When I was a little girl, I knew that every now and then, a magical pot of tea eggs could be found steeping in the fridge. We used to eat these yummy, beautifully marbled eggs as a tasty snack. I never really thought about where they came from or how they were made.
Tea eggs or “cha yeep dahn” in Cantonese literally translates to “tea leaf egg”, is a traditional Chinese snack and big metal tubs of tea eggs can be found all over China by way of street venders and market stalls. Easily portable, pre-cracked and already wrapped in a natural casing, tea eggs are a wonderful whole food. The yolks have the grey outer due to being cooked for a time but this in no way affects the flavour. Tea eggs can be eaten hot, warm, at room temperature or cold. If you prefer cold or hot boiled eggs, then proceed as per your preference. Chinese tea eggs taste mildly salty-sweet, aromatic like aniseed with a good dose of “egginess” of course.
Now that I am a grown up, no tea eggs magically appear in my fridge. Our local Chinese grocer sells tea eggs for 50 cents a piece and sometimes if I am shopping while hungry, I will buy an egg to snack on. I’ve always wondered about tea eggs and what made them so yummy. Turns out it’s quite simple. The brew is simply black tea, soy sauce and spices.
Traditionally, tea eggs would have been made with free range eggs. Because traditionally, chickens were not factory farmed. Use fresh eggs and as large as you can get.
Recipe adapted from Steamy Kitchen’s recipe here.
Chinese Tea Eggs
6 large free range eggs
1/2 cup light soy sauce
2 star anise (I used 3 partial pieces)
1 cinnamon stick
2 bags black tea
1 teaspoon sugar
- Place eggs in a pot and fill with water to cover eggs plus 1 inch. Bring the pot to the boil and then immediately turn down the heat and simmer for 5 minutes uncovered. You only want to cook the eggs enough so that you can crack the shell without whites running out.
- Remove eggs from heat, drain water and with cold water. Once eggs are cool enough to handle, gently tap each egg all over the shell. I use a teaspoon or the flat edge of a butter knife. The more you tap, the more intricate the design will be. Personally, I wish I had been a bit more daring with my breaking. Do not break open the eggs, you only want to fracture the outer shell and make sure you keep the membrane/skin intact.
- Put the eggs back in the pot and add all the other ingredients. Top with hot water so that the eggs are *just* covered.
- Bring to the boil and then immediately turn down the heat and gently simmer for 10 minutes uncovered. At this stage the eggs are cooked.
- Allow to cool for a couple of hours, then cover and and refrigerate in stewing liquid for 1-2 days. Remove eggs from stewing liquid after 2 days otherwise the eggs will get too salty. This stewing liquid should be discarded. Eat tea eggs within 1 week though they never last more than a couple of days in our house.
- If you are a street vendor, keep eggs heated to a comfortable serving temperature (a hot bath) until sold. Great hot or cold.
Note: Apparently you can also cook these eggs in a rice cooker which is handy as all Chinese households have a rice cooker.