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Tea Time with Stephen Twinings

Tea Time with Stephen Twinings

Anne Kurian
  • Established in 1706, Twinings, is one of the oldest and most popular tea brands in the world. In a freewheeling interview, Stephen Twinings, 10th generation member of the world-renowned brand and Director of Corporate Relations, talks about all things tea – including the staggering variety of teas under the brand, how to brew the perfect cup of tea and karaoke tea

Twinings has been in the tea business for centuries. What would you say is the secret to the brand’s success?

I strongly believe that we built a strong reputation for fine quality teas, which we have continued to deliver on that promise.  As a company we are extremely proud of our history but concentrate on always looking to the future and using the best advances in technology and packaging formats as they emerge.

How many varieties of tea does Twinings have currently? And how many signature blends does the company have? 

We currently make more than 400 different blends of teas and Herbal infusions.  I think our biggest signature blend would be Earl Grey.  It was a bespoke blend we made for the second Earl Grey, and we still have the current Earl’s family endorsement.  Another would be Lady Grey, which is a lighter more citrus based tea.

The Gulf region is primarily known for its affinity towards coffee. How has tea fared in this market?

Tea is increasing popular in the gulf region, as people look to bring their diets into a better balance. Tea, at most has half the caffeine content of a fresh brewed coffee, and herbal infusion as naturally caffeine free.

What is the one unwritten golden rule to making a good cup of tea?  

Use fresh water each time, and never let it actually boil.  When you boil the water it loses the dissolved oxygen, which is what gets the flavour out of the tea.  Also, please brew a tea bag for three minutes.

Besides being your family business, what does tea connote to you?

Tea is one of the great gifts of nature, and part of that gift is the enormous number of flavours it naturally produces.  If you plant a tea bush in a different region, it will have a new flavour.  Also, this wonderful plant has properties that, once the leaves have been made into either Black or Green tea, that they will adsorb other flavours, so we can create even more varieties of taste. 

What are the teas that you enjoy through the day?

Tea is a very personal drink, but this is what I enjoy.  I like a cup or two of English Breakfast first thing in the morning.  I then have a Ceylon Orange Pekoe, which is slightly lighter.  Around 11am I will make a cup of Darjeeling.  Lunch time is either Earl or Lady Grey.  My afternoons are driven by the weather and my mood. Over our summer I drink a lot of Green teas, especially Green tea and lemon or pure green tea.  It is very refreshing.  Over our colder months, I might have a mellow Prince of Wales, more Ceylon or even a Strong English Breakfast if I need warming up.  The evenings might see me drinking Jasmine Green tea after dinner, or one of our naturally caffeine free infusion, of which Lemon and Ginger is a regular cup

If Twinings were to host an afternoon tea, what teas would you serve?

This would very much depend on the type of food being served, but as a general rule, Earl grey is a great all-round tea for this lovely occasion.

You have always advocated against adding sugar or honey to tea. Would you say this rule applies to every kind of tea – as well as with or without milk?

I am a strong advocate for never adding sugar or honey to any teas, although there are a couple of Herbal Infusions that I find a little honey is great.  Honey is preferable as it is also a natural product.

I add milk to my English Breakfast, Ceylon Orange Pekoe, and sometimes Earl Grey.  Never with Green Tea.  The important thing is it is your cup of tea, so you must enjoy it your way!

Could you share an interesting tea anecdote from your travels in the capacity as tea ambassador?

I was once invited into a family home, and as a sign of their generous hospitality they offered me a cup of tea. They made it the way they thought the British do, by boiling the milk and brewing the tea in the hot milk. Unfortunately, in doing these they used all the milk in the house, so had no milk for their own cups of tea.  The result was that we all politely drank the tea, but no one actually enjoyed what they were drinking.  I was however very humbled by the kindness.

Have you had the chance to taste ‘karak’ chai or tea in the Gulf? 

I have drunk Karak on several occasions and enjoyed it.  I am a great believer in trying local “special” brews of this great drink.

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