Twining Tea House
Twining Tea House

English Tea Companies

England is well-known as a tea drinking nation. The UK is world's third heaviest tea drinking country at 1.94 kg per capita (behind Turkey & Ireland). This compares to just 0.23 kg per capita in the US (#35 in the world). Tea has been drunk widely in England since the 17th Century, sourced initially from China and by the 18th Century also from vast tea plantations in India, then part of the British Empire.

Tea in England is dominated by five companies, but there are hundreds of other companies sourcing and producing tea for consumption both in the UK and for export.

Today most tea imported into the UK is grown in Kenya, followed by India and much smaller quantities from Malawi, Singapore and Tanzania.

The largest English Tea Companies are:

  • PG Tips - a Unilever brand, founded by Arthur Brooke in 1869 in Manchester, acquiring the PG Tips name in 1930, first advertised on television in 1956, introduced the pyramid  tea bag in 1990, and is widely sold in supermarkets throughout the UK
  • Tetley - a Tata Global Beverages brand, founded by brothers Joseph and Edward Tetley in Yorkshire in 1837, moved to London in 1856, now widely sold in supermarkets throughout the UK, mostly in tea bags (a 1908 accidental invention of New York tea merchant Thomas Sullivan)
  • R. Twining & Co. - founded in 1706 by Robert Twining when he took over a coffee shop on The Strand in London and became one of the first to sell tea, becoming hugely popular among the wealthy elite of the time.
  • Yorkshire Tea - a brand of Bettys & Taylors of Harrogate, founded in 1919 by a swiss baker who opened a tea room in Harrogate in Yorkshire; the company merged with another family-owned business, Taylors of Harrogate, a tea importer, in 1962. Today the combined company is still family run.
  • Typhoo - a brand of Apeejay Surrendra Group in India, founded just after 1900 by John Summer, selling tea from his family's grocery store in the Bull Ring shopping district of Birmingham, and promoting tea's supposed medicinal benefits, the word Typhoo derived from the Chinese word for doctor. Today the company actively supports the work of the Ethical Tea Partnership to support development of, and the environment in, tea growing communities.
Twinings Tea House on The Strand, London, June 2021
Twinings Tea House on The Strand, London, June 2021 (Copyright UK Entry)

Of course in addition to the above major tea producing companies, there are many smaller, innovative companies supplying tea to the voracious tea drinking population in the UK. One I particularly admire and often buy from is Bird & Blend Tea Co. in Brighton, Sussex. It was founded as Bluebird in 2012 and renamed to Bird & Blend in 2018 following a trademark issue. The company has grown from its original single store in Brighton to 12 stores through the country (including three in London), as well as a growing international online ecommerce presence. It presents itself as a slightly edgy brand, unsurprising given the founders Krisi Smith and Mike Turner met while studying Politics at Durham University. Bird & Blend produces wonderfully diverse flavoured teas with exotic names such as Carrot Cake, Dozy Girl, Vicky's Sponge Cake and Eton Mess.