Every country has a favourite drink. The Russians have their Vodka, the French their Wine, the Germans their Beer, Turkey has Coffee and we Indians have our Chai, or tea. The Indian Chai or the Chai tea is actually famous the world over; anywhere you travel in Asia, Europe and USA, you are bound to find a cup of hot, freshly brewed black tea that has been sweetened with sugar and milk and brought to that perfect boil. From Indian ginger tea to Indian spiced tea, you will find many variants to sample, having captured the essence of the finest of tea blends from the Indian subcontinent.
But if you are a globe trotter, we bet you have wondered many a times how to say “tea” in other languages….and we’re sure you have actually added quite a few new words to your Tea-tionary. So here is an article that will get your brain cells working a little extra hard to master some new terms you didn’t know, making the experience of enjoying your favourite cuppa, a pleasure.
Cha, tea, cutting, chai, masala chai, ginger tea – you know it by many names here in India. It’s the world’s most relaxing and soothing drink; unlike coffee that gets your blood racing and puts you in high gear, tea will soothe and calm the mind. Enjoyed for generations, tea has become the world’s second most favourite drink after water, and beats coffee hands down. With its many varieties, blends and scrumptious flavours, tea has won the hearts of people across the globe because it is not only a treat for the senses, but also comes with many health benefits. Every country, every culture and every region has its own unique way for preparing a calming cup and they all seem to give it a new name – each fit and worthy of being memorized if you are a real tea enthusiast.
For the true tea aficionado, who likes to travel the world in their quest to sample the finest and rarest of tea, here is a closer look at the language of TEA.
The Language of Tea
Tea originated in China, so it goes without saying that the first words used to describe tea were Chinese as well. The character used for tea in authentic Chinese is 茶, but it may be pronounced differently in different parts of China. Most words for ‘tea’ in languages all over the world have a Chinese influence to them, but what varies is the route this word took to reach that part of the world. Dutch traders adopted the word for ‘tea’ as thee, while the Malay/Indonesian and Javanese call it teh.
If you are ever in China and wish for a cup, the Mandarin word is ‘Cha’, but it’s also pronounced ‘Te’ in Southeast Asia and the Central Coast of China.
Now here are the interesting details about these words – Te, came from Taiwan and the Fujian Province, from the Amoy tê. The word travelled from there to the West through the port of Xiamen through Western European Traders and came to be known as ‘Tea’ universally. Now Cha is the Cantonese version and was the term used in ports of Macau and Hong Kong, other major trading areas, especially in the 16th century with the Portuguese traders. It’s these very same Portuguese traders who brought the samples and the word for it to India, where Cha becameChai. It was also picked up by the Persians and they added to it their own grammatical suffix –yi, and then passed on the word to become a part of many other languages like Urdu, Turkish, Russian and Arabic.
But languages that are more closely related to Chinese, for example Tibetan, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean and Zhuang probably picked up the term for tea long before these new-age terms were coined. That’s why in these countries, the pronunciation for tea still retains the terms ‘da’ and ‘ta’ from the Tang dynasty court.
Today ‘Tea’ is a universal term and while you may find a cup of tea anywhere in the world without really having to use the local term, it’s interesting to note that a large number of languages use native denominations, especially areas where the tea plant may grow locally. Keep in mind, in some languages the local word for tea might not really be to describe the tea leaves or the simple tea infusion, but the local infusion they make with their own cultural additives for the final drink.
Tea Lingo for the tea-aholics
If you are going to be travelling abroad and want to make sure you know exactly how to ask for a cup without having to open a tourist dictionary, here is how you say the word ‘Tea’ in other languages.
- French: le thé
- Swedish – te
- Finnish – tee
- Italian – tè
- Danish – Te or The
- Greek – τσάι (tsai)
- Malay – teh
- Portuguese – cha ((pronounced ‘shah’)
- Chinese – t’e, or ch’a
- Persian – chaai
- India – Chai
- Korean – cha
- Russian – chay
- Arabic: chai or shai
- Bulgarian: chai
- Croatian: caj (pronounced chai)
- Dutch: thee
- English: tea
- Afrikaans: tee
- German: der Tee
- Hebrew: teh
- Hungarian: tea
- Irish: tae
- Indonesian: teh
- Japanese: o-cha
- Korean: cha
- Latvian: teja (pronounced tay-ya)
- Malay: teh
- Maltese: te
- Norwegian: te
- Polish: herbata
- Romanian: ceai
- Sinhalese (Sri Lanka): thé
- Spanish: el té
- Swahili: chai (pronounced cha-i)
- Taiwanese: de
- Thai: chah (chah yen refers to iced tea)
- Tibetan: cha or ja
- Turkish: cay (pronounced chai)
- Urdu: chai
- (North) Vietnamese: che
- (South) Vietnamese: tra (sometimes pronounced cha or ja)
- Yiddish: tey
- Zulu: itiye
Pronunciations of “Tea” around the world
The pronunciation for tea also varies across the globe, reflecting again on the course tea took to reach that particular country through China. Etymology is indeed every bit as part of tea history and culture! If the above mentioned list has your mind reeling, what can be a welcome relief is that some of the terms that can get you a hot cup of your favourite beverage anywhere in the world seem to be –Cha, Chai, Tea, Té and Te.
Cha: Used in Cantonese, Tibetan, Korean, Sinhalese and even Bengali. A little variation with pronunciation, where the ‘a’ takes a rising tone or become ‘shah’ will also be the perfect way to say tea in Somali, North Vietnamese, South Vietnamese and Thai.
Chai: Apart from Hindi, there are many others languages that use ‘chai’ or a similar sounding word for the world’s favourite beverage, even though the written spellings might all be different. These are Arabic, Macedonian, Bulgarian, Russian, Persian, Slovenian, Turkish, Slovak, Ukrainian, Greek, Romanian, Swahili, Serbian, Czech, Croatian, Wolof and Urdu.
Tea: The universally understood word for tea, the many variations in spellings might change from country to country but the pronunciation doesn’t vary much (will adopt local accent though). The same word will fetch you a hot cup when spoken in Hungarian, Basque, Afrikaans, Finnish, Dutch, Esperanto, and German apart from English of course.
Té: Sounds much like tea, but this is the term to use should you be speakingFrench,
Irish, Latvian, Galician, Catalan, Haitian Creole, Luxembourgish, Spanish and Yiddish.
Te: Some languages that use the TE without the accent above are Norwegian, Swedish, Italian, Icelandic, Armenian, Maltese, Malay, Hebrew, Indonesian and Welsh.
Many names for our beloved Chai in India too
While you will find a hot cuppa anywhere in India if you use the term ‘Chai’, the word ‘Masala Chai’ has what made the Indian Chai famous the world over. Even in India, you will find that different states, cultures and castes might have their own name for tea! The Bengalis call is Cha, the Gujratis call it Chiya, and in Kannada it’s called Chaha while in Malayalam it’s called Chaya. In Oriya its Cha, in Tamil its Theneer, in Telugu its ṭī while in Nepali its Cheeya.
That’s how vast the vocabulary of tea really is!
And if you are going to be travelling abroad, you might as well sample some of the finest teas from the region to pick your favourite in advance, simply by ordering a small pack online at this amazing tea store!
For more information or to SHOP ONLINE for different kinds of Teas: Visit – Teabox