The Heritage of Tea – Twinings and Delaunay:
Walking from Temple to Fleet Street was once my route to the office. It was my choice. I could have walked from Chancery Lane in just a little less time, but I liked arriving at Temple, looking out over the river as I walked up to the Strand, then passing the Law Courts and Twinings Tea on my to the office, along with a host of other quirky shops and bars.
I knew nothing of Twinings, other than that they sold my favourite Earl Grey and Lapsang Souchang. And I didn’t go into the shop unless I’d run out of tea at home. So, a good fifteen years on, I was curious and happily accepted my invitation to tea tasting. We walked past the drawers of every imaginable type of tea to find ourselves at the back of the shop at a bar with a glorious plate of patisserie – essential to complement our tea tasting of course
Added relatively recently to the business started by Thomas Twining in 1706, the bar must be sited almost exactly where the original business started – in the back of a coffee shop. If you want to try tea tasting for yourself events are held regularly for around £30 per person.
At the time Thomas Twining started his business, tea was the ultimate luxury. The price of 100g of tea would have equated to around £100-£160. But for the ladies of London, it was the essential way to control their husbands. Served once or twice a week in London society homes, no man would have risked missing an invitation to tea. And, unlike coffee, gin or beer, it was something enjoyed by both sexes.
In fact, the Twinings family, ten generations on and still running the firm, appear to have always been innovative reformers. From starting a tea company when coffee was a la mode, to women controlling a business traditionally run by men (Mary Twining, daughter in law of founder Thomas took over when her husband died unexpectedly), to political reformers (Richard, her son, was a close friend of William Pitt the Younger). As Chairman of the London Tea Dealers, Richard managed to persuade William Pitt to reduce the tax on tea from 80% to 12% – a move which inevitably popularised the drink and increased Twinings’ sales and repultation. The Goldon Lyon symbol, with two Chinese figures and the Twinings name carved in stonework was added to the doorway on 216 Strand by Richard Twining in 1787 and is still there today. That makes Twinings not just an historic brand but owner of the world’s oldest logo in continuous use.
So, how does an historic brand maintain it’s integrity. The business has a royal warrant and sells tea t0 115 different countries. But that is simply a reflection of past success. Now, they have a twelve strong team of blenders with six master blenders who have worked to develop their palate for at least five years. The blenders travel the world sourcing teas and building relationships with suppliers. While what you buy in the supermarket is important, there is another face to Twinings – find it by visiting the shop or, if that isn’t possible by checking the on-line site. We were lucky enough to experience a tea tasting which convinced me of the uniqueness of this brand, which manages to successfully combine mass distribution with some very specialised single estate teas and premium blends.
We tasted first flush (early harvest) Darjeeling – full of flavour and fresh, perfect without milk. I was fascinated. Of course it’s obvious that flavours will mature depending on the age of the plant at harvest…but, it’s not something I’d thought about before.
And the Ooolong from Formosa (Taiwan), which is an oxidised and fermented tea, quite unlike anything I’ve tried before. The leaves unfurled in the pot to their full glory…and the tea was delicious (I have some to try at home)
Finally second flush Assam, which was the only tea I would have considered adding milk to, and which would, for me, be a perfect breakfast tea – robust and lively, the sort of drink to wake you up in style.
After learning a little about the basic teas, we were introduced to how Twinings develops new flavours. Fashion trends lead innovation – and with a mood board we saw how the new pastels influenced tea blends for 2014.
And then, we moved on to tea cocktails – something I love and have tried my own hand at before with Twinings. This green tea with caramelised apple martini worked very well – light, refreshing and not too sweet. It was interesting that without any additives the flavoured green teas we tried (including caramelised apple and salted caramel did seem to have a natural sweetness. Though, I guess I’m a traditionalist as I still prefer conventional tea (black or green).
Decamping to Delaunay was something of a treat for me. Although I’ve meant to visit, it’s somewhere I’ve never quite got round to visiting. So, I picked a classic burger and fries with a side salad
Not in the least bit disappointing, although I have to admit to a little food envy for my friend’s pierogi.
And, of course because I ate ALL my fries, there was no way I could indulge in the delicious looking chocolate fondant.
What was best about the Delaunay for me – well, the unaffected grandeur – which may sound like a contradiction of terms, but for those who have visited will make perfect sense. This place is timeless, stylish and GRAND. Service was good, food unfussy but delicious. But, you’d while away an afternoon or evening in comfort because of the grandeur.