Cha chaan teng

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Cha chaan teng
Cha Chaan Teng 7267.JPG
Traditional Chinese 茶餐廳
Simplified Chinese 茶餐厅
Cantonese Jyutping caa4 caan1 teng1
Literal meaning "tea restaurant"

A cha chaan teng (literally: tea restaurant) meaning tea restaurant, is commonly found in Greater China, including particularly Hong Kong, Macau and parts of Guangdong. They are known for eclectic and affordable menus, which include many 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 the 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 drinking 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 Teng 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[edit]

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 the hot tea to wash their utensils. The name, literally "tea restaurant", serves to distinguish itself from Western restaurants that provide water to customers instead of tea. The "tea" in the name refers to the inexpensive black tea, not the traditional Chinese tea served in traditional dim sum restaurants and teahouses (茶樓 caa4 lau4). Moreover, some cha chaan tengs prefer the use of the word "café" in their names.

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


Fast service and high efficiency[edit]

Usually, tea restaurants have high efficiency, with each customer averagely spending 10–20 minutes to finish a meal. 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[edit]

Cha Chaan Teng workers may work 07:00 to 23:00, some even working a night shift. Long working hours are characteristic of Hong Kong.


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]


Two menus, one on the board and another on glass, in a bing sut in Sheung Shui, Hong Kong. No rice plates can be seen on the menus.
Hong Kong-style French toast
A typical breakfast, eggs and a bun, including a cup of silk-sock milk tea
Yuanyang, mixture of coffee and Hong Kong-style milk tea

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. 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.

Food and drinks[edit]


  • Coffee (Two types exist: instant and in powder form, in which the latter is more prominent)
  • 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 drink highly popular in Hong Kong and 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—Often goes without sugar or syrup.
  • Lemon with Coffee
  • Lemon with Ribena
  • Lemon with Honey—Often, to reduce cost, the honey is substituted with "Watercress Honey"
  • Soft drinksCoca 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

  • Various Fried rice and noodles dishes
  • Hong Kong-style spaghetti bolognese
  • Fried instant noodles
  • Gon chaau ngau ho --- "dry fried beef and rice noodles" is a common Cantonese dish, made from stir-fried beef, he fen (broad rice noodles), dark soya sauce, and bean sprouts.

Soup dishes

  • Instant or u-don 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[edit]

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 charge for cold drinks. Sometimes an additional HK$1 is charged for toasted bread.

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, white bread with butter and a drink)
  • "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[edit]

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). This means to have them sit with other strangers at the same table to save space, get waiting people seats faster, and give customers in a hurry a spot. [9]

Other interesting facts[edit]

  • Most Cha Chaan Tengs in Hong Kong and Shenzhen would offer a cup of tea (the staff would call them "Gaat Sui", literally "empty water") to each customer after they are seated. The tea is bland and Hong Kong people would usually use it to clean the eating utensils. The utensils may be provided in the following two ways: either the waiter provides the utensils required after taking order (such as fork, knife and spoon for rice with steaks / fillets on plate, and chopsticks for soup / fried noodles), or placing all the utensils in a circular container placed on the table. Chopsticks would be separated from fork, knife and spoon. The hygienic condition of some of the Cha Chaan Teng might not be satisfactory, so the utensils would be washed by the cup of tea before using them. Some newer generations of Cha Chaan Teng would place everything including napkins into a drawer under the table to save space.
  • Before 2007, most Cha Chaan Tengs allowed people to smoke, and some waiters would even smoke when working. This was a problem to people who did not like the smoke when eating. Starting from 1 January 2007, Hong Kong Law prohibited everyone from smoking within the indoor premises of restaurants.
  • When waiters are taking orders, they will use some abbreviations, such as the character 反 (spoken as faan, meaning "opposite") to represent 白飯 (baak faan, meaning "white rice"), or 0T for lemon tea (0 reads as ling, which is phonetically similar to lemon which is "ning". T simply means "Tea"). This is because the fast pace within the restaurant. Waiters, then, are unable to write every character on the order sheet when submitting to the kitchen. For customers, if they want to have cold drinks without ice, they would say 走冰 (zaau bing, lit. "go ice") or 走雪 (zaau syut, lit. "go snow"). In drinks like coffee or tea, 飛砂走奶 (fei saa zaau naai, lit. "fly sand go milk") means without sugar and milk,茶走 (cha zou, lit. "tea go") means use condensed milk instead of normal milk in Hong Kong style milk tea, and 少甜 (siu tim, lit. "less sweet") in iced lemon tea means less syrup. If the amount of rice and noodles is not enough, one would say 加底 (gaa daai, lit. "add the bottom") for more rice and noodles, which costs around HKD$3–5 more. If rice dishes where the rice is not fried with the ingredients (such as rice with scrambled eggs and shrimp, in which the ingredients are cooked and poured on the surface of the steamed rice), customers may request for 炒底 (chaau daai, lit. "fry the bottom") for using fried rice which would also cost HKD$3–5 more. If Nissin Ramen or Udon is requested instead of normal instant noodles, HKD$1–2 would also be needed.
  • Usually, spring onions are sprinkled on top of congee and soup noodles. One may ask for 走青 (zaau cheng, lit. "go green") to omit those spring onions.
  • Two methods of frying noodles such as beef chow fun are wet frying (水炒) and dry frying (幹炒). The former technique means to fry with a thick sauce, while the latter means to fry with only soy sauce.
  • Much of the plasticware found on the table is provided by beverage companies, which is a form of advertising. This plasticware includes containers holding toothpicks, plastic menu holders, etc. Brands like Ovaltine, Horlicks and Ribena are the usual providers.
  • To minimise costs, Cha Chaan Tengs will usually not have utensils that bear their own brand name. As a result, the patterns found on their utensils are always the same. These utensils can easily be purchased in supermarkets and various department stores.
  • Tiles are placed along the walls and floors for easy cleaning.


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.[10][11]

In media[edit]

  • 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, including the popular sitcom Virtues of Harmony. The TVB-made soap opera tells the story of a family who runs a cha chaan teng, usually boasting the egg tart and "silk-stocking milk tea" produced by them. Stephen Chow also played a cha chaan teng waiter in the 1998-comedy Lucky Guy (行運一條龍) and a cha chaan teng meal-delivery-boy in the King of Comedy (1999).
  • 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.[12]

See also[edit]


  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
  8. ^ "40 Hong Kong foods we can't live without" CNN Go. 13 July 2011. Retrieved 9 October 2011
  9. ^ . World Food Hong Kong. Victoria: Lonely Plant Publications, 2001.
  10. ^ DeWolf, Christopher (21 April 2010). "Hong Kong's best bing sutt: Guide to old-school diners". CNN Travel. Retrieved 4 March 2012. 
  11. ^ Starbucks with Traditional Hong Kong Style
  12. ^ Chong, Vince (23 December 2007). "Keeping alive a tea café culture". The Straits Times. p. 28. 

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