HK Magazine Archive

Why Are Cha Chaan Teng Staff So Testy?

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 October, 2015, 4:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 4:51pm

It’s safe to say that cha chaan teng staff aren’t the most leisurely group in the world. A CCT makes its money on quick turnaround, and there’s rarely time to stop and smell the flowers, pass the time with a customer—or even wait for an indecisive tourist to dither over their order. Exhibit A: the Australia Dairy Company, legendary for their scrambled eggs and short-tempered staff in equal proportion.

The hurried nature of service has given rise to a whole lexis of cha chaan teng abbreviation, words that can be shouted from table to kitchen to economize on time and effort, or scribbled on a pad without having to blast through 20-stroke Chinese characters.

That’s why when you order a lemon tea at a cha chaan teng, you won’t see the server laboriously write out the complex characters “檸檬茶,” ling mong cha. Instead they’ll scrawl down a much snappier “0T.”

Why? Simple. The number zero is pronounced ling in Cantonese. So 0T = ling tea = lemon tea. Here are some other cha chaan teng abbreviations. Try them out next time you order:

06 (ling luk): sounds like ling lok, “lemon Coke.”
206 (yee ling luk): sounds like yit ling lok, “hot lemon Coke.”
走冰 (zau bing): “walk ice,” meaning “without ice.”
走青(zau tseng): “walk green,” meaning “no vegetables.”
靚仔  (leng zai): handsome man, meaning “white rice.”
靚仔化妝 (leng zai faa zhong): “Handsome man wearing makeup,” meaning “white rice with soy sauce.” (Not very common, but still excellent.)
行街 (hang gaai): “go out shopping.” Means “this order is for takeaway.”
加底  (gaa dai), “add bottom.” A request for an extra helping of noodles or rice.
扣底 (kau dai), “remove bottom,” less rice or noodles.
飛砂走奶 (fei saa zau nai): “fly sand, walk milk”—“sand” refers to saa tong, granulated sugar. So the phrase means “coffee without sugar or milk.”

Learn these abbreviations and maybe you’ll make your cha chaan teng waiter a little less impatient with you. Perhaps they’ll even crack a smile. You know what they say: “Stranger things have happened at tea…”