What is a Tea? Te, Chay or Cha?

There a lot of definitions of what is a Tea. My version is the following: In sensu stricto, tea is an infusion of the Camellia sinensis leaves and leaf buds. Camellia sinensis is the scientific name of the plant that produces tea. Oolong, green, white and black teas are examples of these teas.

In sensu amplo, the word tea is an infusion of seeds, roots, flowers, bark, fruits, leaves, spices and its combinations. It is common to call the non Camellia sinensis teas “herbal teas” or “tisanes”. The “tisanes” are typically non-caffeinated brews.

Usually when we say the single word tea, we are talking about regular black tea. All other teas have two words to describe the type of tea, e.g., Masala Tea, Honey Dew Tea, Ginger Tea, Lemongrass Tea, Mint Tea, etc.
If you are in a foreign and want to order a tea, one of the three words (te, chay or cha) will get you a tea. What is called commonly tea may have a different way to brew and serve from country to country, but it will be a tea.

The name Camellia is the Latinized surname of the botanist Georg Kamel, and sinensis means Chinese in latin.

Interesting message in a teacup on the Alitalia flight from Rome to Verona last week.

Interesting message in a teacup on the Alitalia flight from Rome to Verona last week.

In the Mercado Publico (Public Market) in Porto Alegre, Brazil, teas are sold in small packages. They are called Chá, here the teas are labelled with the common name and some with the scientific name too.

In the Mercado Publico (Public Market) in Porto Alegre, Brazil, teas are sold in small packages. They are called Chá, here the teas are labelled with the common name and some with the scientific name too.

At the Spicy Market in Istanbul, Turkey the teas are called Çay and are sold bulk together with the spices

At the Spicy Market in Istanbul, Turkey the teas are called Çay and are sold bulk together with the spices

Turkish Tea (çay) on the boat from Istanbul to Yalova, Turkey

We just crossed the Sea of Marmara from Istanbul to Yalova. It was a beautiful sunny day. The only Turkish tea (çay)in the boat was served in paper cups for safety reasons. But the advertisement continues on the traditional tulip cup.

The çay costs 1.25 Turkish Lira or about 0.70 US dollar


In the morning it is traditional to have the Turkish tea with simit, a crisp twisted ring bread covered with sesame seeds. The simit can be broken in pieces and eaten with the tea.

My friend Zek and I were enjoying the Turkish tea and simit on the Turkish way


While we were drinking tea we enjoyed the view and the seagulls happily flying…

The view of Istanbul from the back of the boat


Seagulls approach the boat to enjoy small bites of simit thrown in the air

It’s Turkish Tea Time!


Here we have a classical setup for the Turkish Tea: Tulip tea, two sugar cubes, Turkish delight and the two stacked kettles for brewing the tea.

The Turkish tea (çay) is a medium bodied golden brown black tea. It is prepared in a two stacked kettle (çaydanlık). Usually cold water is put in the lower kettle until boiling, then some water is transferred to the top kettle where the black tea is added and mixed. The two kettles go back to the stove in low heat. After brewing for ten minutes some tea from the top kettle is poured to the tulip cup (usually half cup). Hot water from the bottom kettle is added to fill the cup. The use of the concentrated tea and hot water allows to obtain different tea strengths according to the taste. This technique has many variations, and sometimes water is replenished in one or both kettles to get better tea usage. Traveling in Turkey is not uncommon to drink more than 20 tulip cups of tea in a day. It is refreshing and delicious every time.