Tea has been around for centuries, but the English tradition of afternoon tea is more recent.
According to lore, Anna Russell, the 7th Duchess of Bedford, introduced afternoon tea to high society in the early 1800's. Initially, she partook of the pleasure in secret, staving off her hunger between meals.
Picture a pink-cheeked parlor maid scurrying up the back stairs to Lady Anna's boudoir, glancing surreptitiously over her shoulder, laden with a tray swathed in linen, the aroma of fresh baked goods wafting behind her.
Though I love this image, it's most fortunate that after her Ladyship's tasty little secret was exposed, she chose to sweep down the front mahogany staircase in her finest silk gown and host her upper-class acquaintances with an openly indulgent afternoon tea.
The tradition was born.
Well, I'm no lady of the realm, but having an afternoon cup of tea is something I relish daily. Whatever happens -- and plenty does, between grappling with deadlines, keeping house and juggling activities for my eight-year-old son -- I stop like an automaton at four o'clock and walk to the kettle.
First, the gas flame flares cobalt blue beneath the filled kettle. Then I select a pretty teacup, a vintage napkin (I'm the one under the stack at estate sales) and a silver spoon. Mostly, I wait until I hear the gentle, then urgent whistle.
I get R.J. his snack while my tea brews, steam rising, color deepening. I often take afternoon tea with a splash of whole milk and a sweet treat.
My indulgences are small.
Today, I bring out a cup and saucer my mother gave me when I last visited her on the West Coast. The china is Noritake with a green bamboo pattern on the inside of the cup, revealing its beauty with the draining of its contents.
"What's that?" asks R.J., as I carefully set the teacup down on the granite countertop.
"Your Mama gave it to me," I reply. "It once belonged to her mother, my Mama."
He pauses absorbing the chronology and then says, "Mom, I have a great idea! Why don't we have a tea party for you on Mother's Day?"
I now cradle my grandmother's teacup at the computer, doing what teatime does for me. I pause and reflect.
I like the idea: Why not a Mother's Day tea, instead of a traditional brunch?
The ideal Mother's Day materializes before me in a haze of steam, without overwhelming brunch crowds and feeling overly stuffed afterward, without the unsavory whiff of commercialism, without the pressure.
The tranquility of teatime makes much more sense for frazzled mothers. Fortunately, tea has quietly seeped into the mainstream creating many sipping possibilities.
So here's my thought. On Mother's Day, invite mom to an afternoon tea at a fancy hotel, country inn, trendy teahouse--or simply throw her the perfect tea party at home.
Polish the tarnished tea service, which she probably gave you, and get out the heirloom linens and family china. If short on accoutrements, shop for basics in antique stores or at yard sales.
Set a special table. Arrange fresh flowers. Either bake a family recipe, like a lemon poppy seed loaf, or buy a favorite treat, maybe a seasonal berry tart.
Most important, appreciate mom in a convivial teatime setting on her special day.
This story first appeared in the Tea Talk column of Inns magazine.