The Origin of the Word "Tea"

Aside from water, green tea is the world's most consumed beverage. It has been estimated that over one-half of the world's population drinks tea. Although England and other Northern European languages share a liking for tea with the rest of the world, the word they use, "tea," is far different than the sounds that the rest of the world uses for the drink.

A Brief Look into the Origin of Tea

Chinese myth attributes the origin of the drink cha, Chinese for tea, to King Shen Nong, also known mythologically as the father of agriculture and medicine. It was decreed by King Shen Nong that for health reasons his subjects must boil water before drinking it. One day as Shen Nong sat in the shade of a tea tree boiling water to drink, a light breeze blew some of the tea leaves into his kettle; when he drank the infusion he marved at its delicious taste and at once felt invigorated. Tea had been invented. King Shen Nong is then purported to have recommended it to his subjects saying, "tea gives vigor to the body, contentment to the mind, and determination of purpose."

Although the famous ninth century Tea Master Lu Yu affirms that tea was discovered by, "King Shen Nong," a king named Shen Nong probably never lived. In China's ancient history, Shennong was the name of a primitive farming tribe. It is supposed by scholars that one clever Shennong chieftan, whos name has been lost to antiquity, had invented plowing tools and discovered the uses of medicinal herbs, including tea, which earned him the status of divinity and the name King Shen Nong, the Father of Tea.

There is also a Japanese ledgened as to the origin of tea and the tea plant itself. It involves Bodhidharma, an Indian monk who is fabled to have brought Zen Buddism to China. the following story relates an event that occurred after Bodhidharma, who had been sitting facing a wall during nine years of meditation, and who had fallen asleep during the fifth year:

"Bodhidharma fell asleep during his devotions, and upon awakening, he cut off his eyelids and threw them on the ground. Where they fell, a bush appeared. Its leaves, infused in water, created a liquid that prevented sleep."

Both of these myths are interesting and although they may have some historical significants, the following explanation on the origin of tea from William H. Ukers's book, All About Tea, may be more historically accurate:

"...the Chinese learned the use of the tea drink from aboriginal tribesmen of the hill districts bordering on Southwestern China (part of what is refered to in the fable Cha Pu as, 'Mother Nature's Tea Garden'). These tribesmen occasionally prepared a beverage by boiling raw, green leaves of wild tea trees in kettles over smoky, outdoor fires. This was the earliest, cude beginning of what the Chinese and Japanese later developed into a socio-religious rite of exquisite refinement."

"Thoughout the earlier centuries of its use, however, the tea drink always was taken, either primarily or secondarily, as a medicine; this aspect was never forgotten, and its Chinese and Japanese protagonists regarded it as a remedy for every human ailment."

It was around 350 AD, Kuo Po, a Chinese author of the Jin Dynasty (260-420 AD), revised the ancient Chinese dictionary, the Erh Ya. It included the first published account of methods of planting, processing, and drinking tea. It was not until the mid Tan Dynasty (618-907 AD), that a man named Lu Yu summarized the knowledge and experience of his predecessors and contemporaries into the world's first compenduim on tea, Ch'a Ching, "The Classic of Tea," also known as, "Cha Jing." This very detailed work helped to popularize the art of tea drinking, not only throughout China, but also in Korea, Japan, and Southeast Asia.

When Ch'a Ching was written during the Tang Dynasty, the so called Classical school of tea, cake tea, that was boiled, was being prepared. During the next dynasty, the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD), the Romantic school, powdered tea, that was whipped, was in use, and by the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD), the Natuarlistic school, the use of leaf tea, that was steeped, came into practice.

From Cha to Tea

Now, to address the matter at hand. How did we get from the Chinese, "cha," to something like, "tea?" Let us once again start from the beginning; as with most things, there is significant points in history to be aware of.

Initially, in the ancient Chinese written language a distinct character meaning tea did not exist. Instead, another character tu which means, "sow thistle" served dual purpose to carry the meaning of tea. This double meaning led to much confusion.

Some of the ambiguity was eliminated when an emperor in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) ruled that the character tu should be pronounced cha when meaning tea and tu when in reference to sow thistle. It was not until the 8th century AD that cha was finally given its own character. Ancient tu and cha are nearly identical with cha having one of the horizontal strokes on the middle vertical stroke from tu removed.

Now enter modern Chinese. The Chinese character cha now contains two different readings, "cha," and, "te," (rhymes with English, "hey," and falls between in English pronunciation of sounds, "tay," and, "day"). Variations of these two different pronunciations originate from different dialects of Chinese. Countries importing tea from the South of China, Guangzhou (Canton), borrowed the Cantonese sound cha. Macao, adjacent to Guangzhou, until the end of 1999 had still been under Portuguese authority. Therefore, the Portuguese incorporated the word cha for tea into their own language. Other examples of countries that imported this reading in supposedly the same way include Turkey ("Chay"), Japan ("Cha"), India ("Chaaya"), and Russia (also, "Chai").

Languages of countries that imported the leaves from the North of China, the port of Xiamen (Amoy), adopted some variation of the sound te. As Guangzhou was Portugal's trading center, Xiamen was the Netherland's port of trade. Accordingly, the Dutch word for tea, "Thee," originates from te. Dutch traders did business with many other countries and variations of their word, Thee, became part of other languages. Some examples include Spain ("té"), Germany ("Tee"), and of course the subject of this work— England ("Tea"). It should be mentioned however, that it is was likely that the original pronunciation of the English Tea was most likely, "tay."

Evidence of a Pronunciation Dichotomy

History reveals direct evidence of a very early dichotomy of the pronunciation of tea and cha in the form of an advertisement that ran in British newspapers in 1658. The ad, placed by Thomas Garway, a tea merchant, reads as, "...that excellent and by all Physitians approved China Drink, called by the Chineans Tcha, by other Nations Tay, alias Tee."

The first Englishman to mention tea in writing was R.L. Wickham. In a letter dated June 27, 1615, he requested that a branch office of the East India Company, for whom he was an agent, send to him a, "pot of the best sort of chaw." Chaw being another variation on the word cha. However, as modern English is proof: tea was the pronunciation to be adopted.

Tea in Other Languages

For your reference and enjoyment, here is how to say tea in other languages:

Tee Root:

Cha Root

Other/Unknown Root

If you know one that is not listed above, please /msg a_p the language and pronunciation.

People who want to drink non-herbal tea, yet want to avoid caffeine, are generally out of luck, as the number of flavors of tea that come decaffeinated. But it is easy to decaffeinate your own tea. Here are the steps:

  1. Steep the teabag in boiling water for 30 seconds to 1 minute (the advised time varies depending on the expert). You only need to cover the bag in water, not fill up the cup.
  2. 80% of the caffeine has now been leeched out of the bag. Pour out the water.
  3. Fill the cup with hot water and re-steep.
  4. Enjoy!

Simple tips for brewing better tea

Erh sort of simple, anyway. For the Martha Stewart, Frasier Crane snob in you

1. Start with cold water and don’t let it boil for to long. Cold water has more oxygen in it and as you boil the water the oxygen is driven out. The more oxygen the tastier the tea. Have you ever drank a glass of water that has been sitting out for a day or so? Gross eh. That’s because all of the O2thats naturally dissolved in the water has leached out.(thanks to my former roommate for this one. Though I thought he was a freak at the time but he was right, Well he is a freak but that ‘s not the point)

2. Use a tea pot and tea cozy If you are regularly drinking tea alone and won’t drink the whole pot just fill the pot part way and dispose of the rest, making your tea in a single cup tends to make it bitter and it will cost the same (a tea bag or two) plus you will reap the benafits of point 4. The tea cozy is to keep the tea hot longer. This is helpful if you like your tea strong or will be enjoying it over a long period of time. (yes I was the only 21 year old male she knew that owned a tea cozy and ya she dug it). Make sure to remove the tea bag when the tea is at your desired strength or it will end up getting bitter and nasty.

3. Heat the tea pot. If the kettle you are using is large enough use some of the boiled water before you put the tea bags in and swirl it around(carefully as you don’t want that water hitting you). If your tap is hot enough fill the pot and let it sit while you are boiling the kettle. This method is easier(for the terminally lazy like myself) and less dangerous. This is a good idea as you want the water to be as hot as possible while it is steeping and get all that loving goodness out.

4. Do not under any circumstances wash your tea pot. I hear shrieks of that’s Gross/unhealthy/dangerous when in fact it isn’t, well dangerous/ unhealthy anyway. This one sounds strange but in fact it's an old English tradition. I can taste the difference between a cup of tea from a pot that has a few years of use and hasn’t been washed and on that has. The accumulated build up on the side gives the tea a subtly, fullness and robustness that is otherwise lacking. My mother has a strange story/urban legend she tells when ever this subject comes up about a maid from North America working in England who washed the family tea pot and was fired on the spot. I don’t know if it’s true or not but I have heard that they can be quite fanatical about it. Incidentally, make sure that you don’t leave tea with the tea bag in it in the pot for a long period of time. The bitterness from the tea will permeate the build up on the inside of the pot and you will have to scrub it off and start all over again(Unless you want all of your tea to have a bitter tinge to it I suppose)

This practice is quite safe as there are no animal fats present. Animal fats are where you get the nastier bacterial food poisons that can kill you. Any bacteria present will be relatively harmless and will likely be killed when you pour boiling water on them. History bears this out. The English have been doing this for years and I haven’t heard of anyone dying of tea poisoning.

These tips are meant mostly for non-herbal tea though I suppose you could apply them to herbal tea if you want certainly 1. and 3. apply. I if so I suggest that you keep a separate tea pot for your herbal tea(yes I know I am a fanatic) I also suggest that you wash out the herbal tea pot. You don’t want the taste of various herbal concoctions mixing together and blurring the distinct flavors of the herbal tea or marring the subtleties of the normal tea. I am not insane enough to suggest that you consider getting a different pot for each of the different types of tea (i.e. black, orange pekoe, ect.)

Once upon a time in ancient China, there was a wise and benevolent emperor who went by the name of Shen Nong. The Emperor took a great interest in science, and would always take the time to listen to the newest advances that people in his court would present to him.

When the Emperor heard that water became more hygienic when boiled, he quickly sent out an edict that required all drinking water to be boiled prior to consumption.

One day, while he and his court were travelling about the countryside, surveying the outlying regions of his kingdom, the Emperor decided to rest for the night. In preparation for dinner, the servants began to boil water. While the water was boiling, however, some dried leaves fell from a bush into the pots, and the water took on a strange, brown hue.

The servants were going to throw out the water, but the Emperor took an interest in the liquid, and tasted it. He found it very refreshing, and decided that he should like to take some of these plants back to his capital, so that he might have more of the drink.

The popularity of tea spread throughout all of China, and over the centuries, it became an integral part of Chinese culture. In 800 A.D., Lu Yu wrote a book on tea called the Ch'a Ching. The book discusses the many methods of tea cultivation and preparation which had developed in China over the several thousand years since the brew was first discovered.

The Zen Buddhist priest Yeisei was the first to bring tea to Japan, seeing the value of tea as an aid to meditation. Like in China, the Japanese Emperor took an immediate interest in the drink and, through his sponsorship, tea became popular in his country, as well.

Tea eventually became so important to the Japanese and their culture, that Chado (lit. The Way of Tea) was created. The Japanese Tea Ceremony is among the highest forms of art in Japanese culture, and it takes a lifetime of practice to perfect.

Tea first came to Europe in the 16th Century, when Portuguese traders began establishing trade routes into the Far East. Tea was nowhere near as popular in the West as it had been in the East at the time of its discovery, but this is mainly due to the high cost of importing tea at the time.

Eventually, as Eastern culture swept through the West as what was chic among the aristocracy, tea, too, became popular.

This is the story of tea's trek across the globe.

For further reading, investigate the John Company, the East India Company, afternoon tea, scones, crumpets, coffee houses, tea gardens, the Boston Tea Party, the Opium Wars, Tea Plantations, iced tea, tea bag, English breakfast tea, Irish breakfast tea, Caravan tea, Earl Grey tea, Darjeeling tea, Oolong tea, Green tea, Keemun tea, teapots, Ikkyu, Murata Shuko, Sen-no Rikkyu and how to drink tea.

Tea teas:

* not noded yet.

See Also:

A normal cup of tea

What is a normal cup of tea, I hear you say? Considering there are about a million flavours and types, I hear you add? Well, believe it - there is such a thing as a Normal cup of tea. Actually, the normality of tea is so finely described that there are 21 ISO standards for tea!

an ISO - standard cup of tea

Please note that none of these ISO standards have been noded, as the standards themselves seem to be copyright protected. (I might be wrong, but I couldn't find the actual ISO standards for making tea anywhere).

*) This one (ISO 3103) is in effect the ISO standard version of "how to make a decent cup of tea". As a matter of fact, the BS 6008, which is the original 5000-word version of this document, written by the British Standards Institute, won a literature award! Silly britons.

Source: Accessing the ISO database and searching for random things - tea being one of them

TEA, the Tiny Encryption Algorithm, is a block cipher designed by David Wheeler and Roger Needham in 1994 while at the Computer Laboratory at Cambridge University. The idea was that unlike more complicated algorithms (such as Twofish or DES) it could be programmed quickly from memory, or from a text description. In this sense it is similar to RC4 (another easy to remember algorithm), though a block cipher is actually much more useful than a stream cipher like RC4, as it is easy to turn it into a stream cipher or hash function if needed.

The design of TEA is based around the idea of taking a quite simple structure and iterating it a lot of times. In this case, 32 times, rather than the more typical 12-16 rounds used by other block ciphers (a notable exception being Serpent, which also uses 32 rounds). In fact, the algorithm is so simple that it is described using the following C code (taken from the paper, but cleaned up a bit).

/* v holds the 64 bit data block, k holds the 128 bit key */
void code(unsigned int v[2], unsigned int k[4])
   /* set up */
   unsigned int sum = 0, n = 32;
   unsigned int y=v[0], z=v[1];   /* set up */
   unsigned int delta=0x9e3779b9; /* a key schedule constant */
   while (n-->0)
      { /* basic cycle start */
      sum += delta;
      y += (z<<4)+k[0] ^ z+sum ^ (z>>5)+k[1];
      z += (y<<4)+k[2] ^ y+sum ^ (y>>5)+k[3];
      } /* end cycle */

I've changed the code to use int instead of long, because these days long is often 64 bits, which is not what was intended (remember, this code was written in 1994, when DOS was everywhere and very few 64-bit machines existed). I've also changed the brace formatting to Whitesmith, because everyone knows this is the one true brace style (just kidding, put the torches away...)

TEA is, if nothing else, very cute, but there are some problems that arise from its simplicity. In particular, the complete lack of a real key schedule opened it up to several attacks, which were later fixed by a modification, called XTEA. Another problem is that an ambiguity in the C code (not helped by the lack of test vectors or textual description), resulted in two different implementations of TEA, one correct, and one not. Also, no endian conventions were ever defined (though almost universally, implementations use big-endian).

So, in conclusion, TEA is kind of neat, but not something you should be using in any product; the simplicity of it is nice, but not worth it given the number of problems it has.

  • TEA, a Tiny Encryption Algorithm;
  • Related-Key Cryptanalysis of 3-WAY, Biham-DES, CAST, DES-X, NewDES, RC2 and TEA;
  • Tea Extensions;

Tea (?), n. [Chin. tsha, Prov. Chin. te: cf. F. th'e.]


The prepared leaves of a shrub, or small tree (Thea, Camellia, Chinensis). The shrub is a native of China, but has been introduced to some extent into some other countries.

Teas are classed as green or black, according to their color or appearance, the kinds being distinguished also by various other characteristic differences, as of taste, odor, and the like. The color, flavor, and quality are dependent upon the treatment which the leaves receive after being gathered. The leaves for green tea are heated, or roasted slightly, in shallow pans over a wood fire, almost immediately after being gathered, after which they are rolled with the hands upon a table, to free them from a portion of their moisture, and to twist them, and are then quickly dried. Those intended for black tea are spread out in the air for some time after being gathered, and then tossed about with the hands until they become soft and flaccid, when they are roasted for a few minutes, and rolled, and having then been exposed to the air for a few hours in a soft and moist state, are finally dried slowly over a charcoal fire. The operation of roasting and rolling is sometimes repeated several times, until the leaves have become of the proper color. The principal sorts of green tea are Twankay, the poorest kind; Hyson skin, the refuse of Hyson; Hyson, Imperial, and Gunpowder, fine varieties; and Young Hyson, a choice kind made from young leaves gathered early in the spring. Those of black tea are Bohea, the poorest kind; Congou; Oolong; Souchong, one of the finest varieties; and Pekoe, a fine-flavored kind, made chiefly from young spring buds. See Bohea, Congou, Gunpowder tea, under Gunpowder, Hyson, Oolong, and Souchong.

K. Johnson. Tomlinson.

"No knowledge of . . . [tea] appears to have reached Europe till after the establishment of intercourse between Portugal and China in 1517. The Portuguese, however, did little towards the introduction of the herb into Europe, and it was not till the Dutch established themselves at Bantam early in 17th century, that these adventurers learned from the Chinese the habit of tea drinking, and brought it to Europe."

Encyc. Brit.


A decoction or infusion of tea leaves in boiling water; as, tea is a common beverage.


Any infusion or decoction, especially when made of the dried leaves of plants; as, sage tea; chamomile tea; catnip tea.


The evening meal, at which tea is usually served; supper.

Arabian tea, the leaves of Catha edulis; also Bot., the plant itself. See Kat. -- Assam tea, tea grown in Assam, in India, originally brought there from China about the year 1850. -- Australian, ∨ Botany Bay, tea Bot., a woody clambing plant (Smilax glycyphylla). -- Brazilian tea. (a) The dried leaves of Lantana pseodothea, used in Brazil as a substitute for tea. (b) The dried leaves of Stachytarpheta mutabilis, used for adulterating tea, and also, in Austria, for preparing a beverage. -- Labrador tea. Bot. See under Labrador. -- New Jersey tea Bot., an American shrub, the leaves of which were formerly used as a substitute for tea; redroot. See Redroot. -- New Zealand tea. Bot. See under New Zealand. -- Oswego tea. Bot. See Oswego tea. -- Paraguay tea, mate. See 1st Mate. -- Tea board, a board or tray for holding a tea set. -- Tea bug Zool., an hemipterous insect which injures the tea plant by sucking the juice of the tender leaves. -- Tea caddy, a small box for holding tea. -- Tea chest, a small, square wooden case, usually lined with sheet lead or tin, in which tea is imported from China. -- Tea clam Zool., a small quahaug. [Local, U.S.] -- Tea garden, a public garden where tea and other refreshments are served. -- Tea plant Bot., any plant, the leaves of which are used in making a beverage by infusion; specifically, Thea Chinensis, from which the tea of commerce is obtained. -- Tea rose Bot., a delicate and graceful variety of the rose (Rosa Indica, var. odorata), introduced from China, and so named from its scent. Many varieties are now cultivated. -- Tea service, the appurtenances or utensils required for a tea table, -- when of silver, usually comprising only the teapot, milk pitcher, and sugar dish. -- Tea set, a tea service. -- Tea table, a table on which tea furniture is set, or at which tea is drunk. -- Tea taster, one who tests or ascertains the quality of tea by tasting. -- Tea tree Bot., the tea plant of China. See Tea plant, above.<-- In Australia and New Zealand, tea tree refers to a tree or tall shrib, Leptospermum scoparium, having white bell-shaped flowers. The leaves are used to prepare an infusion; an oil, tea tree oil, is also derived, and claimed to have therapeutic properties, as for healing burns of the skin. --> -- Tea urn, a vessel generally in the form of an urn or vase, for supplying hot water for steeping, or infusing, tea.


© Webster 1913.

Tea, v. i.

To take or drink tea.



© Webster 1913.

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