Bioorthogonal reactions, especially the Cu(I)-catalysed azide-alkyne cycloaddition, have revolutionized our ability to label and manipulate biomolecules under living conditions. The cytotoxicity of Cu(I) ions, however, has hindered the application of this reaction in the internal space of living cells. By systematically surveying a panel of Cu(I)-stabilizing ligands in promoting protein labelling within the cytoplasm of Escherichia coli, we identify a highly efficient and biocompatible catalyst for intracellular modification of proteins by azide-alkyne cycloaddition. This reaction permits us to conjugate an environment-sensitive fluorophore site specifically onto HdeA, an acid-stress chaperone that adopts pH-dependent conformational changes, in both the periplasm and cytoplasm of E. coli. The resulting protein-fluorophore hybrid pH indicators enable compartment-specific pH measurement to determine the pH gradient across the E. coli cytoplasmic membrane. This construct also allows the measurement of E. coli transmembrane potential, and the determination of the proton motive force across its inner membrane under normal and acid-stress conditions.