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History of Twinings

Explore our wonderful history that is over 300 years old.

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. 

Stephen Twining

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.

Social Drinking Takes Off

Tea was officially introduced to England by the young Portuguese wife of Charles II, Catherine of Braganza, in 1662. She served it to her aristocratic friends and soon tea became the fashionable drink of the day.

Thomas was fascinated by the possibilities offered by this fast-growing beverage. He learned well and quickly and by 1706 knew enough to strike out on his own. 

Happy Birthday, Ma’am!

A happy and glorious new tea to celebrate Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s 90th birthday.

Find out more

It was in that year he bought Tom's Coffee House on London's Strand and so began the world famous tea business. The location of the shop was perfect. The coffeehouse straddled the border between Westminster and the City of London, an area that was newly populated with the aristocracy as a result of the Great Fire of London.

Coffee houses were now a popular feature of London life. Men - but never women - of all classes would gather there to drink, to gossip, and to do business. Coffee shops gathered a loyal clientele by specialising in particular products or by encouraging customers with common interests. Poets, for instance, would go to one establishment, army officers to another.

At this time in history popular drinks of the masses were gin, ales and coffee, people would even drink these at breakfast because the water was so contaminated. Thomas Twining took full advantage of this…

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 is still thriving on the Strand.

Affordable tea

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! 

Twinings History Timeline

1787: Twinings chooses its logo. Today, it is the oldest commercial logo that has been in continuous use since it was made

1837: Queen Victoria makes Twinings an official Royal Warrant holder

1910: Twinings opens its first shop in France

1933: Twinings first blends its famous English Breakfast

1956: Twinings makes tea bags for the first time

1972: Twinings becomes the first company to win the Queen's Award for Export

Twinings Today

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 new blends to tea lovers. Now, we have over 500 varieties and our teas are drunk all over the world.

Our expert blenders (we've got more of them than any other company) 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.

Our Recent History

  • In 2004 we started working with the fantastic charity Save the Children and 10 years later together we helped over ½ million children in tea growing communities.  See here to read more about our work
  • We launched our world famous Everyday Tea 8 years ago and ever since it has brought everyday luxury to the globe.  
  • In 2006 we celebrated our 300th year!!
  • In 2009 Twinings website went live
  • We were the first to invent Earl Grey following the voyage from China made in 1831, and in 2011 we asked the Earl to come and sign our pack to re-make the mark from all those years ago.
  • 2010 was the year that Green Tea boomed in popularity and we re-launched our Green Tea’s to include more innovative and inspiring blends like Mango & Lychee and Orange & Lotus Flower.
  • 2011 we entered the social world! Twinings is on Facebook 
  • 2011 Twinings launches a Tea Academy scheme which involves the amazing folks at head office spending a week in tea growing regions around the world experiencing the quality and expertise of the Twinings process from field to cup.  
  • 2012 was the year we re-launched our Infusions Range. This included over 20 new exciting products from Liquorice, to Apple tea and Ginger to Buttermint. New, exciting and leading the world into the tea revolution!
  • The 216 Strand shop was renovated to include a loose tea tasting bar so customers could come in and try all the wonderful teas we produce. If you're ever in the area go, it’s a must see!!  For more information see here.
  • 2013 – One Direction loves Twinings!! Niall Horan declares his love of our fruit and herbal Lemon and Ginger Infusion so we created his very own personalised box. Find out more here! We love you 1D!
  • 2013 saw the launch of our luxury Signature Range which was personally created by our very own team of Master Blenders. They travelled the globe in search of the finest ingredients to create the finished blends. Read more here.
  • 2014 Twinings Brand New Website Launches!! We have our brand new website that brings Twinings into the 21st Century and guess what, it works on your tablets and smart phones too!

Stephen Twining talks tea

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