When I work at markets, which is a few times a year, many people ask what a tea towel is and what's the difference between a tea towel and a dish towel. I usually respond with that a tea towel comes from the British tea time and it's a bit nicer way of saying dish towel . Some believe that the quality of the towel is what distinguishes it. Some towels are terry cotton (like a bath towel, a looped weave), flat cotton, linen or linen cotton.
I found a very interesting article on Huffington Post. It is a few years old but still relevant. The author is Jessica Cumberbatch Anderson and she spoke with the American Textile Museum.
I love the many historical reasons she discovered. Tea towels are one of my main staples in the kitchen and in my Etsy Shop. I find them to be totally utilitarian, a great gift when visiting friends for dinner or a longer period and a great gift to get people when traveling. Are you as big a fan as me with tea towels?