One of my favourite pastimes is meeting up with friends for lunch or afternoon tea and a convivial chat over a cup of coffee or tea. Many times a day I make myself a cup of tea with my favourite Twining's tea, but try not to have too many! From her letters we know that the tea enthusiast Jane Austen knew that too much could affect your sleeping.
Last year in London, it was such a joy to find the original Twining's tea shop at 216 The Strand, opposite the Royal Courts of Justice. This tiny 300 year old building is still there, dwarfed either side by much later multi-storey buildings. While I’m sure the interior has been changed many times, the exterior entrance and doorstep seem to be the original features. You can see the golden lion and the two Chinese characters that reminded people where their tea had come from. Inside there are glass fronted cabinets with historic photos of some of the family, plus tea caddies and teapots. They have one old package of tea wrapped in white paper that may have been how Jane bought her tea there. From her letters we know that she bought several pounds of tea for the family, whenever she came to London to stay with her brother Henry.
Tea was so expensive at the time that many people bought the cheaper, smuggled tea instead. But that meant that your tea probably had a whiff of oilskin and horse sweat mixed in, so not very palatable to put it mildly! Thomas Twining started his shop selling only tea in 1706 and it was Richard Twining who fought against smuggled tea in Jane’s time. Tea and sugar were so expensive that Jane kept the keys to the cupboard, and the containers of the tea and sugar, on her person at all times. Tea was drunk in the morning at breakfast and in the evening after dinner.
Now we can drink our tea whenever we like with our family and friends. It always gives me such a thrill when I walk in Jane’s footsteps, and that’s how I felt when I walked into Twining's historic shop, thinking that Jane had walked into this very place many times and now I was walking there too!
P.S. There are more photos of Twining's on my Facebook page.