In Beijing, most of the people who frequent Hong Kong-style tea cafes are either from Hong Kong or Canton, or white-collar workers who favour food with a South China flavour.
Yet when they first appeared in the 1930s in Hong Kong, they were designed to be a cheaper option to Western-style food.
The origin of Hong Kong-style tea cafes, or cha can ting, dates back to the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), when the island was still a British colony.
People in Hong Kong, influenced by the British lifestyle, started drinking English black tea and coffee with milk.
Two styles of restaurant, the Chinese and Western, co-existed at the time. But as restaurants catering to the taste of Westerners tend to be expensive, a kind of restaurant combining the styles of Chinese and Western food appeared.
At first, these restaurants were called Coffee Houses or Ice Rooms. Later, they became known as cha can ting.
Some say all Hong Kong people grow up eating at such places.
Tea cafes offer cheap, fast food, with a great variety of choice. Usually noodles, either fried or boiled, rice with dishes, and dim sum are offered here. Sandwiches, spaghetti, toast, salad, soup, tea and coffee are all on the menu.
Such tea places are typically open from morning until midnight.
Much of the food is typically Hong Kong or a combination of Hong Kong and Western food.
Yuanyang (which means mandarin duck), for example, is a mixture of coffee and milk tea.
Typically a diner might have a cup of coffee right after a bowl of fish-ball noodles and an egg tart.
With this combination of Hong Kong and Western styles, tea cafes have become such an important part of life in Hong Kong that tourist agencies now promote them as one of the attractions of the city.
There are a dozen Hong Kong-style tea cafes in Beijing. According to Bian Jiang, deputy secretary-general of the China Cookery Association, cafes are designed for ordinary people in Hong Kong. But many of these cafes in Beijing target white-collar workers as their main customers, setting their price at medium and high levels.
He believes that is why there are still a quite limited number of tea cafes in Beijing.
Where to go
One of the most popular tea restaurants in Beijing, it is not big and the decor is simple. But the quality of food frequently has customers queuing up.
Details of more than 300 Cantonese-style dishes available in the restaurant are hung on the walls. The most popular are the Bifengtan dish series and the Bozai rice series.
* Chaoyang branch location: West gate of Chaoyang Park
*Dongdan branch location: 72 Dongdan Beidajie, call to make reservation.
Opening hours/cost: 10 am-3 am, under 99 yuan (US$12)
One of the oldest Hong Kong-style tea restaurants in Beijing, this one provides a big variety of dishes, both Cantonese and Western flavours available.
Besides dishes, porridge, dim sum and milk tea are also favourites here.
*Jianguomen branch location 1: 21 Jianguomenwai Dajie, (beside St. Regis)
*World Trade Centre branch location 2: 1 China World Trade Centre
Opening hours/cost: 24 hours, 100-199 yuan (US$12-24)
|People Mountain People Sea (ren shan ren hai) |
Dimly lit and arranged in single tables for four with train-style high-back soft cushion seats, the 200-sqm restaurant is a good option if you want to go at any time.
Some of the most popular choices are fish-ball noodles fresh shrimp wontons with noodles in soup (20 yuan/US$2.4), fukien-style fried rice (26 yuan/US$3.1) .
The menu also offers a variety of Chinese and Western choices which include beef steak, congee, spaghetti and BBQ pork pie.
Location: G/F Somerset Fortune Garden Beijing, 46 Liangmaqiaolu
Opening hours/cost: 7 am-11:30 pm; under 99 yuan (US$12)
|Be There or Be Square (bu jian bu san) |
Location: B71 Oriental Plaza
Opening hours: 24 hours service
|Bifengtang Chacanting |
Location: A1 Xinzhongjie, Dongzhimenwai, Dongcheng District
Opening hours: 9 am-3 am
|Urban Forest (du shi cong lin cha can ting)|
Location: 5th floor Huapu Club, Huapu Mansion, No 19 Chaoyangmenwai Dajie, Chaoyang District
Opening hours: 10 am- 10 pm
|Jinggang Zaixian Chacanting |
Location: 3rd floor, Capital Times Square, L326 No 88 West Chang'an Avenue, Xicheng District
Opening hours: 10 am-10 pm