Earthenware: Guide to know it and how to choose it

The manufacturing of plates, cups, and vases dates back to the oldest civilizations, each contributing its own evolution. Throughout the centuries, pottery for everyday use has been a silent witness to history, evolving from basic utensils into objects of design and artistic expression.

We will explain where pottery comes from, what it is exactly, and its differences from other types of ceramics.

You will also have a mini guide on how to choose and assess its quality.

Fine Earthenware Tableware
Fine earthenware tableware from Lapoteriedememe

Get to Know Pottery: Origin and Evolution from Clay

Where Does It Come From?

The adventure of earthenware begins at the dawn of civilizations, where necessity led to the discovery of clay as a material for storing and transporting food. These humble beginnings marked the birth of one of the world’s earliest crafts.

It originated in river basins like the Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates, where this art was forged, perfected with each stroke and ancient hands’ kneading. From the rudimentary nature of the earliest containers to the elegance of Chinese vessels, earthenware has been shaped both by necessity and aesthetics, evolving with human history.

Its presence in pop culture and its evolution

In popular culture, earthenware has been both utilitarian and symbolic. Depicted in paintings, mentioned in literature, and found in every household, this type of baked clay reflects the values, aesthetics, and technology of its time. From the hefty medieval plates to delicate Victorian porcelain on dining tables, earthenware, along with cups, soup tureens, etc., has told the story of social classes, artistic movements, and industrial advancements.

Its evolution is a mirror of fashion and customs, revealing changes not only in tastes but also in lifestyles. Today, in an era that values tradition as well as innovation, earthenware continues its journey, showcasing new forms and fulfilling new roles in our modern lives.

What is earthenware?

This is a term commonly used to refer to various types of ceramics, including tableware and other items made from clay and other ceramic materials that are hardened by heat.

It is characterized by being less porous and more refined than more ordinary ceramics, though it does not reach the fineness and strength of porcelain. It can be glazed or enameled to achieve a waterproof surface and can come in a wide variety of colors and decorations.

Italian Earthenware
Tazón de loza italiana de Ceramiche Arte Parrini

In everyday context, when talking about “earthenware,” it often refers to plates, bowls, cups, and other kitchen or dining utensils used to serve and consume food. These items are an integral part of home culture and gastronomy, and their design can vary greatly, from traditional shapes and decorations to modern and minimalist designs.

Its creation is an age-old practice, with techniques passed down and refined through generations. While many pieces are now mass-produced in factories, there is still significant value in handmade earthenware crafted by ceramic artisans, who keep traditions alive and bring a unique touch to each piece.

Types of Earthenware

Fine Earthenware and Porcelain

Fine earthenware is known for its delicacy and exquisite finish. It differs from other ceramics due to its more refined composition and being partially translucent. It is fired at higher temperatures, resulting in greater hardness and density, making it resistant to daily wear and tear.

Porcelain, considered by many as the gem of ceramics, takes fineness to another level. Its immaculate whiteness and translucency are the result of a specific composition of kaolin, feldspar, and quartz, and a firing process at even higher temperatures than fine earthenware. Porcelain is admired for its beauty and durability, often becoming an object of collection and decoration.

We will explain the main differences further below.

Portuguese Earthenware
Hand-painted Portuguese earthenware plate by Gowardand Green

Common Earthenware or Everyday Use

Common earthenware, also known as everyday use, is the most robust and less expensive type compared to fine earthenware. It is manufactured to withstand frequent use, making it thicker and less prone to break or chip.

Its characteristics include a composition that incorporates coarser-grained clays and firing at lower temperatures. This results in a variety of functional items such as plates, bowls, and pitchers that serve the daily needs of households around the world.

This category is the most common on the average dinner table and is often glazed to add color and decorative patterns.

Differences between Earthenware, Ceramics, and Porcelain

Delving into the fascinating world of ceramics, we find a spectrum of materials that, at first glance, may appear similar but hold notable differences.

Ceramics is the general category that includes everything made from clay that has been hardened by heat. Under this broad umbrella, two main types are primarily distinguished

Italian tableware
Hand-painted Italian earthenware tureen by Ceramiche Arte Parrini

Composition and Quality

Earthenware is typically composed of clay mixed with other minerals, giving it a more earthy and porous quality after firing.

Porcelain, on the other hand, is made from a specific material called kaolin, along with feldspar and quartz. When subjected to high temperatures, exceeding 1200°C, it acquires a vitreous texture and superior strength.

While earthenware may have a coarser texture and a greater tendency to absorb water if not glazed, porcelain, due to its vitrification during firing, is impermeable even without glazing.

Aesthetics and Functionality

In terms of aesthetics, earthenware tends to be more opaque and less refined than porcelain, making it a practical choice for everyday use.

Porcelain, with its fine and often translucent finish, is usually reserved for formal occasions or display.

Earthenware can be decorated with painted or stamped designs on its surface, while porcelain is often left white or adorned with more elaborate patterns and sometimes gold or silver details.

Ceramic Tableware
Ceramic Tableware by Konsimo

Durability and Use

In terms of durability, earthenware is less resistant to high temperatures and chipping compared to porcelain. This makes porcelain more suitable for purposes that require high standards of hygiene and resistance, such as medical and high-end restaurant environments. However, the sturdiness of earthenware makes it the preferred choice for the daily hustle and bustle of family kitchens and dining rooms.

The choice between earthenware and porcelain can depend on both the intended use and personal preference. While some people prefer the strength and luster of porcelain for their celebration tables, others opt for the warmth and solidity of earthenware for everyday use. What are your preferences when it comes to choosing between these two beautiful products of human craftsmanship?

The Earthenware Manufacturing Process

The act of shaping this type of ceramic begins with the selection of suitable clay, followed by its kneading and purification. Then, in the workshop, imagination takes shape under the skilled hands that mold the clay. The kilns come to life, hardening and sealing the pieces in a dance of fire and time. Glazes and paints add their voice to the chorus, culminating in a symphony of color and luster that gives character to each creation.

Tips for Choosing Our Tableware

Define the Use

Consider whether the tableware will be for daily use or special occasions. Everyday earthenware should be durable and easy to clean, while you can opt for more elaborate and delicate designs for festive moments or formal dinners.

Check Compatibility

Ensure that the tableware is compatible with the appliances you plan to use. Check if it can be used in the microwave, if it’s dishwasher-safe, or if it can be placed in the oven if you need to heat food directly in it.

Rustic Plates and Cups
Rustic-style Plates and Cup by Vera Bollenbach of WurzelWeltRaum

Choose a Style that Reflects Your Personality

This ceramic material offers a wide range of styles, from contemporary designs to classic patterns. Choose one that complements your dining room’s decor and speaks to your personal style.

Think About Durability

High-quality earthenware can last for many years. Consider investing in tableware made from durable materials that can withstand bumps and scratches.

Size and Storage

Take into account the available storage space. Tableware can take up a considerable amount of space in kitchen cabinets, so it’s advisable to choose pieces that can be stacked safely and efficiently.


Set a budget before you start your search. There are tableware options available for all price ranges, and defining a budget will help narrow down the choices.

Consider the Environmental Impact

If you’re concerned about sustainability, look for earthenware tableware produced in an environmentally friendly manner and that promotes responsible practices.

Rustic Tableware
Provenza-style Earthenware Pieces by Wood History

Buy Additional Pieces

It’s a good idea to purchase some additional pieces so you can replace any items that break or get damaged in the future, especially if you choose a design that may stop being produced.

Try Before Buying

If possible, handle the tableware pieces before making the purchase. This will give you an idea of how they feel in your hand, how much they weigh, and if you truly like them.

By following these tips, you can choose earthenware tableware that is not only beautiful but also practical and durable, accompanying you in many memorable moments around the table. What do you value most in tableware, aesthetics or functionality?

How to Evaluate the Quality of Earthenware

  • Visual Inspection: Observe the uniformity of the glaze and check for bubbles, cracks, or imperfections. Colors should be solid and consistent.
  • Touch: The surface should be smooth to the touch, and the edges should not be sharp or rough.
  • Weight and Balance: Quality pieces have a substantial weight without being excessive and should be well-balanced.
  • Sound Test: Tap it lightly, you can use your nail or a ring. A clear, ringing sound indicates high quality, while a dull sound may suggest defects.
  • Durability: Look for information about the manufacturing process and potential durability guarantees.
  • Appliance Compatibility: Ensure it is suitable for the microwave, dishwasher, and oven if necessary.
  • Check Labels and Marks: Look for certifications that guarantee the safety of the tableware in terms of lead and cadmium content.
  • Return Policy and Replacement Parts: Verify the return policy and the availability of replacement parts.
  • Brand Research and Reviews: Investigate the brand’s reputation and read reviews from other customers.


Earthenware is a presence in every home, from plates to cups, and it is also a decorative resource.

It is important to consider its durability, resistance, and the ecological aspect of preserving this type of material for our tableware.

I hope I’ve provided you with keys to better understand this material and choose the most suitable pieces.

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Note: This article contains links that lead to the artists’ stores outside of the Ceramicartis website. If you buy something from them, we will receive a small commission that will help us to continue our site and in turn continue to support those artists.
This of course does not affect the selling price.

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