What’s The Tea: How Did ‘Tea’ Become Associated With Gossip

While you do not absolutely need anything to munch on or drink while you are catching up with your BFFs for the much-needed gossip session, it certainly helps when you are well-fuelled for the curveballs coming your way. Whether is about that casanova from your school who’s finally settling down, or that engineer from your previous office becoming a mountaineer; a good piece of gossip, must also be accompanied by this innocuous beverage and that is perhaps why, ‘gossip’ and ‘tea’ are two terms used interchangeably. Well, perhaps. Now, most of you may have used or heard of the idiom ‘What’s the tea’? Or “Spill the tea”? But did you know the origin of the phrase? Let’s find out.  

There is an old theory that states that the roots of the idiom may be tied to 18th century England, where ladies would love to sit in their Porche area with their friends and chitter-chatter over numerous cups of tea. But many linguists and historians beg to differ. Some also believe that the phrase ‘spill the tea’ is just an Americanised version of “spill the beans”, however, the slightly more plausible theory takes us to the African American drag culture, in the 1990s.  

It is said that the phrase actually was introduced by popular African American drag queen, Lady Chablis, in the 1994 book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil”.  And the ‘tea’ in the phrase, ‘Spill the tea’, may have nothing to do with the beverage tea at all. And the phrase originally was ‘Spill the T’, where T stood for truth. In the book, Lady Chablis, who is openly transgender, stated “the fact that I am a beautiful woman is clear, but the fact that I have... well that’s my T, that’s my truth”. This is where the idiom picked up, but it was with shows like Ru Paul’s Drag Race that it entered the mainstream.

So, when did T become Tea? It is hard to tell, but if you look closely, it is just a clever play of words. Not only tea is something you can spill, something you share with people, but it also sounds exactly the same as T. And thus, you see people constantly in seek of “tea”, both the beverage and the gossip. ‘Weak tea’ is just poor quality, absolutely unverified gossip. Also, ‘give me the tea’ and ‘spill some tea’ mean exactly the same, before you jump up and start helping your friends with an actual tea cup.