When Sam Twining kindly agreed to be interviewed, it was just a question of where and when? “Why don’t you come round at about 4.30 in the afternoon, then we can have a cup of tea as we chat,” he suggested. How could I refuse? After all I was about to meet the ninth generation member of the Twining family, the oldest and arguably most famous tea company in the world. So what could be more appropriate than taking tea with Sam Twining and his charming wife Anne?

Both talk about tea enthusiastically, but somewhat surprisingly Sam initially had no real designs on working within the company. His only thoughts were on being a Royal Marine.

At their St Lawrence retreat, he revealed: “I was born in Paddington – not the station – and was brought to the Island when I was three weeks old to be shown off to my grandmother who lived here. I used to come here for all my holidays, and I was here staying with my grandmother when war was declared, and I remember going up to the railway halt at St Lawrence to collect my gas mask.

“I have terrific childhood memories of the Island. My home in London got a direct hit during the war, and we were evacuated to Alton in Hampshire. Because security was very tight on the Island, my father would bring me by one route and my mother would bring my sisters by another route.

“You never knew who you were going to meet when you got here. We used to stay next door to the St Lawrence Inn, which at the time was a guest house. You couldn’t get down to any of the beaches because of barbed wire, mines and scaffolding, so it was a pretty grim place really because of invasion scares.

“My parents wisely decided that we should not return to London, so my sister and I stayed in Niton for a short while, and then we went to Alton. Then after the war we went back to London and stayed there until my grandmother died in 1946.

“My mother died in 1981, so in a sense this has been our home since, although we actually moved here permanently in 2000. Because the company was based in Andover, we lived on the mainland but used to come here whenever we could. I worked until I was 70, and then when I retired we moved here permanently.”

Then he confided: “When I was growing up I was never made to think that I had to go into the business. At the age of six I saw the Royal Marines, and from that day I kept telling my family I wanted to be a Royal Marine. When I was 16 my father asked me if I still wanted to join the Marines, and I told him I did.

“So in 1950 I went off as a boy to the Royal Marine training centre, where I had basic training and was given a uniform, and I returned here very proudly two weeks later as a Second Class Royal Marine volunteer. When I got called up for National Service I went straight into the Royal Marines. I didn’t go into the family business until I was 23. I was never made to think that I had to go into the business. For me that is the most dangerous thing that a boy or girl can have happen to them when they want to do something else.”

Sam was keen to stay in the Royal Marines, but said: “My uncle was governor of Tanganyika – now Tanzania – so I went there as a Royal Marine reservist, and stayed there for two years, which was a wonderful experience. I travelled to many African countries, all on duty, and earned three months’ leave.

“I had a great friend whose father had a tea garden in South India, and that is what switched me on. It was the growing of it that I found fascinating, so off I went with all this leave I had saved up, and stayed with this family, and spent a month there learning how tea is grown. Then through the Twining connections I went to the tea gardens in what was called Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, and then back to India, which were fantastic experiences.”

He returned to England and on January 2nd 1956, joined Twinings. All the tea tasters at the company had never left London, because in those days people didn’t travel. So for him to have the background knowledge of how tea was manufactured was not only interesting but extremely helpful.

He continued: “I started as a pot boy for the tea tasters, and then worked with them, including going to the auctions. After two years I was allowed to actually go and buy the tea at an auction in London.

“But because Twinings started as a coffee house that specialised in tea, I then had to go and learn about coffee for a year, which was quite different. I had seen coffee growing in Africa and India, so having learned that, I began learning about other parts of the business, and worked my way up.”

In the mid-1960s the Greater London Council made Twinings a fantastic offer to buy their tea and coffee factories in the East End, provided they would relocate to any one of five destinations.

“We chose Andover because it happened to be halfway between London and Avonmouth, where the tea comes in, and also close to Southampton where it is exported,” said Sam. “So the decision was made to relocate to Andover. We took 80 families with us and only two were unable to settle and went back to London. The combined tea and coffee factory has remained in Andover to this day.”

Sam Twining did many different jobs within the company, and for the final 15 years was corporate relations director; before that export director. It took him all over the world. He said: “My wife hardly ever saw me, as the business was building very rapidly. I learned how to sell tea in the UK which is the toughest market in the world. If you can sell tea here you can sell it anywhere.”

Sam and Anne Twining have been married for 52 years, not surprising then that Sam reckons his wife makes the perfect cup of tea. Anne said: “I was a nurse and a great tea drinker, so I learned quite early.”

Twinings produce more than 115 different blends of tea, and about 1,000 people work for them, either at their factory in Andover or the one in Poland. The company exports to more than 100 countries, including India and China, and their tea is sold worldwide.

They have won the Queen’s export award twice – the first tea company to do so. Twinings also hold the Royal warrant and have done since the first year of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1837.

Away from tea, Sam and Anne Twining are keen sailors, gardeners and walkers. Sam also reads history books, and since his retirement has carried out much charity work, and is very involved with St Lawrence Church. He was church warden for 25 years in St Lawrence, which has the second smallest church in England, as well as the Gilbert Scott-designed church, which is full of Pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows, the best in the Portsmouth diocese.

“I have done lots of things, and I don’t think there are any unfulfilled ambitions,” Sam reflected. “Don’t encourage him, we are trying to quieten down a bit these days,” smiled Anne as we drank another cup of tea.