Chinese Tea Eggs: An Easy & Authentic Recipe

by Ella

Chinese Tea Leaf Eggs, known as “cha ye dan” in Mandarin, are a beloved traditional snack and street food in China. With their marbled appearance and rich, savory flavor, these eggs are a testament to the exquisite blend of culinary techniques and flavors found in Chinese cuisine. In this comprehensive article, we will take you on a journey through the art of making Chinese Tea Leaf Eggs, exploring their history, ingredients, step-by-step preparation, and variations to create this delightful delicacy.

A Glimpse into the History of Tea Leaf Eggs

Chinese Tea Leaf Eggs have a rich history dating back centuries. While the exact origins are unclear, they are believed to have been created during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). It’s said that tea merchants in Sichuan, a province known for its tea production, devised this method to enhance the flavor of eggs and reduce waste by reusing tea leaves.


Over time, the practice of making Tea Leaf Eggs spread across China and became a popular snack enjoyed by people from all walks of life. Today, these marbled eggs are not only a cultural symbol but also a delicious treat enjoyed in many regions and during various occasions, from festivals to family gatherings.


See Also: How to Choose the Best Eggs at the Grocery Store: A Simple Guide


Chinese tea leaf eggs

Chinese tea leaf eggs, also known as "cha ye dan" or "marbled eggs," are a popular and flavorful snack or side dish. They are made by simmering hard-boiled eggs in a mixture of tea leaves and spices, which imparts a beautiful marbled pattern and a fragrant, savory flavor to the eggs. Here's how to make Chinese tea leaf eggs:
Prep Time5 minutes
Active Time1 hour 14 minutes
Course: Main Course
Yield: 5
Cost: $2


For the eggs:

  • 6-8 large eggs

For the tea leaf mixture:

  • 2-3 tablespoons loose black tea leaves (you can use pu-erh tea or any strong black tea)
  • 2-3 star anise pods
  • 2-3 cinnamon sticks
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 2-3 slices of ginger
  • 1-2 dried tangerine or mandarin orange peels (optional)
  • 1/4 cup dark soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup light soy sauce
  • 1-2 tablespoons sugar (adjust to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (adjust to taste)
  • 1-2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns (optional, for a slight numbing sensation)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, crushed (optional)


Boil the Eggs:

  • Place the eggs in a saucepan and cover them with cold water.
  • Bring the water to a boil over medium-high heat.
  • Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer the eggs for about 10-12 minutes for hard-boiled eggs.
  • After cooking, immediately transfer the eggs to a bowl of ice water to cool them rapidly. This helps in easy peeling later.

Crack the Eggs:

  • Once the eggs are cool, gently crack the shells all over using the back of a spoon. Be careful not to peel the eggs; you just want to create cracks.

Prepare the Tea Leaf Mixture:

  • In a separate pot, add enough water to cover the eggs and bring it to a boil.
  • Add the cracked eggs to the boiling water and let them simmer for about 2-3 minutes. This step will help the flavors penetrate the eggs.

Create the Marbling Mixture:

  • In a different pot or heatproof container, combine the tea leaves, star anise, cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, ginger, dried tangerine peels (if using), dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, sugar, salt, Sichuan peppercorns (if using), and crushed garlic (if using).
  • Pour in enough water to cover the eggs and create the marbling mixture.

Simmer the Eggs in the Marbling Mixture:

  • Carefully transfer the pre-boiled and cracked eggs into the marbling mixture.
  • Bring the marbling mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer gently for about 1 to 1.5 hours, or until the eggs have achieved the desired marbling pattern and flavor. Stir occasionally.

Cool and Serve:

  • Once the eggs are done simmering, turn off the heat and let them cool in the liquid.
  • You can serve the tea leaf eggs warm or refrigerate them for a few hours or overnight for even better flavor.

Peel and Enjoy:

When you’re ready to serve, peel the eggs and cut them in half to reveal the beautiful marbling pattern.


Serve them as a snack or side dish. You can also drizzle a bit of the marbling liquid over the eggs for extra flavor.

Chinese tea leaf eggs are a delightful treat with a unique flavor profile. Enjoy them on their own or as part of a larger meal.

Variations and Tips

Spicy Tea Leaf Eggs: To add some heat, include Sichuan peppercorns and dried chili peppers in the marinade.

Five-Spice Tea Leaf Eggs: Enhance the flavor with a teaspoon of five-spice powder in the marinade.

Experiment with Tea Blends: While traditional recipes use loose-leaf black tea, you can experiment with other tea blends, such as green tea or oolong, for unique flavors.

Marinating Time: Longer marinating times result in richer flavors and more pronounced marbling, so consider marinating overnight for the best results.

Reuse the Marinade: You can reuse the marinade for subsequent batches of Tea Leaf Eggs to deepen the flavor.

Serve with Dipping Sauce: Create a dipping sauce with soy sauce, vinegar, and a dash of sesame oil to accompany the eggs.

Storage: Store leftover Tea Leaf Eggs in the refrigerator for up to three days. Reheat them in the marinade or enjoy them cold.

What kind of tea leaves should I use for tea leaf eggs?

Traditionally, strong black teas like pu-erh tea are commonly used for making Chinese tea leaf eggs. However, you have some flexibility in your choice of tea leaves, and you can experiment with other varieties to create different flavors. Here are some options:

Pu-erh Tea: Pu-erh tea is the classic choice for tea leaf eggs. It has a deep, earthy flavor that pairs well with the other spices and seasonings used in the dish. You can use either raw (sheng) or ripe (shou) pu-erh tea.

Black Tea: Besides pu-erh, various black teas can also work well. Assam, Keemun, or other strong black teas will infuse the eggs with a robust flavor.

Green Tea: If you prefer a milder, grassy flavor, you can use green tea leaves. However, the resulting eggs will have a lighter color and a different taste profile.

Oolong Tea: Oolong teas, especially those with a more roasted flavor, can add a unique twist to tea leaf eggs. They provide a slightly sweet and floral note to the dish.

Jasmine Tea: Jasmine tea, with its fragrant floral aroma, can impart a delicate floral note to the eggs. This is a good choice if you want a lighter and more floral flavor.

Herbal Teas: Some herbal teas like chrysanthemum or rose can be used for a distinctive, floral-infused version of tea leaf eggs.

Can I store tea leaf eggs and for how long?

Yes, you can store tea leaf eggs, and they can be kept in the refrigerator for a certain period of time. Here are some guidelines for storing tea leaf eggs:

Refrigeration: After making tea leaf eggs and allowing them to cool to room temperature, transfer them to an airtight container or a sealable plastic bag.

Storage Liquid: To keep the eggs moist and flavorful, it’s a good idea to store them in the marbling liquid (the liquid used to simmer the eggs). The liquid helps maintain the flavor and prevents the eggs from drying out.

Storage Duration: Tea leaf eggs can typically be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. During this time, they will continue to absorb flavor from the liquid, enhancing their taste.

Flavor Intensity: Over time, the flavor of the eggs will become more pronounced as they sit in the liquid. If you like a stronger flavor, you can keep them in the refrigerator for a longer duration, up to a week or so, but be mindful of the storage time to ensure food safety.

Reheating: If you want to enjoy the eggs warm, you can gently reheat them in the marbling liquid or microwave them for a short time before serving.

Tea eggs vs. normal eggs

1. Protein:

Normal Eggs: Eggs, in general, are a rich source of high-quality protein. One large egg contains about 6 grams of protein.

Tea Eggs: Tea eggs also provide protein, but the amount can vary depending on the size of the egg and how much of the marbling mixture is absorbed during the simmering process. Generally, tea eggs have a similar protein content to plain boiled eggs.

2. Calories:

Normal Eggs: A single large boiled egg contains around 72 calories.

Tea Eggs: The addition of the marbling mixture in tea eggs may slightly increase the calorie content, but the difference is generally minimal.

3. Fat:

Normal Eggs: Eggs are a source of healthy fats, including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, as well as saturated fat. The majority of the fat is found in the egg yolk.

Tea Eggs: Tea eggs have a similar fat content to normal eggs, primarily concentrated in the yolk.

4. Vitamins and Minerals:

Normal Eggs: Eggs are a good source of essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12, vitamin D, choline, selenium, and various B vitamins. They are also a source of lutein and zeaxanthin, which are important for eye health.

Tea Eggs: Tea eggs retain most of the vitamins and minerals found in normal eggs. Additionally, they may pick up some flavors and nutrients from the marbling mixture, such as spices and antioxidants from the tea leaves.

5. Flavor and Texture:

Normal Eggs: Plain boiled eggs have a neutral flavor and a firm texture.

Tea Eggs: Tea eggs have a unique flavor profile due to the infusion of tea, spices, and soy sauce. They have a subtle savory, salty, and slightly aromatic taste. The simmering process also gives them a tender and slightly chewy texture.

FAQs About Chinese Tea Leaf Eggs

Q1. Can I use tea bags instead of loose tea leaves?

While loose tea leaves are preferred for their flavor, you can use tea bags if that’s more convenient. Use 2-3 tea bags for this recipe.

Q2. How long should I simmer the tea leaf eggs?

Simmer the tea leaf eggs for about 1 to 1.5 hours to achieve the desired marbling pattern and flavor. The longer you simmer them, the stronger the flavor and marbling will be.

Q3. Can I make tea leaf eggs with soft-boiled eggs instead of hard-boiled eggs?

Yes, you can make tea leaf eggs with soft-boiled eggs if you prefer a runny yolk. Just reduce the simmering time to achieve the desired level of doneness.

Q4. Can I reuse the tea leaf mixture for multiple batches of tea leaf eggs?

Yes, you can reuse the tea leaf mixture for multiple batches to infuse more flavor into the eggs. Just make sure to strain out any solids and store the liquid in the refrigerator between uses.

Q5. What is the best way to peel tea leaf eggs without damaging the marbling pattern?

Gently crack the eggshell all over before simmering, as this will help the marbling pattern penetrate the egg. When peeling, start from the wide end (where the air pocket is) to minimize damage to the pattern.


Chinese Tea Leaf Eggs are a culinary masterpiece that beautifully combines the rich flavors of tea and spices with the simplicity of hard-boiled eggs. Whether you savor them as a snack, appetizer, or part of a larger meal, their unique marbled appearance and savory taste make them a delightful addition to any dining experience.

By following the step-by-step guide outlined in this article, you can embark on a culinary adventure, creating your own batch of Tea Leaf Eggs. Whether you stick to the traditional recipe or add your own creative twists, these eggs are sure to become a favorite treat in your repertoire. So, gather your ingredients, embrace the art of marinating, and savor the rich history and flavors of Chinese Tea Leaf Eggs.



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