Banking is business, oil is industry, tea and coffee are trades, but the tea trade in particular has always had a special aristocratic position in the world of buying and selling.

Edward Bramah, Tea and Coffee

Tea was from the first “a genteel trade” — meaning ladies and gentlemen — who could hardly send servants to select teas to their tastes; they themselves dealt directly with the merchant, who was also accounted the status of a gentleman or a lady.

England’s oldest tea firms began as grocers. Fortnum & Mason is the result of William Fortnum’s taking lodgings with one Hugh Mason in 1707 while he looked around London for a job. He found one as a footman in the household of Queen Anne and upon retirement put his connections with the royal household to use by going into the grocery business in nearby Piccadilly with is old landlord Mason. There was no aspect of the provisioning, catering, and grocery business they and their successors failed to enter. With the Napoleonic wars the firm found itself in the mail order business, supplying the needs of British officers and gentlemen all over the world, and by Victoria’s day the name was a household word, if you ran a rich household. A neighbor and competitor was Jacksons of Piccadilly, more formally Robert Jackson & Company, Ltd., founded by a family that moved to Piccadilly in 1680 when it was still a suburban village. Oldest of all was Davison, Newman & Co. which was already 127 years old when Messrs. Davison and Newman gave it their names in 1777. The two partners had themselves buried together in one vault, inseparable even in death. From this historic old house came the tea that occasioned the Boston Tea Party.

Twinings dates to 1706 when Thomas Twining established Tom’s Coffee House in the Strand, London. Twining first promoted the teas as a novelty, but before long he he opened a retail business in loose tea (and coffee) next door at the sign of the Golden Lion where Twinings Tea has been sold ever since. Thomas Twining was followed by his son Daniel, whose premature death left his widow Mary in charge of the company. She ran it for twenty years, one of the very few females in business in her day, and reared her son Richard to understand the arts of tea blending and the intricacies of the trade. Richard took over from her in 1783; a year later he was Chairman of the Thirty Thousand Dealers of Tea and in that capacity persuaded Prime Minister Pitt to repeal the ruinous English tea taxes. Within a year, legal imports had risen from six to sixteen million pounds and Twining and his friends had managed to put England’s smugglers out of the tea business.

To be continued The Trade in England – Part 2