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In Mandarin Chinese, the word for ‘tea’ is ch'a—and when English-speakers first encountered tea in the late sixteenth century, this was the term they adopted for it, in various spellings such as chia and chaw: ‘Water mixt with a certaine precious powder which [the Japanese] use, they account a daintie beverage; they call it Chia’ (Robert Johnson, The World, 1601). It was t'e, in the Amoy dialect of southeastern China, which was eventually to provide the standard word for ‘tea’ in English, but char or cha has continued as a colloquial British alternative, particularly as reinforced by Hindi during the British occupation of India (whence the British military institution, a ‘cup of char’).

Subjects: Cookery, Food, and Drink.

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