• Tea


    • enPR: tÄ“, IPA: /tiː/
    • Rhymes: -iː


    Circa 1650, from Dutch thee, from Min Nan 茶 (Amoy dialect), from Proto-Min, from Old Chinese, ultimately from Proto-Sino-Tibetan *s-la ("leaf, tea").

    Introduced to English and other Western European languages by the Dutch East India Company, who sourced their tea in Amoy; compare Malay teh along the same trade route. Ultimately cognate to chai, from same Proto-Sino-Tibetan root; see discussion of cognates.


    The word for “tea” in many languages is of Sinitic origin (due to China being the origin of the plant), and thus there are many cognates; see translations. These are from one of two proximate sources. The word for tea in modern Min Nan is tê and in Mandarin is chá (both written as 茶); this divide dates to Proto-Min/Middle Chinese, though the two terms share the same Proto-Sino-Tibetan root. Different languages borrowed one or the other form (specific language and point in time varied), reflecting trade ties, generally southern Chinese tê if by ocean trade from China, or northern Chinese chá if by overland trade or by ocean trade from India.

    The World Atlas of Language Structures Online, “Chapter 138: Tea”, by Östen Dahl

    Thus Western and Northern European languages borrowed tê (with the exception of Portuguese, which uses chá; despite being by ocean trade, their source was in Macao, not Amoy), while chá borrowings are used over a very large geographical area of Eurasia and Africa: Southern and Eastern Europe, and on through Turkish, Arabic, North and East Africa, Persian, Central Asian, and Indic languages. In Europe the tê/chá line is Italian/Slovene, Hungarian/Romanian, German/Czech, Polish/Ukrainian, Baltics/Russian. tê was also borrowed in European trade stops in Southern India and coastal Africa, though chá borrowings are otherwise more prevalent in these regions, via Arabic or Indic, due to earlier trade. The situation in Southeast Asia is complex due to multiple influences, and some languages borrowed both forms, such as Malay teh and ca.

    Full definition of tea



    (countable and uncountable; plural teas)
    1. (uncountable) The dried leaves or buds of the tea plant, Camellia sinensis.
      Go to the supermarket and buy some tea.
    2. (uncountable) The drink made by infusing these dried leaves or buds in hot water.
      Would you like some tea?
      • 1922, Ben Travers, A Cuckoo in the Nest Chapter 2, Mother...considered that the exclusiveness of Peter's circle was due not to its distinction, but to the fact that it was an inner Babylon of prodigality and whoredom, from which every Kensingtonian held aloof, except on the conventional tip-and-run excursions in pursuit of shopping, tea and theatres.
    3. (countable) A variety of the tea plant.
      Darjeeling is a tea from India.
    4. (uncountable) By extension, any drink made by infusing parts of various other plants.
      camomile tea;  mint tea
    5. (countable, Australia, British, Canada, New Zealand, northern US) A cup of any one of these drinks, often with a small amount of milk or cream added and sweetened with sugar or honey.
    6. (countable, Southern US) A glass of iced tea, typically served with ice cubes and sometimes with a slice or wedge of lemon.
    7. (uncountable, UK) A light meal eaten mid-afternoon, typically with tea.
      Kids, your tea’s on the table!
    8. (uncountable, New Zealand, British, Australia) The main evening meal, irrespective of whether tea is drunk with it.
      The family were sitting round the table, having their tea.
    9. (cricket) The break in play between the second and third sessions.
      Australia were 490 for 7 at tea on the second day.
    10. (slang, dated) Marijuana.
      • 1940, Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely, Penguin 2010, page 103:So they were evidence. Evidence of what? That a man occasionally smoked a stick of tea, a man who looked as if any touch of the exotic would appeal to him. On the other hand lots of tough guys smoked marijuana ....
      • 1946, Mezz Mezzrow and Bernard Wolfe, Really the Blues, Payback Press 1999, page 74:Tea puts a musician in a real masterly sphere, and that's why so many jazzmen have used it.
      • 1947, William Burroughs, letter, 11 Mar 1947:Here in Texas possession of tea is a felony calling for 2 years.

    Usage notes

    In many places tea is assumed to mean hot tea, while in the southern United States, it is assumed to mean iced tea.



    1. To drink tea.
    2. To take afternoon tea (the light meal).
      • 1877, The Bicycling Times and Tourist's Gazette (page 38)The wind was high and the hills ditto, and both being against us we were late in reaching Hitchin (30 from Cambridge), so giving up the idea of reaching Oxford we toiled on through Luton, on to Dunstable (47), where we teaed moderately ...


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