- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Sam H.G. Twining, ninth-generation director of London's R. Twining & Co., really does like tea; he drinks between five and 15 cups a day. But a glass of red wine was easier to handle as he greeted guests at Tuesday's reception in the U.S. Botanic Garden, shaking hands and periodically reaching into his jacket pocket to proffer a business card.
The tea mogul's favorite among the dozen or more varieties his family sells is, well, several depending on the time of day and, yes, he uses both bags and loose tea. "In the end, loose tea is the best buy," he emphasized. "Bags are for when you are in a hurry."
"Jolly good after all I've been through today," Sen. John Warner grumbled jovially in mock upper-crust tones after arriving from the Capitol in time for a bag of Lady Grey (and then later lifting a few to take home). "At the end of the night I'll be chairman of some committee or other."
The Virginia Republican was more pleased to note that the week to come would mark "25 years of service in the Senate," more than any other senator from the Old Dominion save for Harry Flood Byrd Sr. and Carter Glass.
The occasion was the opening of the garden's latest exhibit, "Tradition in Elegance," featuring 100 antique teapots from England's Norwich Castle Museum as well as the world's largest teapot (owned by Twining's), which holds 13-1/2 gallons of the brew. The exhibit is open to the public in the conservatory's East Gallery through March 30.
Guests quizzed Mr. Twining carefully on protocol matters, all of which have very practical origins, he let it be known.
Never, ever, use a tea cozy, he said. The custom of putting a thick fitted cloth over a pot to keep it warm is an insult to the tea, he noted. "The cozy ruins your tea. Think about it. The Chinese invented tea, which stops brewing after six or seven minutes and goes into suspension. A cozy keeps it brewing until it turns bitter and stewy." That's right, "stewy."
Put the milk in the bottom of the cup before pouring the tea. It will prevent the hot water from breaking the cup. The custom stems from days when china cups were very fragile and milk was not often fresh.
Use a cup, not a mug, for drinking. "You want a china cup, a nice thin cup, because the lip takes the flavor to the palette better that way."
The man knows whereof he speaks. One of his ancestors had tea with George Washington during a visit to this country in 1796, Botanic Garden Director Holly Shimizu told the crowd during her exposition extolling the many virtues of the plant that, naturally, is on view under the building's great glass roof. Mr. Twining was quick to note afterward that it wasn't his family's product that helped spark a revolution in Boston harbor long ago.

Ann Geracimos


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