It’s a basic understanding, of course, that the vessel one chooses for tea drinking won’t necessarily affect the flavor, but it can certainly affect the experience. Style, color and, perhaps, size of the vessel are a matter of preference. But let’s get specific and pick one choice: bone china.
What’s the difference between bone china and the regular version? Is it really about bones? In a word, yes! Porcelain is ceramic material that’s also referred to as china (named after the country that perfected it, of course). There are recipes for porcelain called hard paste or soft paste which vary the strength and feel of the finished product. In 1800, Josiah Spade of Staffordshire, England, added bone ash — animal bones fired at high temperatures to render them to ash — to the porcelain recipe, and effectively created the most durable version yet. Hence the name.
It didn’t take long for word to spread. The recipe was less expensive and the tea cups were lighter and held colors better. Today, bone china has become the standard of England-produced porcelain ware.
Durable as it is, however, it’s still china and requires a gentle care. Hand washing it is best, and harsh chemicals can wear at the glaze and gild of a bone china tea cup. If treated well, bone china can be passed on for generations.
When searching for vintage bone china tea cups, check for chips, cracks, or crazing (hairline fractures in the glaze), all of which can affect the value of the piece. And never drink from a cup that’s been repaired; it’s best to keep that for display only.
Antique shops aren’t the only place to look for bone china tea cups. Try flea markets, yard sales, and, if you’re looking for something specific to complete a collection, the internet. Searching for a perfect bone china cup for your tea can bring as much enjoyment as the cup of tea itself!
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