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Tea Culture  |  4.15.2019  |  By S. Tasaki

The Origin of The Name “Tea”


Have you ever wondered how the name “Tea” came to fruition? The word “Tea” is used by all English speakers, however, the word for tea is a little different depending on where you are in the world. In this article, we’re going back in tea history to walk through the origin and evolution of the name “Tea.”

The Origin of the Name “Tea” in China

The character for “Dha” was used until the Chinese character for “tea” was established after the Middle Tang Dynasty. The Buddhist scriptures also applied the character “Dha” to the phonetic transcriptions of “Dha” (e.g., Gundari, Mandala, and Dove Vandala). It is presumed that as tea spread from the Yunnan area of its origin to Sichuan and Jiangnan in the Yangtze River basin, the use of the character “Dha” for words with pronunciations such as da came into existence. It is said that Lu Yu of the Tang Dynasty wrote the “Tea Sutra” and the use of one less stroke to distinguish the word “da” became widespread. The “Tea Sutra” lists five kinds of names, including “tea,” “Ka,” “Setsu,” “Mei,” and “Sen,” and more than 10 different kinds of characters were used in the book, including “tea,” “mei” and “sen.” As for “茗”, the term “茗 tea,” is still used to describe tea in modern Chinese.

tea and loose teas brewing in teapot

The Origin of The Name “Tea” in Various Languages

The origins of the name “tea” in the world are of the “cha” and “teh” lineage. In Northern Chinese and Cantonese, tea is called “cha” (cha). In Mongolian, Uyghur, Hindi, Turkish, Persian, Russian, and other languages, it is called with a sound of the “chai” strain, which is thought to have been propagated from China, but it is not known how the “y” was added. The Persian and Hindi dictionaries list both chā and chāi entries in the Persian and Hindi dictionaries. Examples of languages with names derived from “chā” include the following:

  • Chinese: chá
  • Tibetan: cha
  • Japanese: cha
  • Korean: 차 (cha)
  • Vietnamese: trà
  • Thai: ชา (chaa)
  • Tagalog: tsa
  • Mongolian: цай (tsai)
  • Hindi: चाय (cāe)
  • Persian: چای (chāy)
  • Turkish: çay
  • Arabic: شاي (shāy)
  • Swahili: chai
  • Greek: τσάι (tsai)
  • Romanian: ceai
  • Bulgarian: чай (chai)
  • Serbian: чај (čaj)
  • Czech: čaj
  • Russian: чай (chai)

a glass cup of tea next to a teapot on wooden tray

In contrast, many Western European countries use the tê system of pronunciation. It was spread to Europe via the Dutch, who brought tea from China to Europe in the 17th century. According to Chen Shun-sin, the Thirteen Groups of Cantonese, the patent traders of Gwangju who were allowed to trade from the mid-Qing dynasty, many of them were from Xiamen, Fujian,[28] and they called themselves tê in their own mother tongue, but they usually entered Malay from Fujian, and Dutch is thought to have borrowed from Malay. Languages in this family include:

  • Dutch: thee
  • English: tea
  • German: Tee
  • Hungarian: tea
  • Hebrew: תה [te]
  • French: thé
  • Spanish: té
  • Italian: tè
  • Scandinavian: te
  • Finnish: tee
  • Indonesian and Malay, teh (because of the history of Indonesia as a trading center for the Netherlands).
  • Sinhala, the language of Sri Lanka, where Ceylon tea is grown [tē], and Tamil தேநரர் [tēnīr] (from how the British brought tea cultivation to the country).
  • Portugal used to import tea directly from Macao, in Guangdong province, so it is exceptionally called chá in the West, following the name in Guangdong (it is pronounced “sha” in today’s Portuguese, but was once pronounced “cha”).

 

The Japanese tea sounds are the Wu sound “da”, the Han sound “ta” and the Tang sound “sa”. The sound “cha” is found in the “Colored Leaf Script Book” of the Insei period, and it is thought to have been introduced during the period between the Han and Tang sounds. In ancient times, “Chi-tsu” was not a breaking sound, but was written as “cha” and pronounced as “tae-ya”. In Korean, there are also two Chinese character sounds, “ta” and “cha”, but when referring only to tea, a plant, or beverage, “cha” is used.

We hope you learned something about the origin of the name, “Tea.” Click here if you are interested in learning more about the history of tea worldwide.

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