Tea eggs — cha ye dan (茶叶蛋) — have long been a popular savory snack in China. From Family Mart convenience stores to roadside stalls, you can pick up a soy sauce and black tea leaf braised egg virtually anywhere in Shanghai and they have become a tasty fixture on the city’s snack scene.
One reason these eggs have become so popular throughout China is that they are as inexpensive as they are delicious. “Typical tea eggs will cost around RMB 1,” says our favorite egg vendor, Mr Zhou.“There are a few ways to prepare [tea] eggs,” explains Zhou. “Some people quickly boil them in soy sauce and tea leaves, but the flavor and color will not be so rich.”
Instead, Zhou lets his eggs steep and marinate in a spiced soy sauce and black tea mixture over night. This ensures the sweet and savory taste for which this snack is known.
It’s all about the cracking
But what about the coloring and marbling? Zhou explains that the rich chestnut coloring of the eggs comes from cracking their shells and then steeping them overnight in the soy-based marinade.
“To ensure rich coloring, I crack the shell of each egg after I boil them in water for a few minutes.”
The result is a really cool coffee-colored marbling pattern throughout the egg.
“The more cracks,” tells Zhou, “the more designs will appear on the egg’s surface.”
If the cracks aren’t deep enough, he warns, “then the coloring will not be as dark and deep. Besides mine being a bit sweeter, the biggest difference between these eggs and the eggs at a convenience store, is that I take the time to individually create good-sized cracks so they will be both flavorful and colorful.”
The key is in the tea
It may seem like a no brainer, but the secret to good tea eggs, tells Zhou, lies in the quality of the tea leaves in which they steep. “I only use black tea leaves from Yunnan,” he says.
This tea, called Dian Hong, is a relatively high quality blend from that province. It has more leaf buds than most varieties of black tea, which produce a golden red hue when brewed. Mixed with the soy sauce and spices used for making tea eggs, it helps create a beautiful mahogany colored broth.
“Because I make so many in a batch, I almost never sell out during the day, so people can come and enjoy these anytime,” says Zhou.
And we do — his braised eggs keep us coming back for more at all hours of the day.
Zhou’s tea eggs
Makes one dozenIngredients
- 12 eggs
- 1.25 cup soy sauce
- 1.5 tbs five spice
- 2 tbs ground huajiao (flower peppers)
- 4 tbs black tea leaves or 4 tea bags
- 2 tsp sugar
- Place the eggs in a small pot and cover them with water.
- Place the covered pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Once the water’s boiling, turn the heat to medium low and cook for four minutes, then remove the eggs and save the water.
- Drain the eggs in cold water.
- Once cooled, crack the egg shells with the back of a spoon or on the countertop. Remember, the more cracks, the cooler the design will be.
- Add the rest of the ingredients and the cracked eggs into the pot with the reserved water.
- Bring this mixture to a boil, then turn the heat to the lowest setting and simmer for 40 minutes.
- Cover the pot and let the eggs further marinate in the liquid for at least six hours or for up to two days in the refrigerator.
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