Making no bones about bone china

Vintage English tea cups

Fine English china and the pleasures of tea-drinking go hand in hand. The English are notoriously fussy about their tea cups. Not only do teacups have to look delicate and pretty, they have to be strong and durable and have excellent heat retention. The English like their tea scalding hot! Porcelain and bone china are ideal for making English tea sets. Both are known for their whiteness and translucency, high mechanical strength and chip resistance.

Bone china was invented in the late eighteenth century by English potter, Josiah Spode of Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire, nicknamed the Potteries. Spode was attempting to replicate the Chinese imported porcelain which was in high demand in Europe at that time.

What is the difference between bone china and fine porcelain?

Porcelain is a clay mixture that is fired in a kiln at a very high temperature till it becomes vitrified (glass-like). The end product is non porous, hard and translucent.

Antique bone china teacup (Spodes 1825) Enamel painted and gilded.
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Bone China has the same properties as porcelain but is made differently. Bone China contains up to 50 percent animal ash (mostly ox bone) mixed in with the clay. The bone is burned and ground to a fine powder before it is added. This gives the ware strength and excellent whiteness. The only difference between porcelain and bone china is the color. Porcelain has an off-white/greyish cast where as true bone china is snow-white.

Here are some totally impractical but fun tea cups for you to enjoy. I’d be a nervous wreck drinking tea out of one of these! Please vote for your favorite.

(Photos: courtesy


Teatime for the Firefly is Shona Patel’s debut novel. It is a love story set in a remote tea plantation in Assam, India. You can read the SYNOPSIS and the FIRST CHAPTER by clicking on the red links. Shona Patel is represented by April Eberhardt Literary.

15 thoughts on “Making no bones about bone china

  1. Well Ms Patel, this is so romantic! I know that a good tea can never be enjoyed without the right crockery. My lips are dry already, for that exquisite taste that brings my whole body, soul and mind, alive!


  2. These are beautiful collector’s item cups reminiscent of Tinkerbell and Wind in the Willows ~ not sure I’d drink out of them, but would love to have them in my crockery cabinet. However, like you said, the pleasure of drinking a really good cup of Darjeeling Tea is much enhanced when the cup is translucent and delicate.

    My vote goes to the one with the Poppies ~ never could resist Poppies!


  3. Hey Shona. I’m feeling the elephant one and the birds and the one that may have hippos. Or are those cows? Sometimes i muddle and muddle. Doesn’t tea clear the mind? Then again, that blue one is striking…

    Decisively yours,


    1. That calls for FOUR cups of tea, my dear. Not sure if tea clears the mind (think coffee does a better job of that) tea makes you wiser for sure: you feel more grounded and settled. Happy weekend!


  4. I never knew the difference between bone china and porcelain, Shona. Your explaination is fascinating. Imagine some person dreaming about making a better china and deciding to experiment with ground bone!
    I love the fanciful cups photos. They DO look delicate and impractical. I drink my tea from an obscenely large Starbuck’s mug, simply because I have to refill it less often. But it would be fun to drink from beautiful cups like those. I think I like the butterfly one best.


  5. I had no idea there was actually ground up bones in bone china! Ooh, so difficult to choose the cup I’d like to try drinking out of, but I think I probably couldn’t resist the little birds.


    1. Isn’t it kinda creepy – ground bones in your cup? Another interesting trivia I learned: prior to bone china, milk was poured into tea cups BEFORE the tea. This was because the china back then was “low-fire” and could not stand the heat of the boiling tea. Bone china became a symbol of the upper class who poured the milk AFTER the tea (fine bone china has much higher heat resistance). So which way you pour your tea shows your class. The fippery and snobbery of the Brits, I tell ya!


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