The Names for Tea

The original English pronunciation of the word tea was tay and it's usage can be traced back to around 1655 when the Dutch introduced both word and beverage to England. This pronunciation can still be heard today in certain British dialects. The pronunciation tee also originated in the 1600's but only gained predominance after the late 18th century. Both words may have come from the Malay teh or the Chinese (Amoy dialect) t'e.

The Tea plant itself:

   Cha, another word for Tea

The Mandarin Chinese ch'a is also the origin of tea-terms found in other languages. Every language's word for tea has its origin in either of these two Chinese words: t'e or ch'a. The Dutch and the Portuguese, the original and major importers of tea to Europe and the Middle East, probably introduced these words (at least into European languages). A table of t'e-derived and ch'a-derived terms might indicate the Dutch and Portuguese trading partners of the 17th century:


Pronounced "tay" in dialect of Amoy derivations below

Te (Malayan) derivations below

Pronounced "Ch'a" in pure Cantonese derivations below

( Picked early = Cha. Picked late = Ming, or Chuan)