Fashion is a strong reason to buy
For the discerning shopper selection of dinnerware is primarily based around fashion. In today's fast moving world, where casual dining has become the norm, our dinnerware often reflects our taste in food or the environment in which we use it. For example Mexican food might well be served in brightly coloured dishes decorated with peppers, spices and other vegetables reflecting the type of food we might eat..However the technical issues are a lot harder to assess and should also be valued highly!
What is ceramic dinnerware?
The word ceramic was derived from the greek word 'Keramos' meaning 'earthen vessel'. The word has now been applied to a wide range of products from terracotta to the finest bone china. Dinnerware and tableware are just two of the categories often used by stores to describe the end use of this range of ceramics.
Many types of ceramic are on display in shops and stores. These include terracotta, earthenware, stoneware, porcelain and bone china.
Often it just says china on the box but this means nothing as it is just another broad term implying it is a ceramic! But we already know that!
So just how do we identify the different types of pottery?
One way is to look at the colour of the body under the shiny glaze. The best place to do this is under the foot of the item as this is often unglazed. In order of pure whiteness the following is a generalised guide to the colour.
Terracotta bright red to red brown body colour
Stoneware pale brown to buff colour
Earthenware ivory to off white
Porcelain off white to blue white
Bone China creamy pure white
Bone China and Porcelain
The technical stuff
What does it all mean?
Once you know the type of ceramic you have some idea of the technical properties. Firstly it is a guide to the strength of the piece and means resistance to chipping,cracking and breakage. Secondly it is a guide to the cost. High quality bone china and porcelain manufacturers use highly refined materials and processes to 'design in' the whiteness,translucency and strength required by consumers. Consequently the cost is higher. However because of the inherent strength you might expect this type of pottery to last longer in use!
As in life things are never quite so simple. The manufacturers of other types of dinnerware (terracotta, stoneware,and earthenware) compensate for their lack of inherent strength by making chunkier pieces. All types of ware can be highly decorated with colour so this is not the differentiator.
So the shopper has a choice of chunkier less white designs or whiter more delicate designs!
What about dishwashing?
The chemical resistance to acids and washing detergents is also worth considering. Generally higher fired glazed tableware such as porcelain and stoneware have a higher intrinsic chemical durability and are 'unleaded' but this is not always the case.
Top brands now indicate their testing to BS or FDA standards and indicate their quality by labelling with 'dishwasher safe' and 'unleaded' or 'lead-free'. The Kite mark is also used as a sign of quality manufacture in the UK manufacture. The astute shopper therefore needs to look for these labels in determining value for money.
Fashion and technical performance are both important
In summary,shopping for dinnerware can be an enjoyable experience! Armed with a little technical knowledge it can be so much easier! Give at least equal weighting to to the technical performance as to the fashionable design in choosing your ceramic tableware.
More information and other technical articles on pottery and ceramics can be found at my website The Potters Friend. Go now to sign up for my free newsletter.