“Every product we sell has a story. And it’s a true story.” I was particularly taken by these words, spoken by Fortnum & Mason’s resident archivist, Dr. Andrea Tanner, as she told us about the terribly interesting and extensive history of the store that went from an exclusive little grocer to a giant name in the world of Tea (amongst other things that it is famous for). Standing on the same site since 1707, Fortnum & Mason (often shortened to just Fortnum’s) is an undeniable and integral part of Britain – in the words of Dr. Tanner, they’re “older than the United States”
The store started in 1707 as a grocer for a primarily exclusive clientele of royalty and aristocracy, specializing in scouring the globe for exotic spices and wines for the customers. Though the store is now open to everyone, they still have an amazing selection of products from the world over – with flavors and blends that are quite intriguing and inviting. From the very beginning they have strived to build a place that not only caters to the wishes of their customers by providing quality products, but also by nurturing special relationships built on give and take. In fact, some of their top-selling products, like the Chocolossus and Sir Nigel’s Marmalade, are made from recipes brought to them by their customers, asking them to make it for them. In all my years I’ve never heard of such a thing. How marvelous a concept! They are still held in very high regard by royalty though with Royal Warrants dating back some 150 years!
My fellow Study Ambassadors and I were treated to the Royal house blend – a mix of Darjeeling and Assam – while we listened to the storied history (pun very much intended ; p) of Fortnum’s, in the back room of the beautiful Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon on the Fourth Floor. Sitting around a wonderfully set table with beautiful Fortnum’s china, I must say I felt rather dignified and fancy (not something I’m used to living as a student eating a lot of take-out and drinking my Twining in a coffee mug). And to go along with our tea we had the most delectable cakes and pastries – my personal favorite being the custard filled Rose Eclair, so moist and light. Those of you looking for a nice place to spend an afternoon or have a demure celebration may want to consider booking a tea tasting here. They even have, what they like to call, Tea-ristas to help recommend some exotic teas and tell you the magnificent stories behind each tea leaf.
A rather intersecting little fact – they have their own bee hives on the roof of the store that produce their exclusive honey, which is so popular that there’s a waiting list to get some. They’ve even got an online bee-cam that lets you watch the industrious Fortnum members at work. And each of the combs have entrances/doorways with architecturally correct designs in the Mughal, Chinese, Ionic and other styles. Leave it to Fortnum’s to put such a regal touch on what many others might consider simple animal (or insect) husbandry.
My favorite part of the entire store however is the Third Floor. At least 1/3rd of that floor is now on my “Must Have” list. I could literally spend all day admiring the magnificent leather and woodwork. From Whiskey flasks to beautiful chess sets; fashion accessories to a plethora of Fedoras (for which I have a personal weakness); I must admit that I had to try quite hard to keep from visibly drooling. One day I am going to furnish my private den to look pretty much exactly like that section of the store!
But the store is not just what is housed within, but its home as well. It’s nice to see that despite renovations, refurbishment and extensions, the store retains many elements of its history, right down to the magnificent wooden stairs (with a characteristic creak and squeak) and its plush red carpet. There are wonderful pieces of art handing all over and even an exquisite mural of the Tuscan countryside on the Second Floor near the Perfume Bar. But don’t just look around, look up – there are magnificent chandeliers hanging everywhere and some wonderful paintings on the ceilings at certain points, a clever way to create the illusion of greater space, since each floor has a relatively low ceiling.
Well I hope I’ve given you a small taste of what Fortnum’s has to offer. I recommend that if you’re on Piccadilly you pop in and check out the amazing building and the wide selection of goods they have to offer. Even if you’re not nearby, make a short trip of it – buy yourself an exotic blend of tea or a special malt whiskey or a nice easter basket : )