Growing up, tea at Nana J. was always served in a tea cup with a saucer. She told me (more than once) that tea should always be served in a china cup. I’m certain she wouldn’t be impressed with the paper cups and stainless steel travel mugs I carry with me every day. But before we answer today’s question, To China or Not to China, what is “china”?
“China” or “porcelain” is mostly fine kaolin clay, which lacks flexibility and can crack and deform when it is subjected to rounds of high heat for long periods of time. The end result is a strong, chip-resistant product that appears smooth and delicate. Bone china is even thinner (and therefore more difficult to produce), and milky white because it has an extra ingredient, bone ash. Bone ash comes from incinerated animal bones. Yummy! But while bone china appears more delicate, the softer glaze on it makes it more resilient to chips and cracks.
China is non-porous, a very important detail in the “to china or not to china” debate.
Professor Andrea Sella from University College London studied the chemistry of tea. He found that the smooth surface of china “ keeps the natural tannins in the tea from sticking to the side”. Tannins are calming and balance the stimulating effects of caffeine. They are present in organic matter, including leaves and relate to the antioxidant benefits of black or dark teas.
When we eat or drink, we taste with all of our sense. Porous materials absorb and retain flavour and aroma, which can alter the intrinsic bouquet of your tea. A non-porous or smooth cup allows the undiluted and unadulterated essence of your tea to float freely.
China cups have thinner walls and a thinner rim, which lets the tea pour smoothly onto the whole tongue, exposing more taste buds to the warmth and flavour of the tea. And despite being a delicate material, china cups keep tea warm longer. And we know warm tea invites long, warm conversation.
China tea cups may not be practical when it comes to everyday use, but there is something special about sitting down (alone or with a friend) with a pretty cup and saucer. In our casual and increasingly busy world, we don’t take time to savour these beautiful things. Plus the sounds, such as a teaspoon clinking against its surface are fun. 🙂
“The daintiness and yet elegance of a china teacup focuses one to be gentle, to think warmly, and to feel close.” – Carol and Malcolm Cohen
Regardless of how you choose to answer the question “To China or Not to China”, Dr. Tom Stafford, psychologist from Sheffield University, says, “It might be irrational or arbitrary but it’s absolutely true. Your daily brew tastes better from your favourite mug”.