Continuing this month's topic of food with tea, we have a popular Chinese street snack - tea eggs! In this post, we'll discuss how to make tea eggs and the different variations that exist.
You can find tea eggs sold from street vendors all over China. In Taiwan, where tea eggs are particularly popular, you can find them steaming hot in every single 7-11 and even in many bubble tea shops. There, they can be enjoyed alongside a refreshing cup of iced tea.
What Are Tea Eggs?
Tea eggs are a common savory Chinese snack and street food. It consists of boiled eggs which are cracked slightly and then steeped in a marinade of tea, soy sauce, and spices.
For many people of Chinese descent, tea eggs are a nostalgic bite of childhood, as it's a tasty and nutritious snack.
Tea eggs originated in Zhejiang province, China, as a way to preserve eggs. Nowadays, they can be found all over China, as well as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Some people also call them tea leaf eggs and Chinese marbled eggs due to their beautiful dark marbled patterns.
Tea eggs from a street vendor in Taiwan
Which Tea Should I Use For My Tea Leaf Eggs?
The most traditional way of making tea eggs is using black tea, otherwise known as red tea or hong cha (for example, Jin Hou Black Tea works great). However, some people believe pu-erh was originally used to make them. If you stumble upon some traditional Chinese tea eggs, they will most likely be made using black tea leaves.
In the Taiwanese recipe, oolong is used instead of black tea. Oolong is an exemplary Taiwanese tea. An abundance of this delicious, lightly roasted tea made it the most popular for use in traditional Taiwanese tea egg recipes.
Walking into a 7-11 in Taiwan, or perhaps past a street vendor, you will surely see a pot full of tea eggs. Often covered with the typical broad leaves of Taiwanese oolongs, already opened up after hours of simmering. Tie Guan Yin is delightful in this recipe, thanks to its roasted qualities and robust, slightly floral taste.
Since the spices used to make tea eggs are pretty bold and pungent, an equivalent tea would be best. One that is robust and doesn't lose its flavor. At the same time, one that doesn't develop unpleasant notes after prolonged steeping.
You can definitely experiment with the tea you will choose for this recipe. For example, aged white tea tea eggs are a modern twist that adds an enjoyable flavor to the snack. Another interesting choice is jasmine tea, like jasmine black tea. You'd be surprised how wonderfully this fragrant flower works with the overall notes of the recipe!
Another favorite of ours - Lapsang Souchong tea eggs. Lapsang Souchong black tea is not uncommon in cooking. The intense camp-fire flavor elevates many recipes - from barbeques to pancakes. The same goes for tea eggs. It only benefits them in the most divine ways.
Which Spices Go Into The Tea Egg Recipe?
A traditional Chinese blend of spices called Five Spice Powder is at the core of the recipe. You can easily find this powdered spice mix in Asian grocery stores. However, it's always better to make it yourself. If you only have access to the powder - no worries, and go ahead and use it. Although, using the whole spices creates a rich and clean broth. Some Asian grocery stores even have the whole spices pre-packed in mesh bags for easy steeping (kind of like big tea bags).
If you want to stick to the classics (the classic five-spice mix), make sure to have the following spices on hand:
Cassia or cinnamon
*Cassia is a tree bark similar to cinnamon. Substitute for cinnamon if you can't get your hands on it. It's important to note that cassia is often labeled as cinnamon in the US since it is cheaper and very similar in flavor. However, in Europe and Asia, they are required to be labeled differently. The taste of cassia is actually more herbal and intense than cinnamon, so it's quite fitting for this recipe. The bark sheets are whole and often either flat or curled, while cinnamon is more fibrous.
- Star Anise
- Fennel Seeds
*This is, in fact, not a pepper at all. Sichuan pepper has an unforgettable tingling sensation and tangy taste. If you can't get your hands on any, it's better to omit it rather than replace it with black pepper.
Other spices are commonly added to elevate the flavors of everyone's beloved tea eggs. Some of these include fresh ginger, black cardamom, dried orange peel, bay leaves, and rock sugar.
Suppose you haven't had tea eggs before. In that case, we recommend sticking with the traditional recipe to experience their most iconic taste. After you've gotten that done, you can definitely experiment with various spices, tea types, and even egg done-ness!
How To Make Tea Eggs: Taiwanese Tea Egg Recipe
- 6 eggs
- 3 cups water
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 10 grams oolong tea (like Taiwanese Monkey-Picked Tie Guan Yin, Medium Roast)
- 1-inch piece cassia or cinnamon bark
- 3 cloves
- 2 star anise pods
- 1 tsp Sichuan pepper
- ½ tsp salt
- 20 grams sugar
- Combine water, spices, and soy sauce in a pot. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add the tea leaves. Allow to cool to room temperature.
- Cook the eggs separately to your desired done-ness—10 minutes for traditional hard-boiled eggs. Once cooked, remove from heat and place the eggs in cold water.
- Take a spoon and gently crack all the eggs with it. The more little cracks there are - the more beautiful the marbled egg effect will be. Don't peel the eggs.
- Place the eggs into the prepared marinade and steep in the fridge for at least 24 hrs. For a more robust flavor, we recommend up to 48 hrs.
*The tea measurements will slightly vary depending on the tea you use - a good rule of thumb is about 10 grams of loose leaf tea.
*For a quicker recipe, you can peel the eggs before putting them in the marinade. In which case, about 1-3 hours of marination should suffice. It won't develop the beautiful marbled effect, but it will still be delicious!
*You can reuse the brine up to 3 times.
*After marination, enjoy the eggs within 3-4 days.
The beautiful thing about this tradition of making tea eggs is that you can use leftover tea leaves from previous brews! You'll still want the tea leaves to be flavorful, so maybe don't use the ones after 10+ gong fu steeps. However, we all have those times where we've only steeped the tea leaves but a couple times. Those will work perfectly!