Stephen Twining, of the famed Twinings of London family, knew he wanted to be part of the family business at the age of eight, when his geography teacher asked him to give a class presentation about one of India’s largest exports, tea. Armed with samples and a briefing from his father Sam, then a company director, Stephen hosted his first tea-tasting for twenty of his classmates. “I was horrified at their lack of awareness of something that was second nature to me,” said Stephen, who then decided to spread awareness about the second most popular beverage in the world after water.
Coffee may be growing in popularity in urban India, but history shows that it was tea that originally held snob appeal. In 1706, Thomas Twining, founder of the eponymous tea brand, started serving tea at his coffee establishment, Tom’s Coffee House, located off London’s Strand street, to attract women from wealthy families who had relocated there.
“At the time, tea was terribly expensive and a status symbol,” said Stephen, 48, Thomas’s descendant. “Wealthy women were particularly enamoured of tea, so Thomas Twining took advantage of that.”
At a tea-tasting he hosted in Mumbai earlier this week, he spoke about the merits of appreciating tea and tea-food pairing. “For me, tea is a lot like wine,” he said. “Pairing the right tea with the right food can provide a gastronomic experience that is greater than consuming either individually.”
They introduced pairings such as curry-marinated chicken puffs and a Darjeeling tea, and a vegetarian quiche, with sun dried tomato, broccoli and pitted olives, and green tea. Stephen is keen to see food and tea pairing evolve in India, going beyond the usual biscuits, pakodas and samosas.
But that would involve drinking tea sans sugar — which is how Stephen likes his cuppa. “I know Indians love copious milk and sugar, and I would never dream of telling one of the greatest tea-drinking nations in the world how they should drink their tea,” he said. “It is merely a suggestion from our side.”
Twinings, which imports most of its tea from China, India, Kenya and Sri Lanka, has had a presence in India’s now R10,000-crore tea market since 1997. Now, it enjoys a 35% share in the premium and super-premium teabag category.
Stephen drinks between nine and fifteen cups of tea daily, from English breakfast to green tea, not repeating a variety more than twice. He has also been known to drink the occasional cup of coffee. “For me, coffee is the sexy girlfriend, exciting and heady, like in the beginning of a relationship. However, tea is the long-term companion you get when the relationship becomes deeper and more meaningful.”