You’ll have to excuse the exoticized Chinamen figures atop the Twinings tea shop doorway at 216 Strand. They’ve been sitting up there for about three centuries, in which time the cultural acceptability of such caricatures has lessened, and tea is more often associated with British gentry than with Chinese merchants.
As a young man Thomas Twining apprenticed under an East India Company merchant, importing goods from exotic locales, coffee and tea in particular. Twining’s mercantile career began in 1706 when he opened a small storefront on a busy London thoroughfare called the Strand. He called it Tom’s Coffee House, and it soon became a popular gathering spot for fashionable aristocrats.
Despite the fact that his shop was dedicated to coffee, Twining soon garnered a reputation for having some of the finest tea blends in London. Within a decade he ceased selling coffee entirely and almost exclusively sold dry packaged teas. This allowed women to partake in tea-drinking at home as well, as coffee houses were male-only establishments. Twining expanded his business, opening up more shops, and eventually growing it into the tea empire it is today.
Though we think of Britain’s relationship to tea being as old as the nation itself, the drink had only been introduced in the 1660s by a Portuguese queen. With the expansion of East Indian trade and merchants like Twining though, tea quickly became the national beverage.
Today Twinings is synonymous with the history of British tea. Over 300 years later, the original Twinings shop on the Strand is still in business. The Twinings logo, a simple, gold sign bearing the company name, has remained unchanged since 1787, making it the oldest corporate logo still in use. In 1837, Queen Victoria granted the company a royal warrant, a merit which has given Twinings the honor of providing tea to the royal family ever since.
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