Katie Ewer
Feb 4, 2015

Asian Champions of Design: TWG Tea

TWG Tea's delicious blend of luxury and old-world glamour is capturing the imagination (and taste buds) of tea drinkers from Singapore to New York City. Does anyone care that despite the brand's colonial-era trappings, it only dates back to 2008?

Asian Champions of Design: TWG Tea

Innovation can sometimes be about looking backwards rather than foreward. TWG’s brand story is a bewitching brew of luxury and old-world glamour, expressed through every touchpoint from packaging to interiors, and from service style to tone of voice. 

Having tea at TWG is like stepping back in time. In TWG land, everything is more sophisticated. Its citizens are stylish, self-assured tea connoisseurs. The staff trained at Downton Abbey. In this magical world the tablecloths are whiter, the napkins are crisper, the teapots are shinier and the crockery clinks with a more elegant timbre. TWG is to tea what a bottle of Chanel No 5 is to perfumes, a Moleskine is to notebooks, or a Birkin is to handbags. In fact, ‘having tea at TWG’ is a woefully inadequate description of the experience.

TWG sells ‘the finest teas of the world’ from glimmering gold teapots amidst beautifully constructed table settings and in lovely little tea rituals. It sells a vast range of packaged teas, limited editions and gift sets in old-fashioned caddies, each with their own graphic personality. It sells loose teas from a wall of big tins that look like they just got loaded off this morning’s clipper from Ceylon. TWG has a string of elegant tea-houses throughout Asia and concessions in Harrods of London and Dean & Deluca in NYC. High tea in any of them will make you feel like a colonial memsahib in old Singapore.

So what’s the story behind this heritage brand? How did its Raffles-era sense of nostalgia suddenly eclipse Raffles hotel itself? Where has it been hiding since 1837?

The truth is, ‘TWG’ was only established in 2008 in Singapore by three entrepreneurs who saw the Asian nostalgia wave coming long before the rest of us, and also managed to tie it cleverly to our thirst for luxury living. Abroad, in markets like the UK, the brand’s colonial vibe seems to appeal to consumers with Fortnum’s fatigue.

Have we been duped? Does it matter? Do we care? I have a hunch we care less about it here in Asia than we would in a mature Western market. In Asia, we still trust brands, and even those that dissemble don’t seem to faze us. Faux authenticity isn’t such a bad thing when authenticity itself is in such short supply. Ultimately, Asians are extremely pragmatic, and if a pot of tea and a macaroon at TWG is a supremely enjoyable throwback to colonial splendour, then what’s the problem?

TWG’s brand story is a splendid mirage, made persuasive and convincing by the fluency of its design language—old fashioned of course, but also not too slick or ‘designed’. The role of design is to give visual expression to intangible ideas—as it has done for this brand-new old-fashioned brand. I for one, am willing to suspend my disbelief in return for a pot of tea at TWG.

Did you know?

There’s confusion amid the infusions. Spot the fib among the following (scroll down for the answer).

1. TWG Tea – the TWG stands for The Wellness Group – was founded in 2008 by Taha Bouqdib, his wife Maranda Barnes and Majoj M Murjani.

2. Celebrity pastry chef Phillipe Langlois has introduced a range of savoury dishes, desserts and pastries to the TGW menu. Offerings on the TWG Singapore menu include TWG Tea Lasagna.

3. Yellow Gold Tea Buds from TWG is one of the most expensive teas in the world. The tea is only harvested—with golden scissors—on one mountain one day per year and then the leaves are then painted with 24ct gold flakes. It retails at $106 for 50 grams.

4. TWG Tea offers over 800 different blends, sourced from 36 different countries.

5. The company’s best-seller is a tea called Silver Moon, described as ‘a green tea blend, strongly reminsicent of red woodlandberries and grand vanilla bouquet’. Its promotional copy also says that ‘with an enthusiasm to redesign modernity, reinterpreting everyday life,’ the tea ‘narrates the story of the constellations’.

6. One of TWG’s most popular sellers is called More Tea Vicar! It is a blend of three teas all grown in the shadow of monastery walls, and one of the first packets was sent as a gift to the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

Katie Ewer is strategy director at JKR Global in Singapore.
Check out the rest of the Asian Champions of Design series, which is available in book form.

Heavens no, there isn’t a TWG blend called More Tea Vicar. Number six needs to confess its sins and beg forgiveness.


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