One of China’s traditional foods, tea eggs are available in most parts of the country. Tea eggs are made by slow simmering hard-boiled eggs in flavored tea.
Simple to make and easy to carry, tea eggs can be cooked and sold in a variety of places including Chinese food stands and tourism vendors. Easy to find, flavorful and inexpensive, tea eggs are one of China’s most favored snacks.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a well-known saying in China: “It is better to sell tea eggs than to make atomic bombs”.
During that era, the saying expressed the Chinese cultural belief that mental work was not superior to manual labor to make money. In other words, even the simple manual process of making tea eggs requires a sharp mind.
Every year when I was in college, my daily commute was by train or coach. The crowded cars were filled with other travelers reeking of smoke and sweat.
It was not uncommon to leave the car with trash clinging to me, usually melon and orange peels. Everyone rudely ignored each other. During these uncomfortable train rides, I would often comfort myself with the nostalgic memory of the taste of the tea eggs.
Once out of school I still had to use public transportation to get to work, usually the bus. Remembering the unpleasant daily commutes in my school years, I did not wish to repeat the same trying experiences. I discovered buying a few tea eggs for breakfast on my way to work added a small pleasure.
The memory of the marked difference the treats made to the beginning of my day is still unforgettable.
- 1) Eggs: 6, uncooked
- 2) Soy Sauce: 70ml
- 3) Star Anise: 2
- 4) Dried red peppers: 2
- 5) Green Tea: The typical amount of a handful of tea leaves dyes your eggs too light a color. The dosage of tea should create pleasantly colored and full flavored eggs. Use the photos provided in the following recipe to experiment with varying tea amounts to your taste.
- Wash the whole eggs gently first. Fill boiling pot with cold water 2/3 full. Gently place eggs in the cold water being careful not to crack the shells. Bring the water to boiling. Start the timer once the water boils. Then lower the heat to simmer to avoid over-cooking the eggs. Eggs made from tea leaves are boiled for a little longer, typically 20 minutes.
- After the eggs are cooked, remove them from the pot. Leave the boiling water in the pot and allow the water to cool slightly. Rinse the eggs in cold water for approximately one minute. Using the bottom of a spoon, gently tap each egg shell until the shell is covered with even cracks. Place the cracked eggs in an oven baking dish, such as a casserole pot. Fill with enough water to reach 2/3rd up the eggs Add the 70 ml of soy sauce, 2 star anise, 2 dried red peppers, and a suitable amount of green tea. Bring the water to boil then reduce to simmering.
- Simmer the eggs on the stovetop for 2 hours, uncovered. Make sure to maintain enough cooking liquid throughout the two hours always keeping the eggs 2/3rds submerged. Periodically turn the eggs over by thirds to ensure they are evenly flavored on all sides.
Tea eggs, of course, are best eaten hot.
Tips to prevent cracking of eggs during cooking:
- Tea eggs are best taken out of the refrigerator in advance. Always cook them once at room temperature. It is much easier to lay the eggs into a pot of cold water. Do not wait for the water to boil and then add the eggs as the shells will crack.
- When hard boiling the eggs, cover the pot once water starts boiling. Keep the eggs covered while boiling to also avoid cracking. After the water starts to boil, use a low fire to heat, as it is easy to crack the eggs using a high fire.