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China and porcelain and pottery, oh my!



Remember this definition: Ceramic is a product made of clay and hardened by heat. What does this mean for all the different types of plates? They all fall under the umbrella of a ceramic. China is a ceramic; porcelain is a ceramic; earthenware is a ceramic; stoneware is a ceramic because they are all made of clay and hardened by heat. (Not to confuse you, but pottery and ceramic mean the same thing. Ceramic comes from the Greek word keramos, which means potter’s clay. You may use the words ceramic and pottery interchangeably.)


If they are all made of clay, then why is there such a variation in quality? Just as a painter might use finer tools, pigments, and canvas, so, too, do artisans of ceramics. But ultimately, the difference in the final product is due to the varying degrees of temperature used, the glaze applied, and the décor and artistry incorporated before or after firing.


What is considered the highest quality ceramic? Here is a breakdown from least to most expensive:

*Earthenware (terracotta is an earthenware): very fragile and porous.

*Stoneware (most restaurants use stoneware): stronger than earthenware and less porous.

*China and porcelain are practically the same product: both are created with the highest quality material consisting of a very fine clay called kaolin. China is sometimes more fragile than porcelain as it has been fired at a slightly lower temperature. Many vendors will use the words china or porcelain, but it means the same thing.

*Bone china: Bone china is what we tend to think of when we think of elegant, exquisite china. Bone china is china/porcelain that is mixed with bone (traditionally bone ash from cows). Adding bone creates a more durable porcelain that is less prone to breakage, and it is what creates the milky white appearance we love. For china to be considered authentic bone china in the U.S. it must contain a minimum of 25% bone. Bone china is considered the most expensive of all the products.


An old trick many of our southern mammas taught us was to lift a china plate to the light. Bone china is more translucent than china (also referred to as fine china). If you hold bone china to the sky, you will see the light shine through.


*Tidbit: Kaolin clay gets its name from Gaoling, a small village in China, from which the mineral was discovered. It is here where the creation of porcelain was developed in the 7th century. This is why porcelain is often called china because it is where the product originated. When referring to china as a product, the “c” is left as a lowercase, because it is not referring to the country. It is referring to a product. “The china I found for my wedding registry came from China.”


Together with you,

Lisa Lou

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