Thinking about it, an Easter tea egg might sound off. Right? At first glance, you may think you know it. If you’re from Asia, a tea egg is a household word. It’s a mouthwatering delight from your fave wok. But if you’re from the West, the Easter egg is part of a long-held tradition — a cultural tradition handed through the centuries by Christianity.
Thus, when you say Easter tea egg, it invokes some doubt as to its meaning. Part of you may want to squirm. And that’s exactly the reason why it's perfect. It’s the combination of two long-held traditions that given the chance could unite the world: the East and the West. In taste.
For countless times there we’ve known eggs, we’ve underestimated their taste. We’ve seen them as a go-to source of protein in the morning. Truth be told, however, we’ve never pushed the envelope as to its taste.
In the season of Easter, there may not be a better time to do so than with tea eggs. Those tea-stained eggs with the unique marbling pattern could astound your palates like no other: another way for you to celebrate life and rebirth with best-nourishing tea. Read on.
Celebrate the Egg-citing History of Easter Tea Eggs
Easter this year is going to be a true symbol of hope. Not only are “No More Lockdowns” a thing this time around, but the virus seems to be slowly losing its teeth. Though there are still many who are struggling with the pandemic, the world is beginning to look at a brighter year ahead.
Easter: A Season of Hope
Of course, Easter is an event of celebration all over the planet, mostly in the West. It speaks of a pivotal victory of good versus evil as the Christians commemorate Jesus rising from the dead. In the UK, what better way to get all that in your family than to have Easter Sunday lunch. Or for that matter, an Easter egg hunt.
Come to think of it, if there’s one thing that embodies hope, eggs sit at the top of that list. Imagine an egg. It speaks of life gushing forth.
- A little trivia: The biggest Easter egg is over 25 feet high. Plus, it weighed more than 8,000 pounds. To make it even more mouthwatering, it’s made of chocolate and marshmallow and had to be supported by no less than an internal steel frame.
For the record, tea eggs are a totally different matter altogether. Unlike the more religious Easter egg, a tea-infused egg comes from a more practical human need: delicious food. Today, the delicacy is found in just every corner in China and just about every Chinatown all over the world. Originating in the province of Zhejiang, tea eggs were originally concocted to preserve food for the longest time.
And for a reason. Not only is egg delicious, but it’s steeped with nutrients too. Here’s a quick look:
Table 1: Nutrients in one large boiled egg.
If you’ve ever doubted the nutritional benefits of egg, you should know that it’s the world’s #1 breakfast food. In 2014 alone, the number is 179 eggs per person per year. A little math should tell you that equates to over a trillion eggs a year consumed on the planet with over 7 billion people. In the UK, a recent survey showed that more than 40% of the British population chose eggs as their all-time favourite food.
How Tea Egg Conquered the East
Tea eggs existed before man even recorded their existence. So, while it was mentioned in 1792 in The Way of Eating book by Qing dynasty scholar Yuan Mei, Chinese people were enjoying marbled eggs long before that.
Know that tea eggs are generally attributed to having originated from China. Over the years, these odd-looking eggs have become part of Chinese cuisine. Technically, however, the origin of the recipe can be traced to Zhejiang province.
And the reason is longevity. Making tea egg means you can food stored in the fridge for longer. Typically, tea eggs can last between 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator or even a week if you keep them in an airtight container.
Take note that there are a lot of recipes and variations of tea eggs that developed in other parts of Asia. So, getting a trusted and proven recipe should lead you to enjoy marble eggs to the fullest.
Today, if you take a walk in any city or town in China, or any Chinatown in any country for that matter, chances are you’ll meet vendors peddling the delicacy. Or if you want to take things slow, any Asian restaurant near you should introduce you to the mouth-watering side dish. Or full meal if you’re on the run.
If you’re in Taiwan, chains of 7-Eleven should introduce you to the delicacy. They sell about 40 million tea eggs in one year. Over time, these foodies let their imagination run and have produced tea eggs with fruit flavours (e.g., raspberry, blueberry).
While there are a lot of things you can infuse into a tea egg, tea plays a crucial role in all of this. Marble eggs have regions of light and dark brown, once you peel them. The cracks of the shell should display a mid-brownish tone.
All that colouring is because of tea. If you want the flavour to be strong, the kind of tea you used is a good start. For a greater variety, looking at trusted black tea brands such as those from Oriental Tea Box is wise.
How to Make a Tea Egg to Celebrate Easter
Food is a great way to gather on Easter with family and friends. Indeed, it’s a most opportune time to enjoy the very best food and wines. You can start with a fresh veggie soup which you could make even more delicious with slices of our wild-caught fish maw to make it more nutritious. Then, you can enjoy a roast lamb main dish with all the trimmings and cap it all with a finger-licking good chocolate tart.
But as this is your traditional Easter celebration, putting marble eggs on the table as a side dish or part of the main dish would accentuate the occasion like no other. It might even be your conversation’s central theme as unique as those eggs are.
What will interest you most is that these tea eggs can really whip the appetite into action. Those hard-boiled eggs that harbour a subtle flavour of anise and showcase the deep brown hues of black tea and soy are hard not to notice. Truth be told, the cracked patterns make them stand out. And yes, you can slice them in quarters on the lunch table or have them chilled as a side dish, appetiser, or snack.
The million-dollar question now is how do you make one. Well, it’s simple actually. There’s the long method that will give you a most striking egg result: marbled. And there’s the shorter version. Let’s start with the traditional lengthy method so you can enjoy tea eggs at your Easter celebration.
- 10 eggs
- 2 black tea bags or 2 oolong tea bags
- 1/2 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
- 2 bay leaf
- 2 Star anise
- 10 cm Cinnamon
- 80 ml light soy sauce
- 20ml dark soy sauce
- 5g salt
- 500ml Water
- 4 slices ginger
- 20 g Sugar
- Place the eggs in cold water in your wok.
- Sprinkle a teaspoon of salt.
- Boil the water, then once boiling, minimise the heat so it simmers for five minutes.
- Transfer the cooked eggs directly into ice water until totally cold.
- Place all the flavour ingredients in a pot. Don’t include the cooked eggs. Simmer for exactly ten minutes.
- If you want marbled eggs, produce cracks on the shells of the cooked eggs using a metal spoon.
- Put the cooked eggs (with cracked shells) into the hot flavoured solution. Simmer in the flavouring liquid for exactly twenty minutes.
- Once done, transfer the cooked eggs and the simmered liquid into a suitable container. No need to separate them. Steep the eggs for 12 hours or more for a fuller taste. Once you have everything to your liking, you can be ready to serve one delicious set of marbled eggs on Easter Sunday.
Step 1: Boil the egg
As there are many ways to cook a cake, there are a thousand ways to boil an egg. Usually, there’s a hard boil and a soft boil. If you want the Chinese style, you should go for a hard boil. On the other hand, the Japanese version is with the yolk of the egg barely cooked.
Of course, you can get what you want by controlling the heat and time duration of cooking.
To do that, take these steps:
- Put the eggs in a pot of cold water.
- Boil them.
- Minimise the heat so water is at barely simmering temperature.
- If you want a soft egg (Japanese style), simmer for another five minutes.
- For hard-boiled egg, simmer the soft egg in a flavouring liquid for another ten minutes. Check out step 2 below for more details.
- Once time is up, you need to stop the cooking process ASAP. So transfer the eggs into cold water. That may not be your practice but that’s only so heat is stopped and the eggs don’t get overboiled.
Know that using ice water for this purpose would be advisable. There are two logical reasons for these:
- One: You lower the temperature quickly stopping the cooking almost immediately. Doing so you avoid further oxidation of the yolk’s surface. That way you put a premium on aesthetics and preserve the egg’s bright colour.
- Two: Rapid cooling affects the egg’s internal structure. It results in the contraction of the egg, making it easier to separate from the shell. That way, it’s easier to peel eggs after you sock them in cold water.
Once you have all this, you need to decide whether you want to keep the shells and brag about the marbled eggs later or you want to dine with a shell-less egg.
Step 2: To Shell or Not to Shell
Once cold, you have two options: (1) Either you remove the shell or (2) Knock the egg lightly using a metal spoon creating numerous cracks in the process without actually removing the shell.
- If you decide to remove the eggshell, this will make the egg contact your braising liquid directly. As a result, the egg turns medium brown. Note that the flavour becomes more intense as there is more direct contact.
- Creating multiple cracks sans taking the shell out of the picture is the traditional way. This way, the braising liquid seeps through the cracks. In the process, a marble-like pattern appears on the egg’s surface once the shell is removed. This results in a less intense flavour. However, you can still get a more pronounced flavour, by braising/steeping your egg for far longer.
Step 3: Compose the Flavouring Liquid
Yes, you guess it right. The flavouring liquid gives your tea egg the desirable flavour you need. At the centre of it all, of course, is tea. Black tea is preferred with its strong taste. If you’re not too sure about what particular black tea to use, a quick browse here should bid you well. All in all, the flavouring liquid is composed of:
- Soy sauce
If you want to keep things at a minimum, your barebone ingredients consist mainly of tea, soy sauce, sugar, cinnamon along with star anise. Yet, why limit yourself? If you want your tea eggs to be more mouth-watering, you can add secondary components. Here’s a quick look at each one.
The Main Ingredients
You really can’t leave tea leaves out of the picture. Indeed, the leaves of the Camella Sinensis shrub are hands down the most essential ingredient in making the recipe work. Don’t be alarmed, however, if some won’t be using tea for experimental purposes.
Note that you can use dried leaves as they’re purer or you can also make the most of teabags. Typically, black tea is the most common. Then again, you can use other tea types should you have a fave. For instance, green tea or English Breakfast tea may also be used.
Soy sauce is vital to make your recipe work. As in any cooking, quality matters. So pick a soy sauce that fits your taste. Your tea eggs can only be as good as the quality of your ingredients. And soy sauce is one ingredient you can’t dare miss.
Just a quick note. If you’re keen on Chinese style cooking, then use a Chinese light soy sauce. Also, add a sprinkle of dark soy sauce if you want to come up with darker eggs. Do this after soaking in the flavouring liquid. However, exploring the Japanese will mean you’ll have to use a Japanese soy sauce.
It’s really a matter of choice. You can use your fave sugar: a regular white or darker brown sugar. It won’t really matter as much. Rock sugar, however, is the most common in Chinese cooking
You need to do a judgement call here. Salt is a tricky subject. What’s salty to some is bland to others. Also, you need to proportion things. Your desired amount of salt should depend on the size of your flavouring liquid. In turn, that depends on the size of your actual container for storing your eggs. As a rule of thumb, 1 gram of salt should be used for every 100ml of water.
Make sure you know the spices before you set forth. Two of the most useful spices for this recipe are star anise and cinnamon. To keep things simple, you can use one teaspoon of Chinese five-spice powder as a substitute for most spices here.
The Secondary Ingredients
Theoretically, the abovementioned major ingredients would suffice. Nonetheless, you can explore using secondary ingredients to make your tea eggs as awesome as can be for your Easter celebration.
You know how ginger tastes. If you want to infuse the ginger flavour, then add some slices of fresh ginger to your flavouring liquid.
Don’t be too confused. There are just peppercorns, only that it’s usually a fave ingredient in Sichuan Chinese cuisines. One advantage is its aroma as Sichuan peppercorns are akin to lavender in that department. On one’s tongue, your first taste would be bitter. After which, there’s a numbing heat followed by a taste of citrus. Its claim to fame has been the powerful numbing sensation it brings to the mouth.
You know dried chilli makes it all hotter. So spice it all up to the nth degree by adding one or more dried chillies to your flavouring liquid.
Step 4: Cook the Eggs
Well, there are two ways to cook tea eggs. Each one has its advantage.
First Method: Simmer the Egg
If you want those marble-like eggs, this method is key. Allow the simmering heat to infuse the egg with the flavouring liquid by seeping through the cracks.
Multiple cracks can be produced simply by knocking the egg using a spoon or you can just put pressure on it against the tabletop. Still, leave the shell in its intact form and don’t overdo things so you won’t have to deal with a shell-less egg. If you do it right, the flavour will only get into the egg through the cracks. The stain will create a marble-like pattern.
To make this happen, place the eggs with cracked shells directly into the boiling liquid. Let it simmer for just about ten minutes. Let the boiling liquid infuse the flavour directly into the eggs.
As you will notice, this method is speedy. The problem is it may tend to overcook the eggs making them rubbery. So be careful. While the heat may speed up the oxidation process, it can change the colour of the egg yolk surface from bright yellow to grey.
Second Method: Steep the Eggs for Just One Day
This method works well if you want to have a shell-less egg. The advantage is that these eggs will have an even colour spread of brown colour. One thing’s certain, you have a much more pleasant-looking egg yolk here.
To do this, place the boiled egg directly into the flavouring liquid. Then, let the eggs steep in the liquid overnight. That should absorb the flavour from the liquid like no other.
This way you focus on the flavour. However, you may have to forget about creating a marble-like pattern. If you need to have a full flavour, you may need to steep these eggs for more than just one day.
How to Storage
Some people will recycle the flavouring liquid. If you choose to, boil it once again, then put it in the freezer to cool it. As mentioned, tea eggs can last for two to three days and still be as delicious as can be.
To Wrap Things Up
You may not get it the first time. But don’t worry, once you get it right, and with the right tea, you’ll be able to enjoy tea eggs not just on Easter but on every occasion you chose to celebrate. Easter tea egg all year round.