Porcelain reaches Europe. (And a quick care guide).
Another closely–held secret of the Chinese (the British already managed to produce and cultivate their own tea outside of China on the soil of their colonies) was the ability to create the fine yet strong, translucent material from which they drank the leafy beverage. Referred to as “china/fine china” by the now tea-mad Dutch and British nations, porcelain showed a craftsmanship beyond anything previously seen for tea drinking vessels and preparatory vessels. Delicate, resonant, light; the lip of a hand-thrown china cup can be produced to be as little as 0.5mm… outrageous.
The code for technique and material was cracked by the Europeans in the early 1700s – notably, by a small team of German chemists (and self-purported alchemists) working out of the state of Saxon. Companies established themselves, their patterns and names. Many older china houses still exist today (Limoges, anyone? The house of Spode made its beginning in 1767.) Beautiful porcelain items poured forth into western social circles.
There is no one “true”, single porcelain recipe. There are, however three recognised types. These have each different make-up, characteristics and production techniques. These are soft-paste, hard paste and bone china categories. Some generally necessary components include kaolin (the secret ingredient the Europeans needed), occasionally alabaster, clays, powdered glass, feldspar and in cases of bone china, bone ash.
Caring for your porcelain:
Porcelain is indeed so highly prized because of its longevity. Your prize pieces love some t.l.c.. China cups love to get wet. USE those glistening beauties and they’ll love you back for it. High tensile strength and superior thermal shock resistance = less cracks, less chips, and the piece lasting hopefully generations (instill an enthusiasm in your younglings now to ensure they don’t sell off your favourite pieces after you’re gone. Morbid suggestion? Maybe. Necessary? Absolutely.)
Soft, non-abrasive cloths are best for washing if even necessary – often times, a gentle rinse will do. (I suggest washing your cups quite soon after finishing your tea, that no tannin staining will even have the opportunity to set in.) Vinegar, lemon juice or bicarbonate of soda are three relatively gentle substances which will remove tannic staining from a porcelain cup. I suggest start with the most neutral (baking soda mixed with water to prevent grainy abrasive texture) and move your way through the ph scale (vinegar next, then lemon) if the stain is stubborn.
Do take pride in your collection. In some Japanese ceremonial tea-drinking situations, the choice of cup made by the guest is a poignant and integral part of the ceremony itself. The options given by your host and tea master will also be chosen very carefully. An aesthetic theme may influence which designs will take part in the ceremony. All options may work well together, yet each may be different in painted pattern or perhaps shape, colouring and technique. Seasonal changes will affect the selection offered at the ceremony.
Your cup is more than a bowl to hold liquid. It is a piece of art. Each time you specifically choose your teacup, you make each instance of tea appreciation purposeful and unique. You make each brew a one-time experience. “Ichigo – ichie” is the concept. It translates to “one time, one meeting”.
Happy sipping x