Five Spice Tea Leaf Eggs

With the lunch-packing season upon us, here’s a twist on hard-boiled eggs. These make a great snack or lunch, not only for school or work but also for long car rides and, now that the airlines are cutting so many corners, for plane trips. If you can, look for pastured eggs or, at the least, eggs from organically fed, free-range hens – the difference in taste and quality will astound you.

Five spice powder’s claim to fame is that it includes all 5 flavors found in Chinese cooking: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, and salty. You can make your own by combining equal parts whole Sichuan (or other) peppercorn, cinnamon sticks, cloves, fennel seed, and star anise. After toasting the spices lightly, grind in a mortar or with a coffee or spice grinder. If you’re in a hurry or don’t want to mess with that, five-spice is also available pre-mixed in Asian markets and in some conventional groceries – try the Asian section first, then the baking/spice aisle. For this recipe, you can just combine the ingredients for five-spice, no need to grind!


  • 1 dozen hard-boiled eggs
  • 1 T black tea leaves (or even tea bags!)
  • 1 T salt
  • 1 T Shaoxing cooking wine
  • 2 T light soy sauce


  • 3 whole star anise
  • 1 T cinnamon sticks, broken
  • 1 T fennel seed
  • 1 T whole cloves
  • 1 T Sichuan peppercorn (or other whole peppercorn will do)


  1. Gently roll the eggs between your palm and the counter until the skin cracks – you don’t want it to come off, just look all spider-webby.
  2. In a dry skillet, toast the five-spice ingredients over a medium flame, stirring occasionally until the ingredients begin to release their fragrance, then remove to a bowl and set aside.
  3. Place all the ingredients plus the spice mixture in a saucepan, add water just to cover the eggs, and bring to a simmer.
  4. Turn off the heat, cover the pan, and allow the eggs to soak in the liquid until it reaches room temperature. At this point you can peel and serve the eggs or refrigerate them in the liquid.

do ahead:

This recipe is a great do-ahead item for picnics and lunches and quick suppers. You can make the eggs up to 24 hours in advance. If you keep them longer, remove them from the liquid and keep in the refrigerator until ready to use.

tips & tricks:

When I eat a hard-boiled egg, I like the unbroken shell to peel easily and the egg inside to have a non-rubbery white and a bright yellow yolk without a sulfurous grey tinge around its edge. This is best achieved by soaking the raw eggs in hot water while bringing a pot of water to a boil, adding the eggs gently, barely simmering for 12 m, then immediately plunging into ice water. Because this uses a LOT of water, a precious resource these days, I try to reuse the warm soaking water for other ingredients and the ice water for shocking blanched items. Another way to conserve water would be to use the simmering liquid from the above recipe to hard-boil the eggs, removing them to crackle the shells, and returning them to finish their soaking. They may not peel as easily, and the yolks will not be quite as bright yellow because they will be heated longer than 12 m, regardless of what cooking method you use.

nutritional data:

This recipe is hard to calculate, since I don’t know how much of the soaking liquid actually remains in the finished egg – because the liquid has a lot of salt, I don’t usually find the need to salt the completed product, so it’s probably equivalent to eating a hard-boiled egg with a sprinkling of salt. But my time this morning is short, so for that I will refer you to NutritionData….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s