Coffee culture in Hong Kong was introduced by the British during the colonial era, and an array of new Cantonese words for coffee was needed. Coffee culture has since evolved into a distinctly Hong Kong phenomenon.
Today, you’ll find a range of coffee options, from traditional Hong Kong-style milk tea (known locally as “silk stockings tea”) to espresso-based drinks that would make any coffee snob proud. So, let’s take a short break and settle back for a sip of Hong Kong’s incredible coffee culture.
Cantonese Coffee Vocabulary
Here are a few delicious options to consider before you order coffee in Cantonese:
Coffee – Kāfēi (咖啡)
The term “kafei” is the Cantonese word for a bog-standard hot coffee, borrowed directly from Mandarin and dropped into Cantonese. It’s a catch-all word that encompasses all things coffee-related. If you drink coffee and walk into a cafe in Hong Kong and simply say “kafei,” you’ll get exactly what it says on the coffee pot.
Mandarin Duck – Yuānyāng (鴛鴦)
A drink that originated in Hong Kong that is a blend of coffee and black tea with a healthy dose of sugar and milk. Each vendor has his own special way of creating the concoction, but if you were to ask the Hong Kong government’s Leisure and Cultural Services Department, they would tell you the beverage consists of three parts brewed coffee added to seven parts Hong Kong-style milk tea. The name Yuanyang comes from the Chinese for Mandarin duck. These ducks are a symbol of love in Chinese culture, but the male and female look quite different to one another and this is why the word is used as the name for this unlikely blend of flavors.
Iced Coffee – Dòng Kāfēi (凍咖啡)
This is coffee with ice in it, topped off with creamy milk and sugar. A glorious thirst quencher on a super hot summer’s day.
Hong Kong Style Milk Tea – Gǎng Shì Nǎichá (港式奶茶)
Naicha, which translates to “milk tea,” is the iconic Hong Kong-style tea that boasts rich, creamy flavors. While not a coffee per se, it’s an essential part of the local coffee culture. Hong Kongers love their naicha, which often features a delicate balance of tea, condensed milk, and evaporated milk. It is ranked as one of the most popular beverages of the inhabitants of Hong Kong.
Pantyhose Milk Tea – Wà Nǎichá (襪奶茶)
This strange-sounding drink dates back to the days when British colonialists would stop whatever they were doing for a spot of afternoon tea. Essentially synonymous with Hong Kong-style milk tea, sackcloth bags are used to filter the tea leaves purportedly giving the drink a smoother taste. The name “pantyhose” or “silk stocking” tea was introduced because that is what the sackcloth filters are said to resemble.
Hong Kong Style – Gǎng Shì (港式)
“Gang shi” literally translates to “Hong Kong style,” and it’s a term used to indicate that a particular coffee is prepared in the distinctive manner of Hong Kong cafes. This typically includes using a sock-like filter for brewing or adding condensed milk for a creamy sweetness. “Gong shi” coffee is deeply rooted in tradition and nostalgia for many locals.
Roundup Of Cantonese Words For Coffee
|Cappuccino||卡布奇諾||Kā bù qí nuò|
|Americano||美式咖啡||Měi shì kāfēi|
|Mocha||摩卡咖啡||Mó kǎ kāfēi|
|Coffee Bean||咖啡豆||Kāfēi dòu|
|Grinder||咖啡磨||Gā fēi mó|
|French Press||法壓壺||Fǎ yā hú|
The Cantonese Cafe Scene
Hong Kong cafes come in all shapes and sizes, from hole-in-the-wall establishments that have been serving coffee for generations to modern, chic spots that cater to a hip and diverse clientele of Cantonese people.
Legacy Cafes – Cháhchāantēngs (茶餐廳)
Hong Kong’s legacy cafes, known as “cha chaan tengs,” are a blast from the past. These no-frills establishments have been around for decades and continue to serve up classic Hong Kong-style milk tea and coffee. Cha chaan tengs originally sprang up by the docks for workers and sailors to get a cheap shot of rocket fuel before a long day’s work. As you step into one of these greasy-spoon cafes, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back in time, with retro decor, laminated menus, and the comforting aroma of instant coffee in the air.
Specialty Coffee Shops – Tèsè Kāfēi Diàn (特色咖啡店)
On the other end of the spectrum are the specialty coffee shops that have emerged in recent years. These cafes are a testament to Hong Kong’s evolving taste for coffee. They take pride in sourcing high-quality beans, perfecting brewing techniques, offering alternatives like soy milk and oat milk, and presenting coffee as a form of art. Each cup is a carefully crafted masterpiece, and the baristas are akin to skilled artisans.
So, the next time you find yourself craving the coffee pot in this captivating city, grab a cup of coffee and take a moment to explore its vibrant coffee culture, it’s a story worth sipping and savoring.
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