Etymology of the Word Tea

Although there are a few minor exceptions in which the word tea is pronounced, the two most common ways are the English pronunciation and the lesser known Afrikaans variant tee. In India, tea is often referred to as chai.

These pronunciations hold a common origin and share the same root within Chinese history. The concept, of which these words spread, offers a distinct view of globalization in ancient times. The term chá was popularized along the ancient Silk Road trade route.

The word chá (茶) is “Sinitic, which implies it’s origination to many varieties of the Chinese language. Along the silk road the word even traveled to Persia where the word evolved into chay (چای). Records exist which show that tea was traded as far back as 2,000 years ago. After making it’s way to the southern regions of the sub-Saharan Africa, the term changed it’s pronunciation yet again and became known as tee.

Even the Japanese and Korean terms originate from the Chinese term chá, as China was the first country which saw tea as a potential agricultural crop, and was responsible for it’s eventual popularity.

The Chinese character for tea (茶) is even pronounced differently among differing regional dialects, despite it always being written the same.

Of course, this bit of history doesn’t account for the Western tea pronunciation.

The European pronunciation was used alongside coastal regions of China and spread through-out trade routs to Europe. The dutch people were major traders with Asia in the 17th century. The common pronunciation grew popular in dutch trade harbors. From there the lingo traveled to France and was pronounced thé. In Germany it was pronounced Tee. As mentioned previously, in England, you would find the pronunciation .

There are a few other pronunciations in other countries such as Burma where it is pronounced lakphak but this is rather uncommon in the modern world. These other, lesser known terms, are very regional and not widely used.

Travis Joynson

Travis Joynson

Travis Joynson is the founder and chief editor of the Professional Tea Taster.

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