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Lunch Less Plastic: Tea Eggs

Tea Egg

Miss M has wanted to move to China for as long as she’s been able to express an opinion; since I can’t deliver on that for her, I do what I can to connect her with her culture of choice. So when I came across an article singing the praises of Taiwanese tea eggs, the light bulb in my brain that’s reserved for school lunch ideas blazed on. A bit of internet research brought me proof that tea eggs are as popular in China as they are in Taiwan. I found many recipe variations, so I did some experimenting and came up with an easy version that works for us. Having never eaten a real tea egg, I have no idea how close mine come to those, but we think they’re very, very good.

I’m always on the lookout for new protein options for my girls’ lunches less plastic, and these aren’t just delicious, they have the added benefit of not smelling like plain hard-boiled eggs. Ava loved to take hard-boiled eggs in her school lunches until the day the boy sitting next to her complained about the smell and their substitute teacher dealt with his complaint by telling Ava, “Take a bite quickly, then put it back in its container so the smell isn’t so strong.” Ava was properly shamed for her healthy lunch, and has since refused to bring another egg to school.

But tea eggs are something else entirely, and both my girls are happy to find them in their tiffins. Mira loves them because they’re delicious and because they’re at least a little bit like the eggs she’ll be able to eat when she moves to China (as soon as possible once she’s in charge of her travel plans); Ava loves them because they taste great and don’t smell like sulfur.

Here’s my own inauthentic version:

  • Eggs (however many you would like, I recommend 10 for a half-gallon jar)
  • Star Anise
  • Chinese Five Spice
  • Black Tea or Rooibos
  • Tamari
  • Water
  • Large Jar (I use a half-gallon wide-mouth Mason jar)
  • Metal Soup Spoon

Put on water for tea.

In another pan, cover your eggs with water and bring to a boil. Boil for 4 minutes then remove pan from heat and let sit.

While you’re waiting for the tea water to boil and the eggs to cook, put these things into your jar:

  • 3 bags black tea or the equivalent amount of loose tea. You can use jasmine or another favorite black or green tea for another lovely layer of flavor. If you don’t do caffeine, try loose leaf rooibos or a combination of rooibos and honeybush.
  • 4 star anise
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese Five Spice blend
  • 1/2 cup tamari

Once your kettle has boiled, pour water over the tea, spices, and tamari until the jar is about half-full (or half-empty, as the case may be). Adjust everything to taste; you want a spicy brine that’s a bit stronger than you’d prefer since the eggs will not soak up the full potency of the flavors.

Now turn your attention to the eggs. Tip the hot water out and run cold tap water over the eggs just until they’re cool enough for you to handle without being burned.

Spank each egg in a number of places with the back of your metal soup spoon so that the shell cracks but doesn’t come off. You want to loosen both the shell and the membrane covering the egg to allow the brine in and to create the beautiful cobweb pattern.

As you finish each egg, use the spoon to lower it gently into the jar of spicy brine. Once all the eggs are bobbing in the brine, add hot water from the kettle if necessary to cover the eggs, and adjust the tamari and spices as desired. Remove the tea bags.

Set jar in your fridge for at least 48 hours, then start eating the eggs. They’ll keep in the jar for at least 2 weeks, getting more flavorful and beautiful the longer they steep.

2 comments on “Lunch Less Plastic: Tea Eggs

  1. What a fun idea! Thanks for the recipe as well, I’m going to try it. BTW you write about school lunches, have you found your way to the blog NeverSeconds by a kid in Scotland about his/her school lunches? It has gone viral and people are sending photos of school lunches from around the world. Very cute. Ha I threw in a link to my blog and even though I had a typo (doy!) in the URL someone found their way to my blog from the comments there. Cheers,
    jill/Pacific Northwest Seasons

    • Thank you, Jill! I just heard about Never Seconds yesterday – What a great blog! I can’t wait to show my kids – They love to report on the school lunches each day, and how amazed they are that their classmates would pick that over a tea egg or whatever we’d stuffed into their tiffins. I’ve been running waste audits in their school this year, and sorting through a day’s trash, including the school lunch leftovers, has been illuminating. So much of what the kids are required to put onto their trays isn’t eaten.

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