Cha chaan teng

Cha chaan teng
Traditional Chinese 茶餐廳
Simplified Chinese 茶餐厅
Cantonese Yale cha4 chaan1 teng1
Literal meaning "tea restaurant"

A cha chaan teng (literally: 'tea restaurant') is a type of restaurant commonly found in Hong Kong, Macau and parts of Guangdong. They are known for eclectic and affordable menus, which include dishes from Hong Kong cuisine and Hong Kong-style Western cuisine.[1] Since the mass migration of Hong Kong people in the 1980s they are also commonplace in many Western countries like Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, particularly in the Chinatown areas of many major cities.


In early Hong Kong, only high-class restaurants provided Western food and most of them did not serve local people. At that time, people saw western food as a luxury item. After the Second World War, Hong Kong culture was influenced by British culture. Hong Kong people started to like adding milk to tea and eating cakes. Therefore, some of the Hong Kong people set up the cha chaan teng and their target audience was local people.[2] Providing different kinds of Canto-Western Cuisine and drinks with very low price led to them being regarded as "cheap western food", or "soy sauce western food" (si yau sai chaan, 豉油西餐).

In recent years, the management of cha chaan teng began to change in co-ordination with the development of Hong Kong economy and society. During the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, cha chaan tengs became much more popular in Hong Kong as they still provided the cheapest food for the public.[3] In April 2007, one of the Hong Kong political officers suggested that cha chaan teng be listed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists, because of its important role in Hong Kong society.[4]

Name and description

The name, literally "tea restaurant", serves to distinguish the restaurants from Western restaurants that provide water to customers instead of tea. Cha chaan teng establishments provide tea (usually weak tea) called "clear tea" (清茶 cing1 caa4), to customers as soon as they are seated. (Some patrons use this hot tea to wash their utensils, a common custom in Hong Kong.) The "tea" in the name refers to this inexpensive black tea, which differs from the traditional Chinese tea served in traditional dim sum restaurants and teahouses (茶樓 caa4 lau4).

The "tea" may also refer to tea drinks, such as the Hong Kong-style milk tea and iced lemon tea, which are served in many cha chaan tengs. The older generations in Hong Kong refer to dining in these restaurants as yum sai cha (飲西茶 lit. "drinking Western tea"), in contrast with the going yum cha.

Some cha chaan tengs prefer the use of the word "café" in their names.


Fast service and high efficiency

Usually, tea restaurants have high efficiency, with each customer spending 10–20 minutes to finish a meal on average. Customers typically receive their dishes after five minutes. The waiters take the order with their left hand and pass the dishes with their right hand. This embodies Hong Kong's hectic lifestyle. In rush hour, it is common for a lot of people to queue outside the restaurants.

Long working hours

The staff in a cha chaan teng work long hours, sometimes also night shifts.


Because of the limited lands and expensive rent, cha chaan tengs are gradually being replaced by chain restaurants, such as Café de Coral, Maxim's and Fairwood. As chain restaurants dominate the market, Hong Kong's cha chaan teng culture is disappearing.[5][6][7]

Common phrases and abbreviations

To speed up the ordering process, waiters use a range of abbreviations when writing down orders.

  • The character 反 (spoken as faan, meaning "opposite") is used to represent 白飯 (baak faan, meaning "white rice").
  • "0T" stands for lemon tea (0 reads as ling, which is phonetically similar to the first word of lemon (檸) which is ning and phonetically identical to how most Hong Kong people now pronounce 檸. T stands for "Tea").

Customers similarly use special phrases when ordering:

  • To order cold drinks without ice in them, you can say 走冰 (zau bing, lit. "go ice") or 走雪 (zau syut, lit. "go snow").
  • When ordering coffee or tea, you can say 飛砂走奶 (fei saa zau naai, lit. "fly sand go milk") to have the drink without added sugar and milk.
  • 茶走 (caa zau, lit. "tea go") means that you want condensed milk instead of normal milk in your Hong Kong style milk tea.
  • A quick way to ask for more rice and noodles is 加底 (gaa dai, lit. "add bottom"). Added rice/noodles costs around HKD 5.

A cha chaan teng serves a wide range of food, from steak to wonton noodles to curry to sandwiches, e.g. Hong Kong-style French toast.[8] Both fast food and à-la-carte dishes are available. A big cha chaan teng often consists of three cooking places: a "water bar" (水吧) which makes drinks, toast/sandwiches and instant noodles; a "noodle stall" which prepares Chiuchow-style noodles (including wonton noodles); and a kitchen for producing rice plates and other more expensive dishes.

Food and drinks


The invention of drinks like yuanyang (鴛鴦), iced tea with lemon (凍檸茶) and Coca-Cola with lemon (檸樂) are often credited culturally to this style of restaurant.

  • Coffee: Two types exist: instant and in powder form, the latter being more common.
  • Black coffee: Hong Kong people usually called them jaai fea (lit. "Vegetarian Coffee" / "just coffee", emphasising on its plain texture) or "fei sha jaau naai" (lit. "get rid of sand and milk", i.e. coffee without sugar (the "sand") and milk)
  • Hong Kong-style milk tea: A highly popular drink in Hong Kong. Its standard is judged by its aroma, smoothness and concentration. The tea is soaked in an iron container for several hours to let the flavour come out. If the customer wants condensed milk instead of normal milk, people will often say "cha zou" (lit. "tea go")
  • Yuanyang: A mixture of coffee and tea, originated in Hong Kong. According to traditional Chinese medicine, coffee and tea is "hot" and "cold" in nature, respectively. A mixing of both thus then yield the best combination for beverage.
  • Black and White Yuanyang: A mixture of Ovaltine and Horlicks, originated in Hong Kong.
  • Horlicks
  • Ovaltine
  • Lemon Tea
  • Lemonade: Commonly served without sugar or syrup.
  • lingfeh, Lemon with Coffee.
  • Lemon with Ribena
  • Lemon with Honey: Often, to reduce cost, the honey is substituted with "Watercress Honey"
  • Soft drinks: Coca-Cola, 7-up, Fanta and Cream Soda are some common selections.

Adding ice in a drink may cost an extra fee. Some people simply ask for a glass of ice.


  • Toast: This includes toast with condensed milk and butter/peanut butter, toast with jam and butter, toast with butter in a sliced form, and French Toast
  • Sandwich: Sandwiches found in Cha Chaan Tengs usually include egg, ham, corned beef or a mixture of any as a filling. Club Sandwiches are also very common. A difference between the sandwiches found in Cha Chaan Tengs, and other eateries would be that only white bread is used, the customer has the option of omitting the crust of the bread, and requesting that the bread be toasted before making their sandwich.
  • Egg tart
  • Hong Kong-style buns: Includes pineapple buns (with or without a slab of butter inside), cocktail buns, Satay beef buns, barbecued pork buns, etc.
  • Spring rolls

Fried dishes

Soup dishes

  • Instant or udon noodles in soup
  • Macaroni in soup
  • Soup noodles with fish balls, wontons and the like

Miscellaneous dishes

  • Barbecued Pork (Char siu): Not found in all cha chaan tengs.
  • Congee and yau ja gwei, a Chinese fritter.

Set meals

A feature found in cha chaan tengs are set meals. There are various sets available throughout the day for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. The lunch and dinner sets usually include a soup and a drink. Generally there is an additional HK$2-3 charge for cold drinks. Sometimes an additional HK$5 is charged for toasting the bread(烘底).

Other sets include:

  • "Nutritious set" (營養餐) – It comes with milk and other nutritional food
  • "Constant set" (常餐) – Provided all day long, hence the name (it usually consists of a main course, omelette, wheat foodstuff, white bread with butter and a drink) The wheat food stuff always comes with different choices such as spiced pork cubes, salted vegetable with sliced pork or luncheon meat etc.
  • "Fast set" (快餐) – Immediately served (usually rice with sausages/ ham/ fried eggs with gravy)
  • "Special set" (特餐) – Chef's (or Boss's) recommendation

Tables and seats

Generally, the tables in cha chaan tengs are square for 4 people, or round for 6 to 8 people. For each table, there is a piece of glass that covers the top and some menus are placed between the table and glass. During lunch or dinner, customers are sometimes requested to "daap toi" (撘枱), meaning they share a table with other customers, who are already seated before. This helps save space, provide waiting guests with seats faster, and give customers in a hurry a seat.


Before 2007, most cha chaan tengs allowed people to smoke, and some waiters would even smoke when working. Since 1 January 2007, Hong Kong Law prohibits smoking within the indoor premises of restaurants.

Interiors and utensils

Much of the plastic-ware found on the table is provided by beverage companies, which is a form of advertising. This plastic-ware includes containers holding toothpicks, plastic menu holders, etc. Brands like Ovaltine, Horlicks and Ribena are the usual providers. To minimise costs, cha chaan tengs also rarely have utensils that bear their own brand name. As a result, the same utensils can be found in many different cha chaan tengs, even different chains. These utensils can be bought in supermarkets, department stores, and stores specializing in restaurant supplies.

Walls and floors in cha chaan tengs are often tiled, because they are easier to clean (especially in the humid summer weather in a city like Hong Kong).


Other kinds of local restaurant related to cha chaan teng in Hong Kong include chaan sutt (餐室 lit. "meal chamber"), bing sutt (冰室 lit. "ice chamber"), and bing teng (冰廳 lit. "ice dining room"), which a provide a lighter and more limited selection of food than cha chaan teng.

In the old days, these eateries only sold different types of "ice", sandwiches and pasta but no rice plates. However, some of the restaurants bearing these titles today ignore the tradition, and provide all kinds of rice plates and even wonton noodles. Original chaan sutts, bing sutts and bing tengs, which can be regarded as the prototype of cha chaan tengs, are now scarce in Hong Kong.

In June 2009, Hong Kong retail design store G.O.D. collaborated with Starbucks and created a store with a "Bing Sutt Corner" at their store on Duddell Street. It is a concept that fuses the retro Hong Kong teahouse, style with the contemporary look of a coffeehouse.[9][10]

  • The similarities between the different set meals were satirised of by My life as McDull, a McDull movie.
  • An important part of Hong Kong culture, cha chaan teng is featured in many Hong Kong movies and TV dramas:
  • Some beverage companies put the term cha chaan teng on their products, such as "cha chaan teng milk tea" and "cha chaan teng lemon tea".
  • On 19 December 2007, lawmaker Choy So Yuk proposed during a Legislative Council session that Hong Kong's cha chaan teng be recognised and put up to UNESCO as an "intangible cultural heritage of humanity". The proposal came about after a recent Hong Kong poll found that seven out of ten people believe the cafes deserve a UNESCO cultural listing.[11]

See also


  1. Beerman, Jason "Cha chaan teng cheat sheet: What to order at the most popular eateries in Hong Kong" CNN Go. 20 February 2012. Retrieved 4 March 2012
  2. . (28 December 2007). Cha Chaan Teng is not UNESCO Intangible Culture Heritage. Wenwipo.
  3. .(30 January 2008). Eating in Hong Kong: the Ch Chaan Teng. The New York Times.
  4. . Changing Chinese Foodways in Asia. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2001.
  5. CNN Travel
  6. History of Cha Chaan Teng – Yahoo Knowledge
  7. HKwalker Archived 25 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  8. "40 Hong Kong foods we can't live without" CNN Go. 13 July 2011. Retrieved 9 October 2011
  9. DeWolf, Christopher (21 April 2010). "Hong Kong's best bing sutt: Guide to old-school diners". CNN Travel. Retrieved 4 March 2012.
  10. Starbucks with Traditional Hong Kong Style
  11. Chong, Vince (23 December 2007). "Keeping alive a tea café culture". The Straits Times. p. 28.
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