Definition of tea in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /tiː/


[mass noun]
1A hot drink made by infusing the dried crushed leaves of the tea plant in boiling water: Katherine sipped her tea
More example sentences
  • He was making popcorn on the stove and boiling water for tea.
  • Gaunt mothers and children sat near their tents, sometimes boiling water for tea, a ritual of normalcy that they still maintained.
  • Things have changed from drinking plain tea to water to special solutions but one must know the guidelines.
1.1The dried leaves used to make tea: tea from India and Ceylon [count noun]: tea bags containing teas from selected estates
More example sentences
  • That time Mary McCormack in her little thatched shop kept flour, tea, sugar, salt, lamp oil, and perhaps some liquorice sweets.
  • Canned meats and fish, as well as flour, tea, and sugar, have become important food items as well.
  • At one end of the market, a few stands sold a variety of local spices, sauces, tea and jams.
1.2 [usually with modifier] A drink made from the infused leaves, fruits, or flowers of plants other than tea: herbal tea [count noun]: fruit teas
More example sentences
  • Fill a large basket with an assortment of goodies from your health food store, such as organic salsa, fruit teas, and tropical-flavored drinks.
  • Let's see - from left to right there's passionfruit, black tea and kumquat teas with tapioca pearls.
  • I served herbal tea to the tea drinkers and fruit juice to the others.
1.3West Indian Any hot drink, for example, coffee or cocoa.
Example sentences
  • Cocoa tea is a rich, local breakfast drink.
2 (also tea plant) The evergreen shrub or small tree which produces tea leaves, native to southern and eastern Asia and grown as a major cash crop.
  • Camellia sinensis, family Theaceae.
Example sentences
  • The Camellia sinensis tea plant is native to China and commercially produced in tropical and subtropical regions, primarily China, Japan, Taiwan, Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka (Ceylon).
  • The tea plant, Camellia sinensis, comes in many forms - black, green, oolong.
  • The filmmaker also found unusual trees: a tea plant, a ban oak, copper beeches, a maidenhair tree in Killarney, and a Kentucky coffee bean tree in Greenside.
3chiefly British A light afternoon meal consisting typically of tea to drink, sandwiches, and cakes: they were about to take afternoon tea [count noun]: picnic teas
More example sentences
  • The two princesses had to have a cooked tea because they were in bed by dinner time, but they also had afternoon tea, with sandwiches, scones and a large cake.
  • It was a successful afternoon enjoyed by everyone, which was followed by afternoon tea, consisting of sandwiches and cakes supplied by the choir.
  • That is always assuming that they can fit it all in after having been served up a full buffet breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and home-made cakes and canapés.
3.1British A cooked evening meal: fish and chips for tea [count noun]: the food was nothing like the teas his wife cooked See also high tea.
More example sentences
  • The people were British in their manner, tea was had frequently and the evening meal was called tea, not dinner.
  • I cooked tea for myself a few days ago and managed to eat a very undercooked steak and kidney pudding (it's a long story), and have been feeling a bit rough ever since.
  • I sighed and went to the kitchen, to cook tea with the food that she had promised to buy on her way back from the midwife's.
3.2West Indian Breakfast, typically consisting of a hot drink and bread.
Example sentences
  • He had eaten a big tea.

verb (teas, teaing, teaed or tea'd /tiːd/)

[no object, with adverbial] archaic
Drink tea or take afternoon tea: I teaed with Professor Herron
More example sentences
  • By the time we got back I was starved, so tea'd and toasted, then headed out into town to retrieve my car from the multi-story.



not for all the tea in China

informal There is nothing at all that could induce one to do something: I wouldn’t do that girl’s job—not for all the tea in China
More example sentences
  • Even if you can't write for children, not for all the tea in China or every last drop of coffee in Starbucks.
  • The way I feel now, I would not for all the tea in China go back to the House of Commons - or the House of Lords.
  • Not for Mr Bradshaw, not for the Residents' Association, not for all the tea in China.

tea and sympathy

informal Kind and attentive behaviour towards someone who is upset or in trouble: they need a plan of action rather than tea and sympathy
More example sentences
  • If we are to be successful in turning our Neets into Yums (young and upwardly mobile) a bit more ‘get on your bike’ and a bit less tea and sympathy might be in order.
  • In that time, North Yorkshire County Council and ministers have offered them plenty of tea and sympathy - and the occasional promise to make the appalling traffic go away.
  • If kids don't know the difference between right and wrong by the time they are 15 there's something seriously wrong with them or they need discipline not tea and sympathy.


Mid 17th century: probably via Malay from Chinese (Min dialect) te; related to Mandarin chá. Compare with char3.

  • No drink could be more British than tea, but it did not enter the language or the country until the 17th century. The word goes back to Mandarin Chinese chá. A ‘nice cup of tea’ might be offered to someone feeling shocked and distressed, and tea and sympathy, used as the title of a play in 1953 and a film in 1956, has become a general phrase for comforting behaviour towards someone who is upset or in trouble. Tea became a meal in the mid 18th century, at first afternoon tea but then sometimes, especially in northern England, Australia, and New Zealand, an evening meal. A storm in a teacup, meaning ‘a great deal of anxiety or excitement over a trivial matter’, dates from the 19th century, but with different wording, such as a storm in a cream bowl, the idea goes back at least to the 1670s. A tempest in a teapot is the US equivalent.

Words that rhyme with tea

absentee, açai, addressee, adoptee, agree, allottee, amputee, appellee, appointee, appraisee, après-ski, assignee, asylee, attendee, bailee, bain-marie, Bangui, bargee, bawbee, be, Bea, bee, bootee, bouquet garni, bourgeoisie, Brie, BSc, buckshee, Capri, cc, chimpanzee, cohabitee, conferee, consignee, consultee, Cree, debauchee, decree, dedicatee, Dee, degree, deportee, dernier cri, detainee, devisee, devotee, divorcee, draftee, dree, Dundee, dungaree, eau-de-vie, emcee, employee, endorsee, en famille, ennui, enrollee, escapee, esprit, evacuee, examinee, expellee, fee, fiddle-de-dee, flea, flee, fleur-de-lis, foresee, franchisee, free, fusee (US fuzee), Gardaí, garnishee, gee, ghee, glee, goatee, grandee, Grand Prix, grantee, Guarani, guarantee, he, HMRC, indictee, inductee, internee, interviewee, invitee, jamboree, Jaycee, jeu d'esprit, key, knee, Lea, lee, legatee, Leigh, lessee, Ley, licensee, loanee, lychee, manatee, Manichee, maquis, Marie, marquee, me, Midi, mortgagee, MSc, nominee, obligee, Otomi, parolee, Parsee, parti pris, patentee, Pawnee, payee, pea, pee, permittee, plc, plea, pledgee, pollee, presentee, promisee, quay, ratatouille, referee, refugee, releasee, repartee, retiree, returnee, rupee, scot-free, scree, sea, secondee, see, settee, Shanxi, Shawnee, shchi, she, shea, si, sirree, ski, spree, standee, suttee, tant pis, tee, tee-hee, Tennessee, testee, the, thee, three, thuggee, Tiree, Torquay, trainee, Tralee, transferee, tree, Trincomalee, trustee, tutee, twee, Twi, undersea, vestee, vis-à-vis, wagon-lit, Waikiki, warrantee, we, wee, whee, whoopee, ye, yippee, Zuider Zee

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: tea

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.