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 koihai.com

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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.

A sippa or a cuppa –it’s all zen to me

Ah… tea and wine. Two drinks that make you surprisingly jolly and one can get you into more trouble than the other. I am talking about tea of course 😉

Historically, both tea and wine have been used as a stimulant and intoxicant. The caffeine is tea, though mild, is still addictive. This is why the Mormons don’t drink either. After all there is always a temptation to sit God down in the back porch and say “Hang on, I’ll be right back after that cuppa”. I plead guilty of such transgressions.

Yet both tea and wine are indelibly woven into history and deeply embedded into the ritual, religion and customs of the world. And the similarities do not end there:

A tea plantation in Assam. Learn more about Assam Tea Here.

Tea & wine both capture a sense of place: Terroir’ is a French word that means the combined effects of geography and climate on wine. In other words the soil, climate topography and seasons all play a role in determining the quality of grapes that go to make the wine. And every batch is different even though the wine may come from the same vineyard. Tea follows the same logic. The leading tea regions of India can be broadly compared to the French wine growing regions of Burgundy, Bordeaux and Languedoc. Also like wine, Indian teas are named after the place where they are grown– each tea carrying the distinct aroma of its region. Darjeeling, “the champagne” of teas” is pale in colour and has a natural delicate, muscatel-like flavour. Assam plays “burgundy” to Darjeeling’s “champagne”. The best Assam teas, particularly the 2nd flush teas, have a robust flavor and depth of color that is unmatched anywhere in the world.

Like wine, tea flavor involves both taste and aroma. Many teas and wines have their own intrinsic flavor with fruity, floral or woody notes. This should not be  confused  with herbal teas which have artificial or natural flavors added to a tea base. For example, the litchi flavour of the Gewurztraminer comes from the grapes grown in the Alsace region of northeast France.  Assam Teas have a deep woody note to them. Woody teas are a great after-dinner drink, and aid in digestion.

Fresh grapes, hand-picked makes the best wine

Hand picking ensures premium quality: Good wine and tea are never made from mechanically harvested crop: they are very carefully hand-picked. Exclusive wines are made from hand-selected grapes just as GFOP (Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe) the top grade Orthodox Assam Tea is made from hand-plucking only the pubescent tips of a tea bush. The fresh picked harvest has to be processed immediately while the leaves are still fresh to ensure optimum quality. The same goes with wine.

Tea leaves hand-plucked have to be processed within 24 hours otherwise it will spoil

Expertise and know-how are critical in tea and wine making. The decision of when exactly to finish the fermentation of rack a wine is as crucial as that of when to start or stop hand-firing a tea. That can only be learned by experience and determined by experts because wine and tea, are both living, artisanal product where top quality depends on instinct and knowhow.

Bacchus: The Roman God of Wine. To read more about the ceremonial uses of wine CLICK HERE.

Ceremonial & social uses:  In ancient Greece and Rome the mild intoxication offered by wine was valued as a means of

Click here to read an excellent article in Fresh Cup Magazine on the "Rituals, Rites and the Religion of Tea."

entering the irrational realm of Greek divinities. Buddhist monks use tea to help enter a meditative state. Rikyu, an influential historical figure who studied tea coined a phrase that roughly translates to, ‘You can either sit on a cushion to gain enlightenment or you can make a bowl of tea.”

So here I am sitting on a cushion AND drinking tea– that should qualify me for double enlightenment, don’t you think? So whether it’s a sippa or a cuppa, share one with me, will you? And cheers to you, my dear friends!:)

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Since the Book of Grapes (and DANG, it’s a good one!) has  already been written by Johnny Come-First, Shona Patel decided to write a story set in a tea plantation in Assam. You can read more about Teatime for the Firefly HERE.  Shona Patel is represented by April Eberhardt Literary

The soul-connect of books

Pressed leaf in a page of my book
My Empire Falls that got left out in the rain!

A paper book is not a dead tree: it’s a living thing. Each page whispers as it turns. Books absorb smells. The Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth I bought in India still smells of the mango pickle that came in the same suitcase. The Bhagawad Gita I picked up at the ashram smells of incense. Book have long memories. A dog-earned page will open willingly to your touch. Set a book open on its belly and the page will remember your forgetfulness. My copy of Empire Falls still chides me with its curled up pages from the time I left it out in the rain.

Found objects inside used books. Imagine my joy (followed by crashing disappointment!) when I found this fake million dollar bill!

I love used books. They carry the territorial markings of a previous owner. A coffee spill. A pressed autumn leaf. A single blond hair. Often I find slips with scribbled phone numbers, boarding passes, business cards, grocery lists (why is it predictable for someone who reads Jhumpa Lahiri to have Hummus and Pita bread on her shopping list?) Sometime a person will leave an actual bookmark inside. Once I found a commemorative bookmark for a two-year old baby girl who had died. It just broke my heart to see her little face. I used that bookmark to read Map of the World which is about a child who drowns. Later, when I donated the book to our local library I left the bookmark inside, thinking maybe it would touch another as it had touched me.

A page from an old copy of the I-Ching. The previous owner had made notes which intrigue me. The I-Ching is used by many for fortune telling. I use it as a spiritual guide.

I hate mindless highlighting and copious notes but tiny sribbles inside book pages intrigue me. I have a very old copy of the I-CHING with Heikki Nylund, Kalkata 1964 written in black fountain pen. The name sounds Finnish. I also bought an Amazon  “like new” copy of The Great Gatsby. with the inscription “Marla, I look in Gatsby’s heart and see mine. Ever yours, EM.” Evidentally Marla did not care because the book is brand new. Or maybe Marla died. Maybe they both died. Romeo and Juliet. Such useless imaginings tend to eat up my day but I can’t seem to help myself.

Ah and covers….I pause in my reading to turn back to look at them. I love the cover of Angela’s Ashes. The wee boy in his threadbare clothes– so poor but with such a cheeky attitude. It warms the cockles of my heart (If you want to know what “cockles” mean – here is your trivia for the day. Go on, get sidetracked and waste more time than you are doing so already).

Book publishing is in fast-food mode. Novels are now cheaply processed and readily available. Readers are snackers and nibblers: a taste of this and a wiff of that. There is lots of unhealthy consumption, poor digestion and tons of waste. I am not sure this is doing us a whole lot of good. In an excellent article The Slow Books Manifesto on The Atlantic, writer Maura Kelly says, “In our leisure moments, whenever we have down time, we should turn to literature—to works that took some time to write and will take some time to read, but will also stay with us longer than anything else. “

My favorite book of Rumi poems. The cover has a satiny feel and the pages a rough deckle edge. Just to hold this book in my hand and turn the pages pages good.

So what happens in the era of Kindle? Will bookshelves become redundant furniture like the old roll-top writing desk. Will bookmarks become quaint collectibles? How will we  hand-inscribe our favorite book to someone we love?  What about those exquisite books – the kind you want to run your fingers over and kiss, simply because they are so beautiful. Books are tactile: some covers have a bumpy emboss while others feel like satin. What about rough deckle-edged pages, stylish French flaps and pages with a real papery smell? Am I the only one still craving beautiful paper books? I leave you with this excellent TED TALK by Knopf book designer Chip Kidd. He echoes my thoughts. Won’t you share your thoughts, please?

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Teatime for the Firefly is my 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. I am represented by April Eberhardt Literary.
 

How do you feed your blog?

The blog is a beast! It has to be fed. Regularly. The portions have to be right. The food healthy. No junk. Beware of the dangers of over-feeding your blog! Blogging is addictive. Novice bloggers blog every cough, sneeze and whiff of air that blows through their lives.  It’s easy to overindulge the beast and just as easy to starve it. Actually overfeeding will lead to starvation and it’s eventual sad demise. Restraint and portion control are key.

Nothing depresses me more than the cry of a starving blog. It’s like that cute little thing I took for a walk, played around with, then shamelessly ran away when it was watching a squirrel. If you find abandoned blogs crying out my name, please say you don’t know me. I have nightmares about them. It is easy to father a blog, but hellish hard to mother one. It takes time and commitment: two godawful words that make me want to eat chocolate or take a nap.

Is Blog Neglect a crime? What about Blog Abandonment? An ethical dilemma, maybe,  but rest assured, the wild, wild web is alive and well. There is still land, lots of land under starry skies above and nobody gets fenced in, even though countless bloggers have wandered off into the sunset, after a joyful ride or two.

But I have a plan folks and laugh not, dear ones…

I will stock a wondrous pantry to feed this voracious blog. I am collecting canned goods to the stock the shelves. The plan is, when the fresh produce runs out, I will pull out the preserves. In other words, I want to prepare for periods of drought, when the brain runs dry and inspiration at a low ebb. I have an index file of blog ideas and articles. Colored index cards, no less. Green for TEA, orange for WRITING and pink for BLOGGING and yellow for OTHERS. I am writing in snips and pieces and filing the posts in draft mode. Is that sheer genius, or what? Before I hurrah myself into self-sabotage – this is the plan, folks. THE PLAN. Not choo-choo train chugging ahead.

If you must know me, I am erratic, unduly excitable and over-anxious. When I do – I do too much. I am the type who laughs till I cry. I have a morbid attraction for chocolate. I love some people so much I want to bring them home and keep them as pets. Not good is it? The middle path, the middle path, Shona, I remind myself. But why is it so hard? Stock up, breathe deep, be patient. I have a nice  collection in my blog pantry. Sometimes I wander in, just to admire the shelves. I have to fight the impulse to pull out all the goodies at once. Each post is like sharing a cup of tea with friends. I just have to remember not to bring out all the cookies at once.

OTHER RELATED POSTS
How I stay on track with my writing
Shona’s much-neglected KARMACHEF cooking blog

How do you manage your blog? How do you guard against brain drought and burn out? PLEASE TAKE THIS FUN POLL. Remember, your answers are anonymous.