For our purposes, we will say “Tea” is an infusion of the leaves and leaf buds of closely related plants in the Camellia family, Camellia sinensis.
The tea plant, Camellia sinensis, is native to China. It is now grown in other regions of the world, but all tea plants originated in one of several regions in China.
Most tea is Camellia sinensis var. sinensis, but there are thousands of varieties and cultivars.
The Cantonese word for tea is “Ch’a” in Cantonese and written as follows:
As you can see above, the character for tea is made up of three parts, the character for “grass”, the character for “Man standing at his place on earth”, and the character for “Tree”. (And, actually, the word, “Ch’a” refers to “early picked” tea, like green tea. Later picked tea is called “Ming” or “Chuan”.)
According to this website, Tea Names:
“The original English pronunciation of the word tea was tay and it’s usage can be traced back to around 1655 when the Dutch introduced both word and beverage to England. This pronunciation can still be heard today in certain British dialects. The pronunciation tee also originated in the 1600’s but only gained predominance after the late 18th century. Both words may have come from the Malay teh or the Chinese (Amoy dialect) t’e.”
So, languages which call it something like “Tea” are derived from the Malay and Southern Chinese name for tea and those that call it something like “Cha” are derived from the Cantonese name. The Dutch, British, and Americans call it something like “tea”. The Indians and Russians call it something like “Cha”. Basically, the word your language uses for “tea” indicates the trading partner your language originally got its tea from. If you traded with the Dutch or English to get your tea, you call it something like “tea”. If you traded with the Chinese, you call it something like “Ch’a”.
In China there are 6-8 different types of tea, primarily distinguished by either their geographic production areas or their method of production.
The six primary types are:
Then there are a couple special sub-categories which are sometimes treated on their own, sometimes not:
But before we get to discussing tea varieties, we’ll talk a bit more about the tea plant and tea farms.