Timeless tea: Jane Austen event rekindles & makes memories

Sally Baker recalls fondly the childhood tea parties she and a friend used to hold in a room behind the Shelburne Inn’s front desk in the 1960s.

Shelburne Inn tea
Elegant presentation, international teas and a convivial atmosphere make Jane Austen Tea a special event.

Out of guests’ sight, Sally and her friend, Bernice Godfrey, the Shelburne Inn’s owner at the time, would arrange tea cups, cubes of sugar and a bit of cream for a playful tea party. Even back then the inn exuded a sort of storybook charm that underscored its old-fashioned elegance.

“I have great memories of the Shelburne,” Sally said. “It’s gorgeous. I love it. I love the way it looks.”

Fast forward about 50 years, and tea at the Shelburne Inn has moved from the backroom to the forefront. The inn’s 8th annual Jane Austen Tea is Sunday, Dec. 17 from 2-4 p.m. Featured alongside a selection of fine international teas served in the Shelburne Inn’s beautiful samovar will be three sweets, a trio of savory items and scones. The atmosphere will be convivial, the afternoon full of warmth, friendship and conversation. The cost is $25 per person.

A new generation

Sally moved away from the Long Beach Peninsula in the early 1970s, thus ceasing her Shelburne tea parties, but the Jane Austen Tea event has helped introduce a new generation to the classic act of taking tea at the 121-year-old inn. Mother Michelle Svendsen and daughter Taylor plan to attend their fourth Jane Austen Tea on Dec. 17. It’s not only the tea, but the atmosphere that keeps them coming back.

“It’s just a fun, relaxing, leisurely afternoon,” said Michelle, who along with her husband, Erik, own and operate North Jetty Brewing in Seaview. “There’s no hurry; it’s just enjoyable…. I know there’s moms and daughters that would enjoy this. I think it’s a really great experience for moms, daughters and grandmothers.”

Sixteen-year-old Taylor mentioned another plus: “We stay off our phones when we’re there, for the most part,” she said. Taylor added that she and her mom like to snap a couple photos at the beginning of the tea before tucking their phones away and enjoying the afternoon.

In today’s digital world, keeping a 16-year-old off her phone might be a bigger accomplishment than it sounds. It’s those quiet, conscious moments when conversation blooms and friendships are forged, Michelle said, that produce memories that last a lifetime.

“I think it’s important, especially for the younger generation to connect with the older generation,” Michelle said of staying in the moment. “ I think it’s wonderful.”

Shelburne Inn owner Laurie Anderson agrees.

“I just really enjoy the whole ritual of taking tea,” Laurie said. “It’s like for just a portion of the day you can have a slice of perfection in an imperfect world.”

Love for tea

Laurie fell in love with tea while traveling through India in the 1970s. Taking tea, she found, turned strangers to friends, offered cultural insights and provided a midday escape from life’s stresses. She loves the atmosphere cultivated by the tea party – conversation fills the room, laughter abounds, old memories are shared and new memories are created, much like those childhood tea parties held in the room behind the inn’s front desk.

Looking back almost a half century, Sally Baker reflected on how her childhood friend Bernice would view the Jane Austen Tea event at the Shelburne Inn.

“If Bernice were still here,” Sally said without hesitation, “she would be there with bells on.”