What Exactly is Bone China?

There’s something quite elegant and magical about drinking a cup of tea from china. There are various types of china including the famous bone china. But what exactly is bone china? Here are some commonly asked questions:

  • Does it really contain animal bones? What is bone china made out of?

  • Is bone china the same as fine china or porcelain?

  • What is it about bone china that makes it so popular?

  • Is bone china vegan and cruelty free?

  • Does bone china really make the tea taste better?

  • Some say that bone china is the best medium for enjoying a lovely cuppa, but how many people know why is it loved so much?

Bone China: What is it Made From?

Is it vegan? Does it actually contain bone? And is it the same as fine china or porcelain?

A History of Bone China

Historically, Asia had been making hard porcelain tea cups for quite some time, however, in Britain porcelain products were still soft, fragile and undesirable. The history of bone china in England is quite a unique one as it was the first producer of bone china and it still is considered a very British product.

Bone china was first produced by Thomas Frye at the Bow Porcelain Factory around 1747, after the discovery of adding bone ash to porcelain was found to make it stronger and much more durable. The Bow Porcelain Factory was close to the London slaughterhouses and so animal by-products were easy to come by. The recipe for bone china was later adapted by other porcelain factories in Britain. Between 1789 and 1793, bone china was adapted by Josiah Spode in Stoke on Trent. In 1796 his development was called ‘Stoke China’ before it was renamed ‘bone china’ some years after. Bone china quickly became a popular product due to it’s durability and many other factories started making bone china teaware and dinnerware.

Bona china was and still is a very English product. Although, these days there are also factories outside of the UK that produce this type of crockery. Other countries that produce bone china include China, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

Read more: Do Brits really drink a lot of tea?

Bone china was first produced by the Bow Porcelain Factory around 1747

Common Questions

Here are some commonly asked questions about bone china, fine china and porcelain too.

What is Bone China Made Of?

Bone china, sometimes referred to as English porcelain, contains about 40% of animal bone. It’s the calcium phosphate from the animal bone that gives bone china its hard, translucent and very white qualities. Because of its strength, this type of china can be made very thinly, unlike other chunkier ceramics.

What Animal is Bone China Made From?

Bone china is usually made from cow bones. Just as the name suggests, bone china contains animals parts and is not for everyone. It’s rare, however, some china has been found to contain human bone ash! In the past, a loved one’s ashes could be added to china for a keepsake.

Is Bone China Cruel?

Determining whether bone china is cruel or not is a tricky subject to address. Animal parts have been used in many products since the beginning of time, these include meat, leather and bone ash. In England, rules and restrictions are put in place to ensure that animals are kept humanely, however, many people these days are choosing more ethical plant based products. Veganism is on the rise and we are choosing to avoid any cruelty and exploitation of all animals. Some china companies now are making the switch from bone ash to jade to still provide a translucent and white effect that gives bone china it’s uniqueness. Bone china could soon be a thing of the past.

The calcium phosphate in animal bone provides a translucent hue to the bone china cups

Does Bone China Contain Lead?

Real bone china should not contain any lead, is non toxic and is safe to use. Bone china is made from porcelain, bone ash and kaolin (a type of clay).

Is Bone China Microwave Safe?

China, including bone china and fine china is generally microwave safe and dishwasher safe. There are some exceptions to this rule such as if the china contains any metal or has a gold rim. It’s always a good idea to check the label to be on the safe side.

What’s the Difference Between Bone China, Fine China and Porcelain?

As you can see from the name, bone china isn’t vegan friendly. There are other alternatives to bone china, but what are the differences?

The most important difference between bone china and fine china is that bone china contains bone ash and both fine china and porcelain doesn’t. The calcium phosphate in animal bone provides a translucent hue to bone china cups and dinnerware.

For bone china to be specified as bone china it has to contain a minimum of 36% of bone ash, plus it has to be fired in the kiln twice. If the product contains less than 36% of bone ash or is fired in the kiln just once it cannot be termed bone china but either porcelain or fine china.

Both fine china and porcelain are made from kaolin. The difference between the two is down to the firing temperature. Porcelain is fired in the kiln at a higher temperature to make it more durable than fine china.

If you hold any type of china up to the light, you will see the differences. Fine china and porcelain is usually heavier than that of bone china. Bone china is designed to be smoother, thinner and far more dainty but still very strong (not indestructible though!)

Some say that there’s something quite elegant and magical about drinking a cup of tea from real bone china

More Tea Cup Questions

What is the Tea Cup Saucer for When Drinking Tea?

Did you know that the tea cup saucer was originally invented as a sort of tea bowl to slurp from? And many people still do enjoy drinking their tea this way. Read more here about why and how the tea cup saucer was invented.

Read more: Is afternoon tea tea the same as high tea?

Does Bone China Make the Tea Taste Better?

This popular British belief is apparently true, bone china does make the tea taste better and there are many reasons for this. Bone china doesn’t absorb any of the tea aromas and flavours like other ceramics do and therefore providing a full-on tea tasting experience. The thinner and lighter bone china material adds a very dainty and classy feel. While the creamy-white translucent colour of the china perfectly compliments the hue of tea liquor.

However, because of the possible unethical practices of using bone ash in bone china, some companies are choosing to add jade as an alternative. Could this new vegan bone china be as good as the bone china that has been loved in England for the past three hundred years?

Do you have a favourite tea set? Leave a comment below!

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