Tea Etymology

Where does the word ‘tea’ come from?

Tea was originally called tu, as referred to in ancient texts from the Zhou dynasty around 700 B.C. describing its use in religious ceremonies. The Chinese ideogram cha, which is almost exactly like the character tu, with a minor difference, first appears in written texts around 725 A.D. Today, the word for ‘tea’ in most of China and Japan is ‘cha,’ however the derivation ‘te’ (pronounced ‘tay’) is used in the Fujian province of China, where tea first began its growth campaign through Fujian sources by early Dutch traders. For this reason, the word ‘te’ caught on and most of the world now uses that word, or its derivation, ‘tea’ (it is still pronounced ‘tay’ in many western countries, such as Ireland and Scotland).

Where tea was spread through other trading channels, such as Russia, the Middle East, Portugal, and even the city of Dublin, it is called ‘cha’ or a variation of that. The British military even used the term ‘char’ in the 19th and 20th centuries. For north America, however, the term ‘tea’ stuck as a derivation of the Fujian pronunciation.

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