I’ve recently been reading The Coffee Shop by Markman Ellis and when I got to the section describing how Thomas Twining opened Tom’s Coffee-House in Devereux Court in 1706 and then sold tea from his shop next door in 1717 I had to pop round to have a look at the shop as it stands today at 216 The Strand.
This stretch of The Strand always conjures up later Medieval worlds in my head, with old-style shop signs, timber buildings and the Royal Courts of Justice. And with Dr Johnson’s house just down the road you can get a feel for what this area of the city used to be like.
The Twinings shop is currently behind scaffolding but you’ll see the sign on the outside beckoning you in for a free cup of tea. But I headed straight to the back to look at their small ‘museum’, with many old Twinings related goodies. To be honest I did feel a little weird staring at old tea pots, Twinings packaging and model vans while everyone else was trying to decide what tea to buy, but it’s a nice little collection and anything that can bring a sense of what once stood along the streets of London is enough to make me happy.
Coffee had been introduced to London in the 1650s and throughout the 17th Century it was looked at with distrust and confusion, being described as tasting like ‘boiled soot’ and as a ‘foreign fart’. But into the 18th Century coffee was more common than tea, which was seen as firmly in the ‘ladies’ domain and was not as easy to obtain. However, after 1717 when the East India Company secured the rights to trade directly with Canton and tea imports rocketed, this began to slowly change and R. Twining & Co. have almost 300 years worth of ledgers and records starting from this very period through to today. While you can’t see these on display the shop’s museum will give you a little taste of both what the company was like in former times, as well as what their tea tastes like today.