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Photo Credit: Julie Cohn

What is it that they say about “the bull in a china shop?” I had no business bringing my hulking teenage son to such a delicate place, yet there he was, happily nibbling on a vanilla scone, slathered with creamy lemon curd, his still-wet hair curled around his ears.

My little boy was not so little anymore, and our busy schedules leave us short on quality time together. “Am I holding the teacup right, Mom?” he inquired, gingerly setting the cup down on the saucer. Considering that this was my 14-year-old son’s first time at a formal tea, and we were at one of the most beautiful hotels in Southern California, The Langham Huntington Pasadena, I considered his question reasonable.

The Langham Huntington was one of many stops along the route of our annual mother/son road trip. The Tiffin afternoon tea, in the Lobby Lounge at the Langham, is renowned in the Los Angeles area, so we could not pass up the opportunity to experience it while staying at the hotel.

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Photo Credit: Julie Cohn

Initially, my son was less than thrilled to shower and dress up to “go to tea” with Mom. I’m certain there were many other places in the Los Angeles area he’d rather be, but his interest was piqued by the elegance of the lobby lounge, and the promise of good food.

We sat at a tiny table, set with bone china and silver. He shuffled in his seat, tugging at his shirt; a tiny scowl betrayed his discomfort. Yet, when the server mentioned he could choose his own flavor of tea, his scowl twisted into a tiny smile. By the time the server brought the tower of tea sandwiches and scones, the twinkle was back in his eye, and when he saw the heaping dishes of lemon curd and clotted cream, he positively beamed.

What’s that old saying about “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach?” The way to a teenage boy’s heart, at afternoon tea, is with lemon curd and Devonshire cream.

Lessons Learned at Tea

I had an ulterior motive for taking time out of our busy travel schedule to share this tea ceremony with him. We have been out to dinner with Little Man many times over the years, but rarely in such a formal setting. The Lobby Lounge at the Langham Huntington was the perfect place for him to practice his dining etiquette.

At home, we taught him manners, but our canvas was old dishware, purchased from the supermarket on clearance. A tea ceremony, and the formal ritual that goes along with it, took table manners to a whole new level. As he sipped his vanilla tea, the delicate china practically screamed out “don’t break me,” but his boy/man hands handled each piece with care.

While we ate, I explained that as he got older, he’d have opportunities to dine with other people in a formal setting. He might have lunch with a college admissions counselor or dinner with a potential boss or client. Someday, he’d probably even dine with a girlfriend’s parents, so he would need to know what to do, and how to act while dining.

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Photo Credit: Julie Cohn

We talked about the importance of knowing how to behave in a formal restaurant, and that by practicing now, in the relative safety of “Mom,” he could make mistakes, and learn from them, without feeling embarrassed. If he remembered just a few of the tips I shared with him, he would be more confident later, when it really mattered.

We talked about things like not burping at the table, not picking one’s teeth with a fork, trying new foods, and not slurping from a tea cup. To drive home my point, I slurped my tea loudly, and tossed him a scone like a football. He looked at me, at first appalled by my actions, and then shrugged, and proceeded to smear strawberry jam and Devonshire cream on the scone. That’s my boy!

All in all, the tea ceremony was a rousing success. He remembered to place his napkin in his lap at the right time, his spoon at the edge of his saucer, and to nibble, not gobble his food. Not one tea cup was broken, and he resisted licking the bowl of lemon curd.
Having Fun, Making Memories at Tea

We managed to also have a little bit of naughty fun, by speaking in mock British accents, and conducting tea pinky lifting contents. He giggled more than was proper, but since this was his first tea, I thought I’d give him a little latitude. He has his whole life time to practice the skills.

Later that night, he told me that this “was one of the best days of his life.” At that exact moment, I thought I heard angels singing in chorus…but it might have been the classical music playing on the iHome in our hotel room.

My boy is growing into a man right before my eyes. I hope someday, when he needs to put what he’s learned to use, he’ll think back on this day, and remember his first tea at The Langham Huntington with Mom.

Many of the finer hotel chains, including The Ritz Carlton, The Four Seasons, and The Fairmont hotels offer a traditional afternoon tea. Some, such as the Ritz Carlton, offer afternoon tea for smaller children as well.

In a former life (before motherhood), Julie Cohn was a corporate travel/meeting planner. Her love of food, travel, and writing led her to blogging, and today, she is writer/publisher of the deliciously witty cooking, travel, and family lifestyle site, A Little Bite of Life. She has lived in several places in the U.S., but currently lives in Arizona with her husband, son, and spoiled wiener dog.