Ready to spill the tea on an amazing London travel destination? The Twinings tea company needs to be on your travel list — even if you don’t consume a lot of cuppas.
When it comes to bragging rights, Twinings has a few boasts that are unbeatable. This beloved British company has the world’s oldest commercial logo in continuous use (sorry, budding graphic designers — this seems unlikely to change!). It’s also London’s oldest ratepayer, which means they’ve been dutifully taking care of business at the same location at 216 Strand since 1706. Depending on who you ask, this makes them London’s oldest business. Technically, a few banks have been operating longer, but I don’t really think of them as businesses — do you?
Editor’s Note: London’s banks do have a fascinating history, nonetheless, that involves the beverage industry. Donna Janke wrote more about London’s bankers and brokers.
As I learned on my recent visit, Twinings is also one of London’s most delicious and generous destinations. Here’s why you should visit.
1. Heaps of British History In One Tiny Space
Twining’s flagship store is often referred to as both a shop and a museum, thanks to the historic displays about both the company and the rise of tea as a consumer product. One of my favorite facts is that, before Twinings was in business, the shop operated as Tom’s Coffee House. Doesn’t that sound like it could be a modern hipster cafe serving up mochas and flat whites? The fact that Twinings is London’s oldest tea shop and that there were other stores in the beverage business before is quite the reminder of just how important hot drinks are in the British capital.
Incidentally, Thomas Twining’s inspiration for starting a tea shop was the fact that there was stiff competition for male-dominated coffee houses. The tea market was extremely trendy with women, but it was underserved. It just made more economical sense to specialize in something other than coffee. However, opening a tea salon wouldn’t work. A proper lady of the day would never enter an establishment serving hot tea or coffee on her own. How scandalous! As such, the idea of a dry tea shop, for products to use at home, came to be. Personally, I hate to think of how my reputation would suffer if I were a lady in the 1700s, given how many coffee and tea shops I pop into on a typical travel day!
2. Classic And Innovative Teas
You don’t have to be into really unusual teas to enjoy this destination. I don’t have the most adventurous palate when it comes to tea, and I was happy to pick up a box of classic mint tea at about the same price point as I’d find in a supermarket. Other traditional options include camomile, English breakfast, Darjeeling, and Earl Grey — or, as an alternative, Lady Grey tea. Twinings is responsible for trademarking this name!
For those who take their tea seriously, you’ll be very satisfied with the selection of loose-leaf teas. Some of the varieties that caught my eye include Darjeeling Castleton Moonlight Oolong, High Grown Nilgiri, and Lapsang Souchong.
Non-tea drinkers will appreciate that you can also buy coffee beans, cocoa, and other hot drinks.
3. Fancy Tastings
Many coffee and tea shops offer free samples, usually in sad little paper cups, but Twinings takes things to an entirely new level. During my visit, four different teas were available for sampling. They were brewed in small batches in glass teapots so you could see the color and tone of the tea. Samples were offered in little white ceramic cups. Forget the blah tiny paper cups, this was fancy stuff! It felt like such an elegant setup. (In case you’re worried that you might not enjoy a particular sample, take heart. There is a special container to pour out any tea you might not want to finish).
Curious about the varieties on offer, I asked the staff how they decide what tea to sample. One of the blends during my November visit was Christmas-inspired, so I assumed that seasonality was an important factor. However, I was told that the season was only a small part of the process. The staff members base their teas in large part on the different blends and varieties they personally love. That way, they can really talk about the available selections with the highest level of passion and knowledge.
It’s also worth noting that the staff may be able to offer a sample of something that’s not part of that day’s selection. I overheard a customer asking some questions about different teas, and the staff volunteered to brew him a sample if it would help with the decision process.
4. Tea Tasting Masterclass
If you’re serious about your tea or looking for a truly unique travel experience, sign up for a two-hour tasting masterclass at Twinings’ elegant tasting room.
You’ll find this by-appointment-only facility hidden away from the main store. The experience costs £38 (which is definitely one of the more affordable activities of its kind in London) and virtual options are available for those who can’t attend in person. Those who are truly passionate about tea can also sign up for a bespoke blending session to create their own custom Twinings tea. The cost is £250 and includes one kilogram of your own tea.
Pro Tip: Explore The Neighbourhood With This Great Tour
Twinings is surrounded by a really interesting neighborhood, full of academic, legal, and media buildings (plus pretty gardens). London Walks has several tours covering this part of London.
The Inns of Court tour doesn’t include a stop at Twinings, but you could go there first, try some delicious samples, and get some dry tea to go (it’s light, so it won’t be a burden during a walking tour).
Evening visitors will enjoy the Hidden Pubs Of Old London Town Tour, which takes place at 6 p.m. on select evenings. Twinings is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. (11:30 to 6:30 on Thursdays), so the timing works out nicely to have a visit and then enjoy your walking tour.
If you can’t make it to London, consider Twinings’s online store.