The Cha pronunciation came from the Cantonese chàh of Guangzhou (Canton) and the ports of Hong Kong and Macau, which were also major points of contact, especially with the Portuguese traders who settled Macau in the 16th century.
A third form, the increasingly widespread chai, came from Persian چای The few exceptions of words for tea that do not fall into the three broad groups of te, cha and chai are mostly from the minor languages from the botanical homeland of the tea plant from which the Chinese words for tea might have been borrowed originally. However, since there are no known wild populations of this tea, the precise location of its origin is speculative.
Assuming a generation of 12 years, Chinese small leaf tea is estimated to have diverged from Assam tea around 22,000 years ago while Chinese Assam tea and Indian Assam tea diverged 2,800 years ago.
The divergence of Chinese small leaf tea and Assam tea would correspond to the last glacial maximum.
The first recorded shipment of tea by a European nation was in 1607 when the Dutch East India Company moved a cargo of tea from Macao to Java, then two years later, the Dutch bought the first assignment of tea which was from Hirado in Japan to be shipped to Europe.
The first record of tea in English came from a letter written by Richard Wickham, who ran an East India Company office in Japan, writing to a merchant in Macao requesting "the best sort of chaw" in 1615.