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LEXICON

 

 

cha (ชา, 茶)

Thai-Chinese. ‘Tea’. Name of a small tree of which its dried leaves are soaked in hot water to make the beverage tea. Tea can be cultivated in humid warm to hot climate, and in subtropical countries usually at a height of 1,000-2,000 meters. In the hills and mountains of northern Thailand, conditions for cultivating tea (fig.) are especially suitable. In the province of Chiang Rai the area around Doi Mae Salong (1,350 meters) has many tea plantations, as well as factories and teashops, and also in Ban Rak Thai, in Mae Hong Son, tea is cultivated. Both places are founded by the Chinese Kuomintang. In tea plantations in China, sometimes goats are released to help get rid of weeds, as goats do not eat tea leaves and will hence pick out all other weeds. In Bangkok's Chinatown several teashops and teahouses (fig.) can be found, often serving their clientele from large copper kettles, though at home it is typically served into small cups, that are part of a set called chut nahm cha (ชุดน้ำชา - fig.). Certain tea sets also come with a small cylindrical smelling cup, which captures the aroma (fig.). It is filled up first and from it the tea is then poured into the drinking cup. Immediately after pouring out the tea, the fragrance smelling cup, which in Chinese is called pin ming bei (品茗杯), is held to the nostrils in order to sniff up the aroma of the brewed tea. In China, tea is a symbol for friendship and camaraderie (fig.), and Chinese people always use tea to welcome guests in their home, filling a cup of tea for only seven-tenths of its capacity, believing that the other thirty percent will be filled with friendship and affection, in line with Confucius' wisdom: ‘behave toward everyone as if receiving a great guest’. The English word ‘tea’ allegedly derives from the Hokkien language spoken in the Chinese precinct of Fujian, where the locals called it ‘thee’. Early Dutch traders, who exported the dried leaves to Europe, also called it ‘thee’, from where it spread and became known by this name. Having the same pronunciation as the Dutch letter ‘t’, the word ‘thee’ translated into English as ‘tea’ (t), hence its etymology. In Thai and Chinese, it is called ‘cha’, a word that possibly comes from ancient Central Chinese, where it was earlier called ‘sha’, a word meaning ‘to look for’ or ‘to check’ and may be referring to the early beginning when people still had to look for the leaves in the forest, or it may refer to the tea-pickers, who have to look for the best leaves among those of lesser quality (fig.). This then later changed into ‘cha’. The Chinese character for the word consists of several pen strokes of which two of them look like crosses (++) and represent the tea leaves. The part that looks like an upward arrow, stands for the top of the tree, whilst the middle part represents its trunk. In Diyu, the Chinese realm of the dead, a drink known as the Five-flavoured Tea of Forgetfulness is given to the souls, in order to cause permanent amnesia, ensuring that the souls, who are ready to be reincarnated, do not remember their previous lives or atonement in hell. The invention of tea is ascribed to the Chinese deity Shen Nong, god of agriculture and founder of Chinese herbal medicine (fig.). In Myanmar, tea leaves are not only consumed as a drink, but also eaten as a salty and oily snack, which is referred to as laat hpaat, i.e. tea leaf salad (fig.),  a delicacy of pickled tea leaves mixed with other ingredients, usually served in a special lacquerware tea leaf salad bowl called laat hpaat khwat. The bowl consists of a footed platter, that can be closed off with a lid, and which is divided in different compartments (fig.), similar to a Japanese bento. Typically, the tea leaf salad is placed in a rounded section in the centre, which is surrounded by 5 fan-shaped segments, that contain other munchies, such as fried garlic, shredded ginger, peanuts, sesame seeds, broad beans, etc. See also Camellia, tea ceremony, Lu Yu, Cha Ma Dao, and coffee.