There are certain memories I have of my childhood that are more vivid than most. I remember my mom used to spend an entire day stewing an astronomical amount of food to eat that same night and many more nights to follow. It was usually things like seaweed, tofu, different parts of a pig (ear, tongue), and occasionally she would throw in a few hard boiled eggs and let them soak up all the flavors the previous occupants of the stewing liquid imparted.
Those eggs weren't the exact same thing as these tea eggs, they weren't delicately cracked to create a perfect marbled pattern (my mom is far too practical for that), and I don't actually think the stewing liquid she used had any tea in it, but the other aromatics were very similar. The first time I made tea eggs myself, the smell elicited an overwhelming feeling of childhood nostalgia. So even though they're not the exact same thing I ate growing up, they're pretty darn close.
So...what exactly are tea eggs and what kind of trickery did I have to employ to get that marbled pattern? It's actually really straight forward. You take eggs that are soft to medium boiled, crack them all around, then return them to the pot with a mixture of soy sauce, black tea, other aromatics such as star anise or cinnamon, and water to submerge them. You then simmer them for a long long time, letting the color and flavors seep into all of the cracks you just made. And in case you are perplexed when you cut the eggs in half and think there's something really wrong with them, don't worry, the yolks almost always have a ring of blue around the outside—it is perfectly normal.
You can eat them as a snack, but I like them served family style with rice and other meat/vegetable dishes as we did when I was younger.
Adapted from Two Red Bowls
You can dry orange peel by cutting a few pieces off with a paring knife, placing them on a plate in one layer and leaving them out for at least 24 hours
According to this Serious Eats experiment, starting eggs in hot water vs. cold makes for a cleaner peel. From my failed trials at beet deviled eggs that never saw the light of day on this blog, and from my first test run of this recipe, I have to concur, but if you're more comfortable placing the eggs in at the beginning and bringing them up to a boil with the water, then they will only need to simmer for about 2 minutes.
At first I was uncomfortable with the thought of cooking eggs for so long as I feared rubbery egg whites (minimum 2 hours?! Absurd!), which led me to try simmering the eggs for only 20 minutes in the tea broth then steeping them overnight in the fridge. This did not work. The marbling pattern was pathetic and the flavor was weak. So I sucked it up and followed the directions as written and let it go for the full 3 hours. It worked perfectly. The egg whites, though not as soft as you would get from a barely-hard-boiled egg, weren't rubbery at all.
Yields 6 eggs.
6 large eggs
water as needed
2 tbsp lapsang souchong tea (or any other black tea), packed into an empty tea bag or infuser
1/4 cup soy sauce
3 whole star anise
3 to 4 dried orange peels (or fresh if you don't have dried on hand)
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
Bring 3 to 4 inches of water to a simmer in a medium sauce pan. Gently place eggs in with a spoon, taking care not to crack them. Simmer for 5 minutes. Drain the eggs and rinse them with cold water. Once cool, crack the shells with the back of a spoon, you want to be enthusiastic about it so the cracks are deep enough to let the tea mixture seep in, but not too vigorous as to demolish the shells entirely.
Return the eggs to the pan and add tea bag, soy sauce, star anise, orange peels, cinnamon, peppercorns, salt, and sugar. Add enough water to completely submerge the eggs. Simmer on low for 2 to 3 hours, adding water as needed to keep the eggs submerged.
Remove the eggs from the liquid and place them in an ice bath to cool. Once cooled, peel, and enjoy.