If you look around the world, you might notice that there are two ways to designate 'tea'. One consists of variations of the English term tea, such as thee in Dutch. The other is some variation of 'cha', like chay in Hindi.
Both versions come from China. The words that sound like 'cha' spread across land, along the ancient Silk Road. The 'tea'-like phrasings spread over water, by Dutch traders of the vOC, the very first to bring tea to Europe.
The Chinese character for tea, 茶, is pronounced differently by different varieties of Chinese, though it is written the same in them all. In today’s Mandarin, it is chá. But in the Min Nan variety of Chinese, spoken in the coastal province of Fujian, the character is pronounced te.
The te-form, used in coastal-Chinese languages spread to Europe via the Dutch, who became the primary traders of tea between Europe and Asia in the 17th century. The main Dutch ports in east Asia were in Fujian and Taiwan, both places where people used the te-pronunciation. The Dutch East India Company’s expansive tea importation into Europe gave us the Dutch thee, French thé, the German tee and the English tea.
A few languages have their own way of talking about tea. These languages are generally in places where tea grows naturally, which led locals to develop their own way to refer to it. In Burmese, for example, tea leaves are lakphak.
The map demonstrates two different eras of globalization in action: the millenia-old overland spread of goods and ideas westward from ancient China and the 400-year-old influence of Asian culture on the seafaring Europeans of the age of exploration.