tea (n.)

1650s, tay, also in early spellings thea, tey, tee and at first pronounced so as to rhyme with obey; the modern pronunciation predominates from mid-18c. But earlier in English as chaa (1590s), also cha, tcha, chia, cia. The two forms of the word reflect two paths of transmission: chaa is from Portuguese cha, attested in Portuguese from 1550s, via Macao, from Mandarin (Chinese) ch'a (cf chai). The later form, which became Modern English tea, is via Dutch, from Malay teh and directly from Chinese (Amoy dialect) t'e, which corresponds to Mandarin ch'a.

The distribution of the different forms of the word in Europe reflects the spread of use of the beverage. The modern English form, along with French thé, Spanish te, German Tee, etc., derive via Dutch thee from the Amoy form, reflecting the role of the Dutch as the chief importers of the leaves (through the Dutch East India Company, from 1610). Meanwhile, Russian chai, Persian cha, Greek tsai, Arabic shay, and Turkish çay all came overland from the Mandarin form.

First known in Paris 1635, the practice of drinking tea was first introduced to England 1644. Meaning "afternoon meal at which tea is served" is from 1738. Slang meaning "marijuana" (which sometimes was brewed in hot water) is attested from 1935, felt as obsolete by late 1960s. Tea ball is from 1895.

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Definitions of tea

tea (n.)
a beverage made by steeping tea leaves in water;
iced tea is a cooling drink
tea (n.)
a light midafternoon meal of tea and sandwiches or cakes;
an Englishman would interrupt a war to have his afternoon tea
Synonyms: afternoon tea / teatime
tea (n.)
a tropical evergreen shrub or small tree extensively cultivated in e.g. China and Japan and India; source of tea leaves;
tea has fragrant white flowers
Synonyms: Camellia sinensis
tea (n.)
a reception or party at which tea is served;
we met at the Dean's tea for newcomers
tea (n.)
dried leaves of the tea shrub; used to make tea;
they threw the tea into Boston harbor
the store shelves held many different kinds of tea
Synonyms: tea leaf