Twinings still making tea history 300 years on

When it comes to tea, you may not be an expert but you almost certainly know what you like. Catering for diverse tastes and a specific palette in the region, Twinings has launched two new teas.
 Stephen Twining. Victor Besa for The National
Stephen Twining. Victor Besa for The National

Peek inside most people’s kitchen cupboards and chances are you’ll find a box of Twinings tea. Founded in 1706, Twinings, which is served at top hotels and royal households, proudly calls itself “the No 1 premium brand worldwide”. Ten generations of Twinings have helmed the company for three centuries and today, it is present in more than 115 countries, boasting a range of 600 blends. Brand ­ambassador Stephen Twining hosted afternoon tea at Dubai’s Burj Al Arab hotel last week to launch two new blends – Lady Grey and English Afternoon Tea – and discuss the finer points of tea etiquette.

Is tea a hard sell in the ­Middle East given its tradition for coffee?

Tea and coffee have always really gone hand-in-hand, although everyone sees them as rivals. Tea drinking is seen as a sign of good hospitality, which is why in hotels it has to be absolutely “on the nose”. So, it’s very likely, if people love good-quality coffee, it will be easy to sell them a good cup of tea.

What are your best-sellers in the region?

Green tea has taken off in a big way and is driving a lot of our growth here. We got our timing right quite a few years back when we introduced it, as the world’s media was talking about its health benefits. We see growth in black teas, too, and the new and exciting blends we’re launching – Lady Grey and English Afternoon Tea – we believe will really suit the taste profiles here.

It’s rare to see a family business continue to attract next generations. What’s Twinings’ secret?

Passion. With our third generation, it could have gone either way. The father brought his eldest son into the business thinking he’d have the same affinity for tea as he did, and he actually hated the business. His father was wise enough to say ‘go off and find a career that fulfils you’. And luckily for us, he had a younger brother who wanted to come into the business and from then on, it became the family rule. There was never any pressure on me to become a “Tea-Twining”. My brother and sister are not in the business. They love tea but don’t have quite the same passion.

Do you have a succession plan?

We don’t. That’s the $64 million question; what will my kids or nephews do? If they have an affinity for tea then hopefully they’ll knock on the company door, but it’s their life and they must live it. They have their father’s blessing to find their passion.

What are your favourite teas?

Well, in the morning I like a stronger cup, such as English Breakfast. Then I’ll work through Darjeeling and into Earl Grey and Lady Grey. If in Dubai, I’d then go for a refreshing Green Tea – lemon or mint. Then maybe ­jasmine later in the evening, and after dinner perhaps a peppermint infusion before finishing the night with chamomile.

Milk in first?

With an English breakfast, I’m a “milk-in-first” man. But if I was making you a cup of tea I’d pour milk slowly afterwards as I don’t know how much you’d like. Is there a taste difference? No.

Where do you stand on adding sugar or honey?

[Grimaces] Ah, and it was all going so well [laughs].

The skill of our growers is ­fantastic and our master tea tasters take five years to train, many with 30 years-plus ­experience. So a spoonful of honey will be all you taste if added to their blends – all that skill is wiped out. I’m a big advocate of changing your tea to a flavour you prefer rather than adding sweetener.

What tea does the UK’s Queen Elizabeth drink?

Hmm, the special one we make for her.

What does the blend contain?

We can’t discuss that, not even one component. Since 1837, when Queen Victoria appointed us her supplier of teas, we’ve had the honour of supplying every successive British king and queen. It’s something we’re immensely proud of. But there’s an absolute code of conduct that comes with that honour and responsibility, and the first one is confidentiality. Only Edward VIII broke that tradition and explicitly gave us permission to sell his tea. It’s call Prince of Wales, but we’re not allowed to sell that in the UK because it’s not Prince Charles’s tea.

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Published: November 23, 2014 04:00 AM


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