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Tea from around the world

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Across languages, there are two primary ways of referring to the golden liquid we all love – chai or tea.

English (tea), Dutch (thee), Tamil (te-neer) or Hindi (chai), Persian (chay), Arabic (shay)

The reason is interesting, showing how the imprint of globalization remains on languages.

Tea originated in China and it was represented by the letter “?” – this character was called “cha” in Mandarin spoken in mainland China and “te” in Min Tan variety of Chinese, spoken in the coastal province of Fujian.

The countries that got tea via China through the Silk Road (land) referred to it in various forms of the word “cha”. On the other hand, the countries that traded with China via sea – through the Min Tan port called it in different forms of “te”.

Interestingly, Portugal traded with China from the Macaw port instead of Fujian and thus uniquely adopted cha, in contrast with its neighboring countries.

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