I love tea towels. I use them everyday to dry my hands, dry dishes, grab hot things from the oven, protect my counter, and just to look pretty. I like to receive them as gifts, I like to give them as gifts. I buy them abroad, I buy them at home. They are a quintessential product for me. As I've chosen items for Briton Home, I've been a sucker for tea towels. They are useful, definitely British, and available in so many patterns and colors.
And yet. I hate the idea of peddling tea towels. What I really want to offer you is a cup of coffee and an almond croissant at Gail's Bakery. A pot of tea at the Holland Park cafe. A seat in the courtyard at the V&A watching children frolic in the fountain. A pint of cider in a cozy pub in a leather chair near a crackling fire. And not because you are on a whirlwhind sight-seeing tour of London, but because you are enjoying life at a more European pace. I want you to take ten minutes on your sofa, your front porch, in a cafe, just because. Enjoy a moment with a friend, your spouse, or by yourself.
There is a richness of life that we miss when we are always in a hurry, always being productive. "Tea time" is one of those quirky parts of British culture that I envy and want to practice, share and encourage at home in the States. While fancy "Afternoon Tea" is a fun thing to experience and there are no shortage of hotels and tea rooms offering an opulent array of gourmet cakes, pastries, and sandwiches, a simple cup of tea and maybe a cookie will do the trick.
The key to tea is to stop whatever else is happening, and enjoy the ritual of pouring, stirring and savoring. In British business places, coworkers often break for tea in the mid-afternoon. Moms go for tea after school drop off. Friends offer tea when you stop by, or after dinner. In times of tragedy, there is tea. It is often communal, and it is nourishing for the body, heart and mind. Ironically, I think "tea" can actually be coffee if you prefer. There is one rule- tea is not meant for travel mugs or to-go containers. Personally, I favor a smaller mug that I can cup both hands around, but really anything will do so long as one is sitting still, even for a few moments, while enjoying.
It took me literally flying away from the American suburban hustle and moving to central London for five months in order to learn to slow down. I discovered that once I got over the initial discomfort of having less to show for my days, I was seeing and feeling so much more. Initially I had to give myself permission to pause for tea, but eventually it became a happy ritual. I went to the park, to the V&A courtyard, and sometimes "tea" was actually a pint of cider in the afternoon. But the idea is the same- a pause, a treat, because we are human and not machine. We need to rest, to connect, to restore, and not always to produce.
So what does this have to do with tea towels? Sometimes it helps to have a visual cue, a reminder, to slow down. You can read here if you want to know what the heck a tea towel is or what to do with it. But really, the idea is that having a special mug or towel in a common place in your home might serve as a reminder that it's good to sit down just because. To enjoy that moment of peace before picking the kids up from school, finishing one more task, or making dinner. In American culture, we don't do this well, so we can borrow from the Brits. If you need a tea towel or mug to remind you, I know where you can find one...