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Tea

The Chinese leaf that conquered the world

There are roughly two ways to say tea in the world. One is like the English expression – thee in Dutch, tee in German or thé in French. The other is a variation of cha – chay in Russian, chai in Swahili or shay in Arabic. Both variations come from China. The words that sound like cha spread across the land, the tea saying spread over water.

The term cha – Chinese for tea – originates from central China and made its way through Asia – along the Silk Road over 2000 years ago – becoming chay in Hindi and Persian.
But the Chinese character for cha is pronounced as te in the Min Nan variety of Chinese, spoken in the coastal province of Fujian.
This te form spread to Europe via the Dutch East Indian Company, who became the primary traders of tea between Europe and China in the 17th century.

Yet the Dutch were not the first in Asia. That privilege belonged to the Portuguese, who didn’t trade through Fujian but Macao, where cha is used. That’s why of all Western European countries only Portugal uses the cha word for tea!

Although it’s fairly commonly known that tea originated in China, it is far less known that it was a particular Portuguese woman, who inspired its popularity in England. Let’s go back to 1662, when Catherine of Braganza – daughter of Portugal’s King John IV – married England’s King Charles II, and became the Queen of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Travelling up north to join her husband, she is said to have taken along loose-leaf tea, that was popular among Portugal’s aristocracy.

When Catherine arrived in England, tea was being consumed there only as herbal medicine and very expensive. The reason for the cost was that England had no direct trade with China and the small quantities the Dutch were importing were so pricey, that only the wealthiest could afford it. Tea became associated with the elite women’s society around the royal court, of which Catherine was the famous centrepiece.

‘The best of Queens, and the best of herbs, we owe
To that bold nation, which the way did show
To the fair region where the sun doth rise,
Whose rich productions we so justly prize.

( Birthday ode to Queen Catherine. Edmund Waller, 1663 )

Aproveite sua semana                   Enjoy your week          (pic 2 qz.com)