Continued from Tuesdays With Norwood: Rumors of Tea – Part 1

For years Europe heard rumors of tea from the missionaries who accompanied the explorers and traders to the Far East; the first definitive account is from the Italian Jesuit missionary to China, Matteo Ricci, a remarkable linguist, scientist, and Chris­tian teacher who lived in China from 1583 until his death there in 1610. He wrote home from Beijing about tea: “This beverage is always drunk, or rather sipped, hot, and on account of a peculiar mild bitterness, is not disagreeable to the taste; but on the con­trary is positively wholesome for many ailments if used often. And there is not alone a single quality of excellence in the leaf, for one surpasses the other…”

In 1610 the Dutch not only brought the first tea to Europe but also the name by which it has been known ever since. As we have seen, tea is ch’a (or cha) to the Chinese-but not to all of them. Denied access to Canton or Macao, the Dutch conducted their early China trade from Java in what is now Indonesia. Java was then a regular port of call for Chinese merchant junks and the Dutch obviously obtained their first tea from junks out of Fujian, the Chinese province opposite Taiwan. The Hokien or Fujian dialect word t’e descends from that used anciently by Confucius and is pronounced “tay.” Although Portuguese retains the Cantonese derived cha to this day, all other European countries, except Rus­sia, bought their first tea from the Dutch and learned from them to call it “tay” as well.