茶叶蛋 Marbled Tea Eggs
Reading Time: 3 minutes
If ever there was a perfect portable snack, it’s the hard-boiled egg. Each one is packed with lean protein, vitamins, and antioxidants. Not only are they filling and a good source of energy, but eggs contain choline, a nutrient that regulates the brain, nervous system, and cardiovascular health. Choline helps maintain brain cell membranes’ structure, which helps relay messages to the nerves and muscles.
A bit of seasoning is all one needs for a tasty treat on the go — a sprinkle of salt and pepper, a dusting of chili powder or smoked paprika compliment the mild and savory flavor. Hard-boiled eggs fit nicely into one’s pocket or lunchbox, providing a convenient and nourishing way to get through the day.
In Asia, people take the seasoning a bit further by preparing marbled tea eggs at home and stopping by street vendors and open-air markets for a quick bite. It’s a popular snack enjoyed year-round, with increased batches on display during the Lunar New Year, representing gold nuggets that symbolize good fortune and posterity for future generations.
Steeped in a flavorful marinade of soy sauce, star anise, spices, and tea, tea eggs (cha ye dan, 茶叶蛋) resemble beautifully carved marble orbs with delicate veins of color crisscrossing the surface. A platter of eggs looks more like art than something to eat.
As with most recipes, ingredients can vary a bit, depending on personal preferences with added spices. Here’s a basic formula for 12 eggs.
- Cover the eggs with cold water and bring to a full boil. Turn off the heat, keeping the pot on the burner. Cover with a lid and let sit 10 to 12 minutes, depending on the desired doneness. Remove eggs and chill.
Ingredients for marinade:
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup light or dark soy sauce
- 1 tbsp. sugar (white or brown)
- ½ tsp. whole black peppercorns
- ½ tsp. fennel seeds
- 8 whole cloves
- 2 whole star anise
- 2 sticks cinnamon
- 1 tbsp loose-leaf lapsang souchong black tea (a distinctive smoky black tea)
Other ingredients can be added or substituted: ginger, bay leaves, red pepper flakes, orange or tangerine zest. Some recipes call for whole peeled garlic.
The sugar can be substituted with rock sugar, a refined, crystallized cane sugar used in many Chinese dishes to add shine to braised meats and to sweeten desserts. It is milder in taste than regular sugar.
- Bring the water to a boil. Add the other ingredients and let simmer 10 to 20 minutes.
- Strain the marinade.
- Crack each egg by gently tapping the shell all over with the back of a spoon. The idea is to simply make enough cracks to allow the flavor and color of the marinade to seep into each egg.
- Add chilled eggs to marinade. Simmer for 15 minutes.
- Remove from heat and soak the eggs in the marinade sauce in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours.
This is a festive way to serve hard-boiled eggs at brunch, a tea party, or any special occasion. The unique flavors and marbled effect will surely garner rave reviews from friends and family.
茶叶蛋 For more information about tea eggs:
- Mike Chen demonstrates how to make tea eggs on his YouTube channel, Strictly Dumpling.
- Mama Cheung demonstrates tea eggs (with English subtitles).
- Chinese Grandma blog talks about the history of tea eggs and how her mother made them, and provides a very simple recipe.
Originally published in the February/March 2021 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.