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A truly excellent tea can be as layered and complex as a fine wine, and with a bit of practice you can learn to discern the exact origin...
We’re all about the art of the roast – the delicate process of balancing the bean’s natural flavours, causing it to change in colour, taste...
Some people count sheep to get to sleep. With 100 different teas to choose from, we’ve found a much better solution. True, our collection is huge. But you can choose to track down your tea by taste, by origin and even by number.
In 1886 our founder Walter Whittard set up his very first shop, filled floor-to-ceiling with the world’s finest tea, coffee and cocoa. Those brave new brews are now time-honoured classics and we’re still following our nose for the new…
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We recently visited one of our potteries in Stoke and thought we'd give you an insight.
Fine bone china, originated in Stoke in the 18th century, and is still made there today – it’s renowned for its whiteness, translucency, and resistance to chips and can last a hundred years. If you enjoy your tea served in fine bone china, you might be interested to know an item takes 5-7 days to produce - a long and involved process, requiring skill and great attention to detail.
Chris Carnall, Director of Operations, at one of our potteries in Stoke, gave us a tour and described the process:
First, rolls of fine bone china clay arrive like this:
They are then shaped by machines called ‘cup rollers’ (for mugs and tea cups) or ‘flat rollers’ (for saucers).
The mugs are ‘turned’ by machine to ensure a smooth finish, and then have handles applied by hand and are finished by hand, pictured here we have Carol, Julie and Michelle:
Other items are created using the ‘casting’ process by making the china into a liquid (slip) and coating the inside of a mold to create teapots, handles and other more complex shapes
‘Casting’ (20 mins) the mold takes 20 minutes, and slip is conditioned for one hour and then the excess slip is removed by hand and then dries in the mold for a further 2 hours and then is removed, after which a process called ‘fettling and sponging’ takes place.
Fettling involves using a blade to remove seams that have been left by the mold and the clearing of the spout. Sponging with a wet sponge, produces a smooth finish, as demonstrated here by Chris himself.
When the china is dry, items receive the first firing in the kiln at a temperature of 1240c degrees for 12 hours – this is called a ‘bisque’ firing. Items have to be carefully placed on stands by hand. Up to 2000 pieces can be fired at any one time.
Following the first firing, the bone china becomes much harder and stronger, this process is called ‘vitrification’
Following this first firing, they are hand dipped in ‘glaze’ which contains a blue dye to enable the dipper to see that the glaze has coated the item evenly. This process is called ‘dipping’ - Mark can dip up to 300 mugs an hour.
Glaze on the bottom of the item needs to be removed, by running the base over a moving fabric roll, as otherwise it will stick to the shelf during the second firing, Debbie pictured above.
The second firing is at 1100c degrees for 8 hours, during which the blue glaze becomes transparent and shiny - the item is termed ‘ white glossed ‘. Fine bone china has the benefit of maintaining its strength, even when it is very thin.
Following this firing, the patterns are applied using transfers. This is very intricate work and is all done by hand. (Emma above left, and Sue above right) The transfers have a yellow organic coating that enables the pattern to be removed from the paper – this is called ‘slide-off lithographing’, the item then receives a final firing, about 6 hours at 800c degrees. This matures the colours into the glaze, revealing the finished article which is now durable and dishwasher safe.
The final product, our new Blue Chintz fine bone china collection being packed and dispatched. Thank you to everyone involved in our tour of the pottery, especially Chris. Here's a preview of our beautiful new range - coming soon...
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