is it tea or cha?

Tea originates from the Yunnan region of China, dating back thousands of years. Today, the beverage has sprouted and taken roots in nearly every culture in the world. Almost every culture calls the drink the same thing: either tea or cha. However, why one or the other? A minor variation in spelling does exist, but pronunciations are relatively the same. 

The difference of what country picked up what word has been found to correlate to how tea expanded from China directly. If tea was brought via land, like along the Silk Road, then the term cha was used. If tea was brought via water, like by the Dutch to Europe, then the term tea was used. 

Along the Silk Road, from China to Persia -- you'll notice the Sinitic term (or a variation thereof) cha is used. Chay in Urudu, shay in Arabic and chay in Russian, chai in Swahili, to name a few. 

Tea that began its exportation from coastal regions, like Fujian, used the Min Nan variety of Chinese, calling the beverage te. This then spread to Europe with the start of the tea trade with East India Company in the 17th century, giving us the variations of thé in French, Tee in German, and tea in English. 

One exception here is the Portuguese, who use chá. This is because, the Portuguese started importing from the Macao region, where the term cha was prominent. The map above is an interesting representation of different eras of globalization in action, through the dissemination of tea. 

Content and Image Source: The Quartz 

Leave a comment