London. It was important to become a Freeman if a person had ambitions to start a new business.

Thomas Twining attained the status of Freeman in 1701. However, by then he was no longer a weaver, but was working with an East India Company merchant called Thomas D'Aeth. The East India Company at the time was the world's most important exporter and importer, and imported products such as exotic teas.

Twining learnt about the various teas, and by 1706 had learnt enough to start his business. The business was established at what is now known as 216 Strand, between Westminster and London. The location was well-chosen, for this area was where the aristocracy now lived after the Great Fire of London.

Twinings and tea

At the time of Twining's establishment, there were many coffee and tea houses in London.

Competition was tough, but Twining used knowledge gained from working with D'Aeth to his advantage. To ensure his establishment's survival, Twining offered fine tea as part of his menu.

At the time, tea drinking was gaining in popularity, especially amongst aristocratic circles. Twining quickly built a reputation for selling the finest teas, and soon the establishment began to gather popularity.

The expansion of Twinings

As Twining's reputation grew, so did the list of clientèle. Towards the end of Twining's life, Twining could boast of royal connections as clients.

Twining expanded the store in 1717 to encompass three adjacent houses. By 1734, Twining focused almost exclusively on tea, having given up coffee.

After Thomas Twining died in 1741, Daniel, his son, took over the business. Daniel Twining began exporting tea in 1749 to America, with the Governor of Boston amongst his customers.

When Daniel Twining died in 1762, his wife Mary became the next owner.

During the mid 18th century, Britain was flooded with illegal tea. This was in part due to the high taxes on tea. However, Twinings never sold smuggled tea - as Mary was proud to say.

Twinings: Becomes a force

Richard Twining, son of Mary, took over in 1771. Richard Twining became the Chairman of London Tea Dealers and convinced the then Prime Minister, William Pitt, to reduce the tax on teas. Richard Twining argued that high taxes only encouraged smuggling, and that it would be more beneficial for the government.

The taxes were eventually reduced. This made tea affordable for all, and also increased the influence of Twinings.

In 1787 the famous doorway was unveiled, featuring a golden lion and two Chinese figures. The Twinings name was also unveiled, with its distinctive typeface and lack of apostrophe. The name still appears on current-day Twinings tea, and is the oldest logo in continuous use in the world.

In 1837, Twinings received its first Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria.

Twinings and Earl Grey tea

In 1834, Charles Grey, the second Earl Grey and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, gave a sample of some tea he was given by a Chinese mandarin. Earl Grey was so impressed by the tea that he gave a sample to Twinings, his tea merchant, so that Twinings could create a similar match.

The tea - a mixture of Chinese Tea, Indian Darjeeling, Ceylon Tea and Lapsang souchong flavored with bergamot, became known as Earl Grey. The strong-tasting, smoky black tea quickly became popular both in England and internationally.

Twinings in the modern age

Twinings can still be found on 216 Strand. The shop is both a showcase for the Twinings range, but also houses a Twinings museum.

Twinings has been owned by Associated British Foods since 1964.

Twinings currently hold Royal Warrants to HM the Queen and HRH the Prince of Wales. Twinings also held a Royal Warrant to HM The Queen Mother.

Earl Grey tea is currently the world's most popular tea. Aside from Earl Grey, Twinings also sells Lady Grey, a similar tea to Earl Grey but with the added taste of Seville orange and Earl Green, which uses Green Tea instead of black. Twinings also sells fruit and herbal teas.