On one of my most recent sojourns to England, I had the desire to find a special place to buy some tea – I was in London, after all.  Now, one might first think of finding a teahouse or restaurant where one could enjoy a high tea experience with all the accoutrements.  But I wanted some history with my tea. 


In the early 1700’s, Thomas Twining began working for a wealthy merchant from The East India Company who was importing a new beverage from the Orient.   Thomas was intrigued by the potential markets for this commodity, and started his own company.  He opened a shop on the Strand in 1717, and there began the Twinings family history of English tea.

In 1837, Queen Victoria granted Twinings their first Royal Warrant for tea as “Purveyor in Ordinary to Her Majesty.”  And in 2006, Twinings celebrated the company’s 300th anniversary. 


I was excited to see this still-thriving icon of English culture.  After witnessing the sumptuous food halls of Harrod’s, my anticipation was high for the flagship store and museum, still operating in this very location for three centuries. 

I set out on the tube and emerged to a chilly but clear morning.  Surprisingly, the neighborhood is a decidedly un-charming business district, which includes the Royal Courts of Justice.  The shop looks rather out of place, dwarfed by a bank and a modern coffee house, but there in all its finery, stands the Twinings teashop. 


Above the door is a gilded lion and the Royal Crest, flanked by statuettes of men dressed in traditional Oriental costumes, representing the tea’s origin.

I stepped inside and instantly adjusted my expectations.  The shop measures about ten feet wide, and a good 60 feet long.  It’s strangely deep with high ceilings… but what should I expect from an 18th century building?   The walls are lined with dark wooden cabinets, and portraits of the Twinings’ family notables watch from above.


With further inspection, I saw that the displays house a huge variety of teas, herbal infusions, coffees and hot cocoas, as well as an extensive range of accessories, from teapots to caddies to strainers to china. 

I was invited by the shop attendant to visit their museum.  Far in the back is a small display (to call it a museum is rather lofty) that chronicles the Twinings’ family and the history of tea in England. The ‘museum’ showcases tea advertisements and has a beautiful collection of antique teapots.  It’s charming and informative, if not terribly well laid out, but considering the space constraints, it’s perfect.  I mean, if tea is nothing else, isn’t it cozy?

I purchased some tea and got my bit of history at the same time.  I came with expectations of grandeur, and was properly greeted with genteel English charm.  Twinings teashop on the Strand is indeed, a little slice of English heaven.

Twinings Tea, The Strand Shop

216 Strand, London, WC2R 1AP Open: Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, Saturday 10 am to 4pm. Nearest Tube: Temple


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Glogg -- The Tamara Twist

I got a wild idea one day after reading a single paragraph in… I think it was TimeOut magazine in London in 2003.  Prague… the architecture was hardly touched in WWII.  It was the best of Eastern Europe, but accessible to Westerners.  My friend Noah described it by saying this: “Prague looks just like Disneyland.  But it’s the real thing.  And I had one of the best meals of my life there.”  Color me intrigued!

I badgered my pal Anne to go.  I arranged all transport from our comfortable digs in London, she just had to come along. I knew if I could just get her her first cup of coffee, she’d do whatever I said. “Sure,” she said, without an ounce of trepidation.

Leave it to us to head to central Europe on one of the coldest spring days ever.  Bundled in wool coats, cashmere sweaters and scarves, we headed to our hotel, which was in the historical centre of Prague, aka The Lesser Town (Mala Strana).  To say it was charming was well… charming.  Dormer windows opened to the crisp air and overlooked the snow-dusted red tile roofs of the town.  One channel in English on the TV.  Surely this was a town to be explored!

Prague City -- the Tamara Blog

Anne and I set out to see the sights.  It was just past 2pm, and the sun was beginning to get low in the sky.  We knew if we were to see things, we had to hop to it!  We headed to the The Charles Bridge, a stone Gothic bridge that connects the Old Town and the Mala Strana.  Czech king and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV commissioned it, and construction began in 1357.  The bridge is flanked on either side by 30 Baroque statues, added in the 17th century.

The bridge has stood for centuries, many believe due to the egg yolks used in the mortar.  Floods have besieged Prague over the years — most notably the flood of 2002, the worst flood in 5 centuries — and the bridge stood.  Let’s hear it for egg yolks!

Prague Bridge -- The Tamara Blog (Incidentally, while there, we encountered several below-water-line shops near the river that had apparently been flooded months before.  Perhaps in another hundred or so years, the moldy smell will dissipate!)

After shivering through the Old Town and the Charles Bridge, we needed a pick-me-up.  Several cafés were offering “hot wine” on their sign-menus.   Who were we, mere foreign tourists, to resist?  Into the first welcoming establishment we staggered, sat down and began un-layering (the un-layering will become a trend on this trip).  The waitress recognized our urgent need for something warm, and quickly brought us two steaming mugs of the lovely elixir.  The red wine was warmed and infused with spices and lemon wedges, and was served with a shaker of sugar, as it arrived unsweetened.  We stirred in spoonfuls of sugar and happily sipped away the next half hour, plotting our next outing in the City of Music.

Ahhh.  Prague.

Prague Castle DSCF1639

In my Norwegian/Swedish heritage, hot wine, or Glogg, is only served during the Christmas season.  This is, perhaps, a good thing… as I might otherwise be a bit sloshed year-round.  Here’s my favorite recipe for that lovely warm holiday drink.  Skål!

Glögg (pronounced GLUHG)

For any of you non-drinkers out there, this recipe can easily be adapted by substituting the alcohol with apple or cranberry juice, and eliminating the sugar.

Makes 18 servings.  9 cups.

3 Cinnamon Sticks, broken into manageable pieces

10 cardamom pods, lightly crushed — or 1/4 teaspoon ground

6 whole cloves

4 strips orange peel

4 strips lemon peel

2 bottles (750 ml) dry red wine

1 cup sugar

1 cup raisins

1 cup brandy

1 cup dark rum

1/2 cup whole blanched almonds (we use slivered)

Place cinnamon sticks, cardamom, cloves and orange and lemon peels in cheesecloth and tie to enclose.

Combine wine, sugar, raisins and spice bag in 4 quart nonreactive (stainless steel or non-stick) saucepan. Bring to a boil, then quickly lower heat and let steep, uncovered, 10 minutes. Add brandy, rum and almonds. Simmer 10 minutes – do not boil.

Serve immediately, Or, cool to room temperature and refrigerate, covered, for up to 3 days.  To reheat, place over medium-low heat until hot; do not boil. Ladle into glasses adding a few raisins and almonds to each glass.

Make it even better: Serve with gingerbread cookies.

Glogg -- The Tamara Blog

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Walking through Prague’s Old Town there are many charms to experience.  But it’s easy to miss some of the most delightfully peculiar.  Below you’ll see the photo I took on a freezing (literally) March afternoon while on a hunt for hot wine (more on that in another post.)  


Look up… and there, hanging above is none other than  Vladimir Ilych Lenin, one arm hanging from the post, the other in his pocket.  He’s suspended over Husova Street in Prague’s Old Town. The piece is entitled Hanging Out (1996), this is an installation art piece by Czech artist David Cerny.  Delightful!  


Hanging out in Prague

Hanging out in Prague

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