When I was growing up in Shanghai, there were street venders who sold 茶叶蛋 (literally “tea leave egg”) from little carts, or sometimes just from a pot on the ground. The eggs they sold likely have been simmering in the pot of tea leafs and soy sauce for days and days. Since tea eggs were easy to make and easy to transport, you would often see people eating them at bus stops or vacation areas.
Recently I’ve noticed that tea eggs are being sold in many Chinese grocery stores. These tea eggs often are under-marinated, are not as flavorful as the ones I remember, but still they make me happy just by the sight of them simmering in pots in public places.
I like tea eggs that are very flavorful, exuding a to-die-for aroma of tea leaves, and have an appearance of either a rich darkness or a beautiful marbled pattern on the surface. Making tea eggs at home is actually pretty easy. Everyone has their own preferred method and ingredients, and I’m going to share what I found to be the perfect tea egg for me.
Recipe: Chinese Tea Leaf Eggs
2 cups water
3 tablespoons tea or 3 tea bags
2 teaspoon rock sugar (冰糖）
5 tablespoons soy sauce
2 star anise
1 small cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
100 grams licorice (optional)
salt to taste
What tea to use for tea eggs:
- You don’t have to use particularly good tea; instant tea and tea bags work just as well. The bonus features of tea bags is that it’s easy to control the amount you put in and it’s very easy to clean. You won’t end up with a pot full of tea leaves burned to your pot.
- I find black tea (红茶) to be the best tea to use for tea eggs. Black tea is very fragrant yet not bitter. It has beautiful color, and the eggs that result from it looks and smells great. The literal translation of 红茶 is “Red Tea”. I have no idea why it’s called black tea in English…
- Greed tea (绿茶) tends to be a bit bitter, and produces a more astringent tea egg. As an interesting aside, in the traditional Chinese cooking culture, every ingredient has its impact on health. There are what’s known as “cool” or “hot” type foods (not related to the temperature of the food) that effects the balance in your body. Green tea is considered a “cool” type food, and is not suitable for those with gastric disease, people who are physically weak, and pregnant woman.
It’s best to make tea eggs in a slow cooker. You won’t have to worry about it boiling over or cooking dry, it’s safe and easy to use.
- Add cold water to a medium pot and gently drop in the eggs. Make sure the water covers the eggs. Bring the water to boil on high heat, and cook for 5 more minutes.
- In the mean time, put all the ingredients into the slow cooker with 2 cups of water. For ease of clean up, wrap the ingredients in a clean gauze cloth and tie it up. (If you don’t have a slow cooker, add ingredients to the pot after step 3).
- Transfer the hard-boiled eggs out of the hot boiling water and rinse them with cold water. Using the back of a teaspoon, gently tap the eggshell to crack the shell so that flavor can seep through.
- Put the eggs in the slow cooker (or put it back in the pot and add the rest of the ingredients). Bring the tea mixture to a boil and immediately turn the heat to low. Simmer over night, (or for at least 2 hours in a pot, and add more water if needed). The longer you leave it in there, the tastier the egg.
Tea Egg Serving Notes:
You can serve the eggs hot out of the pot, or leave them in the mixture in the fridge to further develop the color and flavor. If you didn’t have time to simmer the eggs overnight, you can eat them dipped with a little soy sauce, but they should be flavorful without any additional condiments.
Friendly reminder: For the sake of cholesterol, try not to eat more than 4 eggs a week. Although I certainly eat more eggs than that sometimes, still we should be healthy and watch our cholesterol.