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[tee] /ti/
the dried and prepared leaves of a shrub, Camellia sinensis, from which a somewhat bitter, aromatic beverage is prepared by infusion in hot water.
the shrub itself, extensively cultivated in China, Japan, India, etc., and having fragrant white flowers.
Compare tea family.
the beverage so prepared, served hot or iced.
any kind of leaves, flowers, etc., so used, or any plant yielding them.
any of various infusions prepared from the leaves, flowers, etc., of other plants, and used as beverages or medicines.
British. any meal, whether a light snack or one consisting of several courses, eaten in the late afternoon or in the evening; any meal other than dinner, eaten after the middle of the afternoon.
an afternoon reception at which tea is served.
Slang. marijuana.
one's cup of tea, something suitable, appropriate, or attractive to one:
Horror movies and westerns are just not my cup of tea.
Origin of tea
dialectal Chinese
1590-1600; 1940-45 for def 9; < dialectal Chinese (Xiamen) t'e, akin to Chinese chá
Related forms
tealess, adjective
Can be confused
tea, tee. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for tea
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • When these were arranged upon the table to his satisfaction, they sat down to tea.

    Little Dorrit Charles Dickens
  • But that is a large subject: let us leave it till after tea.

    Deerbrook Harriet Martineau
  • Standing on the grounds does not spoil the flavor of coffee as it does tea.

    Dishes & Beverages of the Old South Martha McCulloch Williams
  • And here is tea as hot, I believe, as if we were still blessed with glass windows.

    Deerbrook Harriet Martineau
  • "You will come in and have a cup of tea after your long walk," observed Waveney.

    Mollie's Prince Rosa Nouchette Carey
British Dictionary definitions for tea


an evergreen shrub or small tree, Camellia sinensis, of tropical and subtropical Asia, having toothed leathery leaves and white fragrant flowers: family Theaceae
  1. the dried shredded leaves of this shrub, used to make a beverage by infusion in boiling water
  2. such a beverage, served hot or iced
  3. (as modifier): tea caddy, tea urn
  1. any of various plants that are similar to Camellia sinensis or are used to make a tealike beverage
  2. any such beverage
(mainly Brit)
  1. Also called afternoon tea. a light meal eaten in mid-afternoon, usually consisting of tea and cakes, biscuits, or sandwiches
  2. (as modifier): a tea party
  3. Also called high tea. afternoon tea that also includes a light cooked dish
(Brit & Austral, NZ) the main evening meal
(US & Canadian, old-fashioned, slang) marijuana
(informal) tea and sympathy, a caring attitude, esp to someone in trouble
Word Origin
C17: from Chinese (Amoy) t'e, from Ancient Chinese d`a
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for tea

1650s, earlier chaa (1590s, from Portuguese cha), from Malay teh and directly from Chinese (Amoy dialect) t'e, in Mandarin ch'a. First known in Paris 1635, the practice of drinking tea was first introduced to England 1644.

The distribution of the different forms of the word reflects the spread of use of the beverage. The modern English form, along with French thé, Spanish te, German Tee, etc., derive via Dutch thee from the Amoy form, reflecting the role of the Dutch as the chief importers of the leaves (through the Dutch East India Company, from 1610). The Portuguese word (attested from 1550s) came via Macao; and Russian chai, Persian cha, Greek tsai, Arabic shay, and Turkish çay all came overland from the Mandarin form.

Meaning "afternoon meal at which tea is served" is from 1738. Slang meaning "marijuana" (which sometimes was brewed in hot water) is attested from 1935, felt as obsolete by late 1960s. Tea ball is from 1895.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for tea



  1. (also T) Marijuana (1935+ Narcotics)
  2. A marijuana cigarette; joint, tea-stick (1935+ Narcotics)
  3. A stimulant, often cocaine or strychnine, given to a racehorse to increase its speed (1951+ Horse racing)

Related Terms

cup of tea, pink tea, stick of tea, weed tea

[the narcotics senses probably fr use of tea as winking and ironic concealment]

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with tea
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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