Tea if by Sea, Cha if by Land: Why the World Only Has Two Words for Tea →


Nikhil Sonnad, writing for Quartz:

With a few minor exceptions, there are really only two ways to say “tea” in the world. One is like the English term—té in Spanish and tee in Afrikaans are two examples. The other is some variation of cha, like chay in Hindi.

Both versions come from China. How they spread around the world offers a clear picture of how globalization worked before “globalization” was a term anybody used. The words that sound like “cha” spread across land, along the Silk Road. The “tea”-like phrasings spread over water, by Dutch traders bringing the novel leaves back to Europe.

Seems we’re one of the few exceptions — it’s called “herbata” in Poland and I now wish it wasn’t.

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  1. Well, we are not that much of an exception. From wiki: “However, tea in Polish is herbata, which, as well as Lithuanian arbata, was derived from the Dutch herba thee, although a minority believes that it was derived Latin herba thea, meaning “tea herb.” So the “ta” part in our “herbata” has the same roots as English, German etc.

    • That’s true. However it doesn’t sound like it, when spoken — it’s much harsher.

      The word “czajnik” (chaynik) in Polish means “teapot” though. 🙃 Would that mean that tea came from both land and sea to this region of Europe?