Hong Kong's British colonial past ensured the presence of Western influences throughout the territory. In the 1930s, high-class restaurants were introduced to the city, but these were expensive and did not welcome Chinese patrons. Locals were keen to challenge such discrimination and so opened their own restaurants, known as Cha Chaan Teng, or "tea restaurant", serving affordable Western-style food for people from all walks of life. Their popularity increased, and as they began to open up around the city, they became a regular part of Hong Kong culture.

Hong Kong people (Hongkies) started to like drinking tea and eating cakes. Therefore, some of the Hong Kong people set up "tea restaurant" and their target audience was local people. 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" (豉油西餐).

In recent years, the management of "tea restaurant" began to change in co-ordination with the development of Hong Kong economy and society. During the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, "tea restaurant" became much more popular in Hong Kong as they still provided the cheapest food for the public. In April 2007, one of the Hong Kong political officers suggested that "tea restaurant" be listed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists, because of its important role in Hong Kong society.

The Chinese name Cha Chaan Teng (茶餐) , literally "tea restaurant", the "tea" in the name refers to this inexpensive Ceylon black tea, which differs from the traditional Chinese tea served in traditional dim sum restaurants and teahouses (茶樓).

The British habit of drinking black tea with milk and sugar influenced the emergence of the Hong Kong-style milk tea, which substituted hard-to-keep fresh milk with evaporated milk. Yuan yang, a mix of coffee and milk tea, was also introduced. Its literal translation is "mandarin ducks": male and female mandarin ducks are often seen together as a pair, but look very different.

"Tea Restaurant" with their diverse mix of affordable Western and Chinese fare such as tea, coffee, French toast, Cantonese-style noodles and rice under one roof, have long been a part of Hong Kong life.

They serve as a symbol of Hong Kong's unique history, which has successfully blended Western and Chinese cuisines into its culture and heritage.

Fast service and high efficiency
Usually, tea restaurants have high efficiency, with each customer spending 10–20 minutes to finish a meal on average. 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.