I’m trying to remember when my love affair with tea started. Perhaps there’s just something in the British air that makes one crave a cuppa. I certainly didn’t come here liking tea. But slowly it’s grown on me.
I think it started a few years ago when I got on a workout kick. I wasn’t running yet, but I was doing Jillian Michaels videos. Either she or a random internet stranger suggested drinking green tea before a workout. If you google “green tea workout” or “green tea health benefits” you can convince yourself that green tea is some cure-all magical elixir of the gods (but then again, if you get deep enough into Google, you can convince yourself that anything is — or isn’t). So I bought some Twinings green tea on sale at Sainsbury’s — mango and pineapple flavours, because I had to ease myself into it. Slowly I went from only drinking it cold loaded with sugar, to drinking it hot with honey, to drinking it hot or cold multiple times a day with stevia or whatever-the-green-tea-equivalent-of-‘black’-is. Soon my two-box collection of tea expanded into 4 boxes, then it spilled out from its designated shelf into its own cupboard, and before I knew it my tea collection was taking up two cupboards in my kitchen.
I had a problem.
When we moved into our new flat with a smaller kitchen, I told myself my collection could only take up one cupboard, so I couldn’t buy any more tea until there was an opening. Even drinking 2-4 cups a day, there was no way I was going to get through it all. Surprisingly I’ve kept to my promise, and I get a little thrill every time I finish a box. Though what follows is always the hard part: what new flavour to get?
Twinings tea store to the rescue!
Whenever I need to bring tea back to friends or family in the U.S., I go to Whittards or Fortnum & Mason — fancy pants shops that scream (or rather suggest in a polite, but posh way) “London.” I’ve never been to Twinings’ store because you can buy Twinings tea in all the supermarkets and they even sell it in some U.S. supermarkets. But then I discovered the Twinings Tea Shop on the Strand had something all the other fancy pants shops didn’t — pick ‘n mix tea. (Translation: individual bags.) I didn’t have to commit to a full box of tea that would take up valuable shelf space and may not even taste good (like the M&S Christmas tea I bought last year. There’s a reason it was less than £2 for 40 bags. Luckily I found a far superior Christmas tea at the Nordic Museum in Stockholm, which may just be one of the most random places to find quality Christmas tea. But I digress.) The individual Twinings bags were 15p each with a minimum purchase of 15. I bought 20 for £3, which is slightly more expensive than a full 20-bag box at the supermarket, but the variety makes it worth it.
Twinings’ shop is also worth a visit just because, according to Wikipedia, it’s London’s longest-standing rate-payer, having occupied the same premises on the Strand since 1706. Another fun fact: Twinings holds the world’s oldest continually-used company logo. ::the more you know::
They had some expensive fancy-pants loose leaf teas, but also a lot of the same tea you can find in the supermarkets cheaper. I saw a guy buying just two boxes of the new fruit infusions and I wanted to tell him, “You know those are half price at Tesco right now,” but maybe he was buying them at the store for the experience, and the coveted fancy shopping bag (which I totally got too — 20 little tea bags could easily fit in my purse, but the shopping bag had gold ribbon handles!).
Which brings me to my last question: Do actual real live Londoners ever shop at Twinings, Whittards or Fortnum & Mason? Every time I go into those stores they’re just full of tourists loading up on “authentic London” presents to bring home. Am I not a true English teaphile because I like the flavoured stuff? Are Yorkshire Tea, Tetley, Typhoo or PG Tips the only types of tea you’d find in a British person’s tea cupboard? Inquiring minds must know.