Tea, introduced into Europe from China in the early 1600s, is made from the leaves and buds of the Camellia sinensis. The Mandarin Chinese for tea is ch’a, which survives in English as char. The word tea itself is from the Amoy Chinese dialect word te. There are many varieties of tea. Darjeeling is from the Tibetan dojeling (diamond island); oolong from the Chinese wulong (black dragon); souchong from the Chinese siu chung (small sort); and pekoe is from the Chinese pekho (pek, white; ho, down or hair) – the tea is made from young leaves picked with the down still on.

Tea leaves are stored in a canister (from the Greek kanastron, a wicker basket) or caddy (from catty, the Javanese or Malay kati, a unit of weight of about .68 of a kilogram). The Russian tea urn, the samovar, means ‘self-boil’.

New Internationalist issue 352 magazine cover This article is from the December 2002 issue of New Internationalist.
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