Traditionally, Chinese Tea eggs were made to celebrate the Chinese New Year. The yellow of the egg yolk is thought to symbolise gold and prosperity, and eggs, as always, represent new beginnings. As its coming up soon (Early February) its an appropriate time to discover how wonderful tea eggs are for yourself – any time of year will do once you discover how wonderful they are!
Tea eggs are a common phenomenon in Asia: so common they are available at the local 7 eleven, as well as street vendors and restaurants, as an easy and accessible snack. When I was at Acupuncture school, I had a lecturer from Hong Kong who brought tea eggs in to share during a clinic. As an avid fan of both eggs and tea, I was astonished on the deep and complex flavours and instantly hooked! I knew I had to make these yummy morsels for myself. Tea Eggs are a great snack any time of day, or you can add them in to a meal.
There are many variations available online: essentially you are restricted only by your imagination and preferences – and how many eggs you can eat ;). I adjust my recipe and the spices to the season: cayenne pepper and ginger in cooler weather, fennel and orange in warmer temperatures.
As with all traditional Chinese recipes, there are therapeutic properties for the foods and spices utilised: I’ll add details below. Have a read – its really interesting to observe your favourite flavours and what they’ve been doing for you all this time.
I highly recommend you do a minimum of 6 – 8 eggs as they’ll disappear much too fast otherwise. Traditionally eggs are served warm or at room temperature.
6-8 Free range eggs (minimum: more if you like)
2 -3 teaspoons of tea or 3 tea bags*
4 cups water: enough to cover the eggs fully
3 cinnamon sticks
3-4 star anise pods
3tbs – 1/2 cup soy sauce/ tamarin (dark or light: traditionally both were used)
This is the most basic recipe for Tea Eggs. However other spices you can try include:
Fresh Ginger: 2/3 fresh slices
Sichuan Peppercorn: Limited by your tolerance for heat! probably 4-5 to start with
Mandarin/ Orange peel: 3-4 good size strips, fresh
Fennel Seeds: 2 teaspoons or more
Cloves: 3-5 cloves (not too many: you don’t want the medicinal/ cough syrup taste)
Chinese Five Spice: 1 tsp
Licorice root: 1- 2 slices
Sugar: Brown, palm or coconut – any brown whole sugar. 2 tbs
*The tea you use will also have an impact on the overall flavour of the eggs also. An oolong or hoijicha will have a lighter, smother flavour, while a deeper, smokier tea (like pu erh) will taste deeper. Don’t worry, its perfectly fine to use plain black tea bags from your cupboard. Experiment and see which you prefer!
Instructions: super easy!
Boil the eggs in salted water in a saucepan until fully and completely boiled.
Remove the eggs (save the water) to cool – its important you cool them a little so the shell can crack evenly
Tap the eggs with the back of a spoon (gently) or roll them on a bread board so the shells crack evenly. Make sure you break the protective skin between so the marbling can occur (or, quick method: remove the shells completely if you cant be bothered 🙂
Pop the spices into the saucepan with the water. Add in the eggs again
Pop on the lid and gently simmer. At least 15 – 20 mins, its up to you. The more heat, the deeper the flavour.
Leave to soak. A few hours at least, overnight is better. I leave mine 1 -2 days, heating periodically. This gets a really deep and wonderful flavour all the way in to the yolk.
Now you can shell and eat them!
Remove eggs (with some liquid still) and store in the fridge for up to 5 days: If they last that long!
And now for the Funky Eastern Medicine:
Now I’ll go into some of the healing and therapeutic properties of the foods from an Eastern Medical perspective.
Eggs: Birds eggs in Chinese Medicine are used to nourish the Blood, Qi and the Kidneys. Chicken eggs are sweet and nourishing, building the Yin of the body, especially Kidney and Liver. They are recommended for recovery from illness, especially of the chronic kind, lack of milk after childbirth, and for threatened miscarriage. Traditionally in Chinese Medicine eggs are suggested to women hoping to conceive and to retain and build a healthy baby. They represent fertility and the life cycle in every culture! Eggs, especially the Yolk have demonstrated impacts on both anxiety and depression and are great for balancing blood sugar. (see here and here for more.
A note for anyone concerned about saturated fat: A recent systematic review published in the BMJ looked at the association between saturated fat intake and risk of all cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. The analyses included between 100, 000 and 340, 000 subjects.
They found NO association. (see here) Industrial trans fats found in processed food and margarine, on the other hand? That stuff will definitely kill you. (here )
Tea: the humble cup of tea has many therapeutic benefits. Tea improves the digestion, relieves thirst, and is cooling, diuretic, and astringent. As a digestive aid it cuts through fats and oils to enable easy digestion of a rich meal. It opens the acupuncture channels. It has metabolic, immunity, anti carcinogenic, anti inflammatory effects and is generally wonderful. There are so many benefits to tea it could take over this blog! Lets just say tea is awesome and leave it there for now 🙂
Soy sauce: Fermented soy (as miso or soy sauce) has a propensity for the Spleen and Stomach, and Kidneys. It reinforces and detoxifies the stomach. Unpasteurised Soy sauce has enzymes and bacteria which can assist in strengthening the digestive system. (note: the cheap ones will have sugar, caramel and flavour. Avoid them! They are useless therapeutically)
Cinnamon: Cinnamon must be one of the best known Chinese spices. Its used medicinally in many Chinese Herbal formula’s (not the same kind or quality as what you can find at the grocery store). In ancient times, Cinnamon was so valuable it was literally equal to its weight in gold. While it has the warming property of all spices, cinnamon has a capacity to disperse and release the exterior this is why its so great to kick out a cold! It has anti- inflammatory, immune building, and antibacterial effects and can aid in digestive, immunity, and metabolic functions. See here
Fresh Ginger: Many people love ginger! its warming, pungent and stimulating for the Lungs (and hence the immunity), as well as the Spleen and Stomach. This is why its also great for the digestion! It promotes sweating and has a clearing, warming, purging effect. Be careful however: ginger is not appropriate in large amounts for pregnant or menopausal women, or people who are generally hot in their constitution. Also known for its impacts on stroke and heart disease, malabsorbtion and digestive issues,compromised immunity, aiding respiratory function, and general anti bacterial and anti fungal properties. See here for more.
Sichuan and Cayenne Peppercorn: like ginger, Sichuan pepper is warming and stimulating. It promotes energy and increases metabolic rate. Same rules as ginger apply. Use in moderation!
Mandarin/ Orange peel: Citrus fruits generally have a warming nature and are a tonic for the digestive system and poor appetite. the bioflavonoid activity of the peel can assist with congestion and phlegm in the lungs, spleen and stomach. Sweet.
Star Anise and Fennel Seeds: for the digestion! They nourish the spleen and stomach, and aid in fat digestion.
Cloves and Chinese Five Spice: spices generally have a warming, expansive, drying quality which enhance the properties of food they are added to, while clearing the damp and heavy properties of a particular food.
Licorice root: the most used herb in Chinese Medicine. We use it to direct other herbs to where they are most needed and to balance potential negative effects. Like Cinnamon, Ginger and numerous other Chinese Medicinal herbs (too many to list in this article) it has now been proven to do….. exactly what we said it did 2000 years ago! Its beneficial for coughs and colds, gastrointestinal issues, and female gynecological issues. It has anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial, adaptogenic, and anti-microbial benefits. see here for more). Even if you don’t usually like the flavour I promise you it blends in well in these eggs and is worth it!
Sugar: warm and sweet, sugar has a connection with the Spleen in Chinese Medicine. it harmonises the blood and can ease spasm.
Please note: all information is for general purposes only, and not medical advice. See your registered Chinese Medicine practitioner for more information.