Fire up the kiln, leaf lovers! When it comes to ceramics, let’s talk semantics.
Ever wondered what the difference between ceramics and pottery is? Thought, “what does the pottery term ‘variegated’ mean?” And what’s all this “reactive” stuff we’ve been hearing about lately?
Even if the scope of your ceramics knowledge only spans the two-minute pottery wheel scene from Ghost, never fear. The Tea Centre has put together in one easy-to-read blog all the facts you want to know about glazed ceramic teawares!
An introduction to ceramics
Let’s start with basic definitions first. “Ceramics” is an all-encompassing term for any products made from natural raw materials. Therefore, if you’re looking for metal teaware like our stainless steel teapots, best click here instead!
Furthermore, while glassware technically comes from natural raw materials (limestone, sand etc.), we don’t classify it as ceramic. This is because glass is an amorphous material that hardens from cooling down. In contrast, ceramics harden from being fired in high temperatures.
Historically, the first ceramics made were pots and statue; think famous Greek urns and the terracotta warriors in China. Pottery is a school of ceramics that only encompasses items made from clay. Pottery first came into play when humans made the wheel in 3,500 BC. A little while later, China invents the first ceramic teapot sometime during the Yuan dynasty!
However, it wasn’t until the Industrial Revolution that pottery goods became commercially valuable. In turn, modern teaware became ubiquitous with ceramics and accessible for all classes in the West.
These days, ceramic teaware falls into one of the four following categories: stoneware, earthenware, porcelain, and bone china. As for terms like “reactive” and “tenmoku”? These are references to certain types of ceramic glazing and are a whole other kettle of fish…
For the same reason that bakers ice a cake, a potter will glaze a ceramic—it makes everything look better and is an essential part of the recipe! You will notice that all of The Tea Centre’s teaware has a “glazed finish”. This is because glazing serves a safety as well as a decorative function.
A “glaze” is a semi-fluid crystalline substance that becomes solid and fuses to a ceramic item during the firing process. The firing process occurs in a kiln, oven or furnace. Depending on the type of glaze in use, this vitreous coating can give our teaware a high-gloss or matte finish. A glaze also guarantees that the product is impervious to leakage, breakage, and to some degree, heat. All of which are important attributes when we’re talking about brewing tea!
Reactive glazed ceramic teawares
Now that we’ve deciphered practical functions of glazing, let’s talk decorative! “Reactive” is a buzzword in the world of kitchenware, dinnerware, and teaware. However, we think this is for a good reason!
Reactive is a food-safe glaze that morphs and layers multiple shades of colour when fusing to a ceramic body during the firing process. As a result, reactive teaware often sports colour-varying speckles. The technical term for this type of pattern is “variegated”.
A beautiful example of this is The Tea Centre’s range of Ladelle reactive mugs. While also being fantastic to look at, people love reactive ceramics because the patterns are completely organic in how they form. A number of our “ombre” mugs and cups also boast reactive glazing.
This means that while a reactive tea set can all follow the same theme, each piece will have its own unique pattern! No two reactive ceramics are the same, even if they are created in the same way. You can see this for yourself by purchasing a pair of the “same” reactive mugs and comparing the differences in pattern.
Tenmoku glazed ceramic teawares
Tenmoku is a type of Japanese pottery that shares characteristics with reactive glazing—an onus of variability and randomness—but the result is much darker glazing patterns that have a history going back to the fifteenth century.
Another difference is that tenmoku glazes are always made from iron oxide, which results in a distinctly glossy as well as colourful glaze. Furthermore, tenmoku refers not just to a type of glaze, but the form of the teaware itself.
It champions simple and bold shapes that allow the glazing to shine. This is why you’ll often find tenmoku glazing on simple organic tea bowls. Many of our Japanese-made tea sets feature this glazing.
Specifically, our four-cup Japanese tea sets with tenmoku glazing are a perfect example of this. The glazing gives the set the look of traditional iron teaware while holding on to the practicality and durability of porcelain.
Turning your gaze towards our glazed ceramic teawares? You can start exploring The Tea Centre’s full range here!