Tea eggs (茶葉蛋) is one of the few street foods that I remember eating as a kid in Hong Kong. My favourite thing about tea eggs, besides the slightly salty flavour and spices that tingle your nose, is how they look. Once you peel away the shells, you’re faced with a marbled egg glistening from the delicious marinade that it’s been bathing in. My recipe for tea eggs is slightly different, while the egg might not be as marbled looking like the traditional version, it preserves the runny yolk and definitely does not lack in flavour.
What are Tea Eggs?
Tea eggs are boiled eggs that are marinated in a spiced-tea mixture. Originally from China, it was used as a way to preserve eggs for a longer period of time. Nowadays, tea eggs can be found in many Chinese communities around the world with different variations and adaptations. They are great as a snack or you can use it as a quick side dish for your breakfast, lunch or even in bento boxes like this one I made with temari sushi.
The marbled pattern on tea eggs is their signature and is created by the cracks and the spiced-tea mixture. The dark marinade will seep into the egg through the cracks on the shell, leading to darker lines where the cracks were and giving an overall tanned or light brown colour on the rest of the egg.
What Tea Should You Use for Tea Eggs?
If you look up recipes for marbled eggs, almost all of them will say “black teas”. But there are so many different black teas, which one should you use? And what about higher oxidized oolongs or dark teas?
Even though I could not find a specific answer for this, it leads me to think about what flavour from the tea do I want the marinade to have. My first thought was to use a smokey tea to infuse this smell/flavour into my tea eggs. Some teas, such as the Lapsang Souchong, are smoked and I thought using teas like these would add another layer of flavour to the eggs.
But will you be able to taste the tea in eggs? Thinking back to my childhood, I honestly don’t remember any tea flavour in tea eggs. Maybe it was because of the type of tea being used or maybe because the soy sauce and spices overpowered the tea. As a tea enthusiast, I want the tea to also shine in this recipe. It’s called “tea” eggs after all. Luckily, the staff at O5, a tea shop in Vancouver, gave me a great suggestion on a really smokey tea when I mentioned what I was trying to make. Singpho Falap is a black tea from Assam, India. The tea, drank by native communities like the Singpho, is pan fired, withered and then smoked in bamboo. The tea literally smells like campfire. If you’re interested, check out O5’s website for more information.
The verdict: the smokiness was definitely infused into the eggs. I could also taste and smell the tea when I was simmering the marinade too. So while you can use any black tea for tea eggs, I’d suggest experiment with a different black tea each time.
Tea Eggs Recipe – Traditional vs Jan’s Recipe
Traditionally, the eggs for tea eggs are hard-cooked first before they are cracked and simmered again in the marinade. This means the eggs are technically cooked twice which often made overcooked with chalky egg yolks. Eek! I personally prefer soft-boiled eggs, with a runny or just-set yolk, so I made a couple of modifications in this recipe:
- I soft-cooked my eggs so they are still runny in the centre. This does make things a bit tricky when you crack the eggs since they are still soft and delicate. You can medium-cook the eggs so you have a firmer egg to work with when creating the cracks.
- Instead of simmering the cracked eggs in the marinade, I just let the eggs marinate in the spiced-tea mixture in the fridge. There are pros and cons to this. Pros: Your egg yolks will stay runny or just set and still be as flavourful as if you were to simmer the eggs in the marinade. Cons: I find the marbling not as apparent if you don’t simmer the eggs in the marinade. For me, I’d rather sacrifice the marbling than have a chalky egg yolk!
Do note that the longer the eggs stay in the marinade, the more cured (set) the egg yolk will be.
As I’m writing this, I think a workaround might be to soft-cook the eggs, crack them, then simmer them for a short period of time, like 10 minutes, in the marinade. Maybe that would give you the perfect hard-cooked eggs. Someone please try this and let me know.
These tea eggs retain their runny yolks without sacraficing flavours. Experiment with different tea leaves to add another dimension. For example, you could use roasted or smoked tea leaves to give the eggs a roasty or smokey flavour.
- 8-10 Large Eggs see notes
- 5-8 g Black Tea (loose leaf) or 2 tea bags see notes
- 2.5 cups Water
- 4 tbsp Light Soy Sauce
- 2 tbsp Dark Soy Sauce
- 2 tsp Sugar
- 1 tsp Sea Salt
- 2 Bay Leaf
- 1 tsp Sichuan Peppercorns
- 1 Star Anise
- 1 Small Cinnamon Stick
Combine all the marinade ingredients in a small sauce pan and bring it to a boil over medium heat.
Once boiling, reduce heat to low or medium-low to keep a steady simmer. Let the mixutre simmer for 10 minutes.
After 10 minutes, remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Remove tea leaves or tea bags once the mixture is at room temperature.
While you wait for the marinade to cool, boil a large pot of water, enough to cover all the eggs. Once the water comes to a rolling boil, carefully lower each egg straight from the fridge into the water using a ladle.
With a spoon or chopsticks, gently stir the eggs in the water in a circular motion. This will help the yolk settle in the middle of the egg whites.
Lower the heat to medium-high and cook the eggs to your preference. In the photos, my eggs were cooked for 6-7 minutes.
Once the eggs are done cooking, immediately transfer them into a bowl filled with ice and water (ie. ice bath). You may also run the eggs in cold tap water for a few minutes to stop the cooking process.
Prepare a large food zipper bag that can hold all the eggs and the marinade.
When the eggs are cool enough to handle, hold one egg in your palm and tap the back of a spoon all around the egg to create cracks. If you made soft-boiled eggs, be careful not to hold or tap the eggs with too much force.
Place the cracked egg into the zipper bag and continue with the rest of the eggs.
When all the eggs are cracked, pour the marinade into the zipper bag and squeeze out as much air as you can while closing the bag.
Leave the eggs with the marinade in the fridge for at least 24 hours. If some eggs are not fully submerged in the marinade, you'd want to move some eggs around while they hang out in the fridge so all of them will get a chance to fully soak in the marinade.
Enjoy the eggs after 24 hours. The marinade will help preserve the eggs and they can be kept refridgated in the marinade for up to 5 days.
Note that the eggs will get more flavourful and saltier the longer they are left in the marinade. The egg yolks will also get more cured over time.
- There is enough marinade in this recipe to make up to 10 large eggs using a zipper bag. If you wish to make more or if you’re going to use a container to marinate the eggs, I’d suggest doubling the marinade recipe to ensure that all the eggs are able to be submerged in it.
- The amount of tea can be adjusted based on the tea you’re using. I’ve been making mine with a very bold smokey black tea and 5 grams of this tea was enough to get the smokey tea flavour. If you’re unsure, start with 5 grams then taste the marinade once it finishes boiling to see if you need to add more tea to bring out the tea flavour.
- If you are unable to find some of the spices, you can substitute the spices mentioned above with 1/2 teaspoon of five-spice powder.