Name and description
''Cha chaan teng'' establishments provide tea called "clear tea" , 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 . Moreover, some ''cha chaan tengs'' prefer the use of the word "café" in their names.
The "tea" may also refer to those tea drinks, such as the Hong Kong-styled milk tea and cold lemon tea, which are very popular in ''cha chaan tengs''. The older generations in Hong Kong use ''yum sai cha'' , when dining in these restaurants in contrast with ''yum cha''.
Some restaurants operate in such as Sun Chiu Kee and Tsui Wah .
''Cha chaan teng'' serves a wide range of food, from steak to wonton noodles to curry to . Both fast food and dishes are available. A big ''cha chaan teng'' often consists of three cooking places: a "water bar" which makes drinks, toast/sandwiches and instant noodles, a "noodle stall" which prepares noodles , and a kitchen for producing rice plates and other more expensive dishes. The invention of drinks like '''' , Iced coffee with Lemon and Coca-Cola with Lemon are often credited culturally to this style of restaurant.
A typical menu includes:
** Wonton noodles
** Noodles with fishball and beefball
** Instant noodles with canned or preserved foodstuff, e.g. ham, pork luncheon meat, and d vegetables.
* Rice plates , as the varieties offered by different ''cha chaan teng'' are more or less the same.)
** Rice with fried tofu and BBQ pork tenderloin
** Rice with assorted meats , usually ham, sausage, -like beef
** Rice with ham and chicken , usually served with tomato sauce.
** Rice with creamed corn and deep-fried filet of
* Bread and cake
** "Freshly baked"
*** Egg tart, a tasty baked egg custard.
*** Pineapple bun or ''bor law yau'' , a steaming hot sweet bun stuffed with a slice of butter.
*** Bread with filling, topped with shredded coconut
*** French toast - The local version is typically stuffed with peanut butter and deep-fried until golden.
*** Butter and jam on toast
**** With preserved foodstuffs
**** With fresh meat and vegetables e.g. Sandwich with tomato slices and beef
** Hong Kong-style milk tea or lemon tea
*** With milk
*** With lemon slices
** "Chinese-style Lemonade"
** With lemon
Note 1: Common sauces available: tomato sauce , black pepper sauce , cream sauce , curry sauce . However, the naming of sauce in a ''cha chaan teng'' can sometimes be misleading. Do not expect tomato sauce to be similar to that in tomato pasta. The predominating ingredient in the sauces is, not uncommonly, just starch.
Note 2: "Pineapple bun" does not contain pineapple or any of its derivatives. It acquires the name from the crispy topping, an outcome of baked syrup mingled with . It is often served with a slice of butter. A "pineapple bun" served in this way is called ''Boh law yau'' . ''Boh law yau'' often goes with drinks as a set meal and is popular among the male working class.
Note 3: Most ''cha chaan teng''s charge an extra $1 or $2 for iced drinks, except soft drinks.
Note 4: Very rarely do any ''cha chaan teng'' offer espresso and its derivatives . Instead, they boil coffee in stainless steel kettles. The taste can be intense when drunk straight. One might consider it espresso-like but it does not offer much of an aftertaste. In addition, is not seen.
Note 5: Iced coffee is sweetened with syrup unless specified to the waiter.
Note 6: Most ''Cha chaan teng''s use canned evaporated milk, but the customer can require condensed milk be used. Fresh milk is rarely used.
Note 7: When ordering a set, it usually accompanies a choice of tea or coffee on the menu. The actual choices offered are tea, coffee, Horlicks, Ovaltine, and Milo.
Customers usually select their seats freely in a ''cha chaan teng'', but in a crowded restaurant they have to share a table with strangers. During peak hours, waiters in a ''cha chaan teng'' will seat their customers, "packing" as many customers into the restaurant as possible. This is called ''dap toi'' in Chinese. For example, they will seat two groups of three customers at a six-seat table, to avoid having a pair of customers sitting with a group of three people, leaving one seat vacant. Sometimes already-seated customers have to move to accommodate the business.
In most ''cha chaan tengs'', customers call out their orders to a waiter, who will jot down the prices of the ordered food on a piece of card/paper provided to every group of customers. After the meal, customers present the card/paper at the cash register to pay the bill.
A feature of ''cha chaan tengs'' are the set meals. There are various sets 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 2 charge for cold drinks. Sometimes an additional HK$1 is charged for toasted bread.
Other sets include:
* "Nutritious set" - It comes with milk and other nutritional food
* "Constant set" - Provided all day long, hence the name
* "Fast set" - Immediately served
* "Special set" - Chef's recommendation
Other kinds of local restaurant related to ''cha chaan teng'' in Hong Kong include ''chaan sut'' , ''bing sut'' , and ''bing teng'' , which a provide lighter and a 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 suts'', ''bing suts'' and ''bing tengs'', which can be regarded as the prototype of ''cha chaan tengs'', are now scarce in Hong Kong.
* The similarities between the different set meals were made fun 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'' .
*Some beverage producers use the words ''cha chaan teng'' to name 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 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.