Tea, Chai, Camellia; One Plant, Many Words

Photo for article: Tea, Chai, Camellia; One Plant, Many Words

From the mountainous region of Southwest China, across the perilous oceans to the dainty tea rooms of London, and to the lazy afternoons of the South, tea has had a social and cultural impact on our lives. Whether one drinks it hot or cold, in a tea cup or mug, iced or sweet, with milk or a slice of lemon, made with loose leaves or a tea bag, there are so many ways to drink it.

Camellia sinensis, or tea, native to Southeast Asia and spread across East and South Asia, began as an ordinary plant to become one of the most cultivated in the world. Its origins begin in the Yunnan Province of China, where it is believed that people first began to eat or brew the leaves. Tea has been consumed in China for millennia; there are different accounts as to when and where did drinking tea began. Because of time and various regions, many ways of preparing it developed. From the seventh to ninth centuries of the common era, the Japanese and Koreans became acquainted with the drink through contact with China’s Tang dynasty. European merchants in the 16th and 17th centuries discovered the drink while trading with China. It wasn’t until the 1700s that tea began to be drunk in Europe and its colonies in the Americas.

Etymologically, tea has a fascinating history. Depending on the trading routes that brought tea back to Europe, European merchants learned two different words for the drink. In the 16th century, the Portuguese, who were the first Europeans to have contact with the plant, traded for tea in Macau, where a Cantonese-speaking population called it chah. Naturally, the Portuguese called it chá. A century later, the Dutch began importing tea to Europe, but they acquired it from Amoy, now Xiamen in southern Fujian Province of China. The Dutch called the valuable leaves thee after the Hokkien word for it – teh. Hokkien is a language spoken in southern Fujian. Once tea was introduced to Europe through the Dutch, ‘thee’ became ‘Tee’ in German, ‘thé’ in French, ‘té’ in Spanish, and of course ‘tea’ in English. Continue reading to learn more about the history of tea…

Photo for article: Tea, Chai, Camellia; One Plant, Many Words

Now, the history of tea in English-speaking areas of the world cannot be complete without chai. From the Indian masala chai to the American chai latte, the word ‘chai’ has had a fascinating trajectory. Mandarin chá has been traded travelling along the Silk Road. Through this route, tea has travelled through Central Asia, where the speakers of many Turkic languages have called it chay. Tea reached Persia, where it was called chāī, then the Persianized Turkic peoples introduced the tea drinking to the Indian subcontinent. When the British colonized India, Indians began to move throughout the British Empire, where they took their specific way of preparing tea with aromatic spices. As Indians starting immigrating to the United States, eventually, masala chai became known throughout the general public, but American coffeeshops made it popular as a latte.

From China to the U.S., tea as a word can only give us a glimpse of how humans interact with what the earth gives us. However, what is more palpable, is our interaction with each other through material goods. Many different cultures around the world have developed simple to elaborate ceremonies just for the consumption of tea. As we become more aware of the growing trend of globalization, we realize that this trend is as old as tea.

Velázquez Press
Author: Velázquez Press

Velazquez Press has been the preeminent authority in Spanish and English Dictionaries for over 150 years. Founding date 1852 Products Spanish and English Dictionary, Word to Word Glossary, Spanish and English Software https://velazquezpress.com/

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