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A Proper Mother’s Day Afternoon Tea

Just what you’re going to do for your mom for Mother’s Day is always a tough decision. There’s always the traditional flowers and candy, and you can certainly treat her to a nice dinner out or a scrumptious brunch. But how about something a little different this year? If your mother is the formal, elegant type, chances are she’d love a chance to indulge in an opportunity to enjoy afternoon tea with you and the others in your family.

While there are some places in the U.S. that serve afternoon and/or “high” tea – namely “fancy” hotels like The Plaza in New York City or some Ritz-Carlton and Fairmont locations – there’s certainly no reason why you can’t plan your own afternoon tea and serve it in your home. Preparing such a tea involves a little advance preparation and perhaps attempting a few recipes that you wouldn’t normally consider on an everyday basis. But the end result is well worth it and it will certainly bring a smile to Mom’s face!

What Time is Afternoon Tea?

Typically, in places like the United Kingdom where having midday tea is a regular occurrence, afternoon tea time usually takes place around 3:30 pm, after everyone has digested their lunch and is starting to experience that typical afternoon hunger. “High” tea, in contrast, happens closer to dinner time and requires serving a full meal rather than just little bites of food.

Where Should I Set up the Tea?

Because Mother’s Day happens in May, you may be able to do a garden tea, which is really quite lovely. So, if the weather cooperates, set up a table outside and invite your guests to dine in the gentle spring weather.

If, however, you’re in a place where it’s still too chilly to eat outside or if the weather is inclement, set up the tea in the most formal room of your house, probably the dining room, if available. If not, you can certainly make your kitchen table appear more formal by setting it with the right cover and tableware.

What Kind of Tableware Will I Need?

“Pretty” is the name of the game when it comes to setting your table for tea. Start by choosing a table cloth (no stains permitted!). Most commonly, a plain white table cover is used but you may also opt for a pastel color. If your tea is to be outside in the garden, you might consider a subtle print, but nothing too flashy. Cloth napkins can match or be of contrast but, again, wild prints aren’t appropriate.

Your tea cups should have saucers, if possible, and should be made of china. If you don’t have a set of china, check out thrift shops or flea markets for an inexpensive set of cups and saucers. If you don’t have matching plates, choose a solid color or those with just a small design around the rim.

Try to use serving plates that match each other. However, they can be of different sizes and shapes to make the table look more interesting. You may need more than one teapot, depending on what you’re offering. It’s essential to use china pots (not Corningware® or anything similar) and these can be in a variety of styles and colors, also to add interest to the table.

What Will I Serve?

While the atmosphere of the tea party is important, your guests will also walk away remembering what they ate, not only how pretty the table looked.

The typical menu for an afternoon tea is small finger sandwiches (or perhaps quiche or turnovers), scones and jam, and small desserts. Begin by serving the tea when all your guests are seated (it’s okay to leave the pots on the table after the first pouring) and offer your guests sugar, lemon, or cream.

Once everyone has their tea, begin by passing plates of the sandwiches, quiche, or tiny turnovers. Typical tea sandwiches include cucumber, egg salad, chicken salad, or tuna salad. After the guests have finished their sandwiches, it’s time for the scones. Place a scone, some strawberry (typically) jam, and some unsweetened cream (in the UK, it’s called “clotted” cream) on each plate. Finally, end by offering several small desserts. (One large one is acceptable, too, especially if you’re planning to serve a special Mother’s Day cake.) Then sit back and enjoy the conversation!