The Oldest Tea Merchant in the World is Still a Marketing & Branding Phenomenon

Any traveler to London is naturally overwhelmed with the many sites, sounds, history and majesty of this glorious ancient capital, especially first time visitors. Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, the Thames, Big Ben the Horse Guards, 10 Downing Street, St. James Park, St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Old Bailey and Hyde Park Gate are only a few of the famous must see locations tourists consume in the vast spread of this vibrant metropolis. The greatness of the British Empire is vividly on display in the streets, buildings, history and traditions that travelers can share with the British citizenry.

As a marketing consultant by trade I am particularly absorbed by the many ancient commercial establishments that are based in London. Harvey Nichols, Harrod’s, Fleet Street, Saville Row, Claridges, Hamleys, and hundreds of independent specialty shops that trace their provenance back centuries are more bountiful in London than in any other city in the world. Adolph Hitler did not refer to the British as “a nation of shopkeepers” for no reason.

One of the must visit shops I always include in my itinerary while in London is Twining’s. This venerable purveyor of tea is quintessentially British. The original tea shop is still the Companies base and the address at 216 Strand near Westminster has been in constant use for over three centuries.

The founder of Twinings, Thomas Twining was born in 1675. He moved to London as a young man and worked as his father did as a fuller (wool processor). At that time, having a trade was a necessary precursor to becoming a Freeman of the City of London. Unless designated a Freeman it was impossible to start a business in the city. Twining became a Freeman in 1701 and began to work for the East India Company, then the preeminent merchant trading company in the world.

The East India Company, piggybacking the dominance of the British navy, became the largest importer and exporter of luxury goods, spices and foods from the many corners of the globe where the empire had planted the British flag. Twining worked in teas and became absorbed in all things having to do with tea. His mentor, Thomas D’Aeth, would prove particularly valuable for the young entrepreneur.

By 1706 he was ready to open his own business. The Strand Street location he chose for his shop was fortuitous, as this area became the neighborhood of choice for the London upper crust after the horrific Great Fire of London. Politicians, merchants, military leaders and royalty began to come to enjoy the service, superior selection and top quality tea products available at Twinings.

Then as now, competition was tough. Coffee and teas houses were commonplace in 18th century Britain, and tea was not yet the ascendant national drink. Thomas Twining, however, under the important tutelage of Thomas D’Aeth had a powerful advantage over his competitors. He was not just a buyer, or server of tea, but having worked for the East India Company as an importer, with important connections on distant tea plantations, he knew more about varieties and newly developed types of teas than almost any other Englishman of his day.

Twinings became famous very quickly for the vast selection and high quality of the teas sold and served in the shop. The shops reputation for handling only the finest product, and its introduction of Earl Grey tea to the public cemented the Twining legacy. Thomas died in 1741, but miraculously the family continued to operate the shop and expand the business well into the 20th century. The Company holds a number of Royal Warrants, sells hundreds of types of tea and Twinings tea assortments are sold in over one hundred countries.

If you enjoy the great good luck to visit Twinings at 216 Strand Street in London today please closely note the door before entering the tea room. It is one of the most distinctive branding vehicles in the world, and the oldest in continuous use. The famous doorway was unveiled to the public in 1787. Two distinctively carved Chinese figures and a lion are at the crown of the sill. The Twinings logo, lacking a grammatically correct apostrophe, is written in the firm’s unique font, exactly as it appears to this day on every Twining product.

Thomas Twining created a brand that has become synonymous with highest quality and British excellence. After 300 years of continuous service to the tea consuming public, his star still shines ever bright at 216 Strand Street, London.