After consulting with some of my Taiwanese friends, I decided to just buy a spice bag for the tea eggs. None of my friends had ever tried preparing the tea and spices from scratch (or even seen their family do it), so they did not know the proportions for the preparing the tea, or where to get all the ingredients fresh. I was able to find quite a few recipes online, but I really wanted the classic taste that Taiwanese Tea Eggs have. So, I went to my local 7-11 here in Taiwan and bought the same brand of spice bag used for the 7-11 tea eggs.
Everyone (including the 7-11 employees) said that there are two essential steps to making tantalizing tea eggs:
1. Make sure to break the flexible membrane on the inside of the shell when cracking the shell, but be careful not to peel the shell off of the egg before steeping it.
2. Be patient. To produce eggs that have really absorbed the flavors from the spice bag and that are richly stained, the eggs have to steep for quite a while in the spiced fluid. But be sure to take the tea/spice bag out of the water after about 3 hours to make sure that it does not make the liquid bitter.
I tried three different methods for breaking the shell, after hard-boiling the egg. Using the back of a spoon, using the back side of a knife, and using the flat side of a chopping knife. The pattern produced by the spoon and the flat side of the knife were much prettier and resembled a spider web at each site of impact. While the back of the knife produced long jagged lines along the eggshell. I wasn’t sure which one would be better for breaking that internal membrane of the egg, so I tried each method on different eggs. Then steeped the eggs with the spice bag in a Crock-Pot on warm.
The eggs came out as a bit of a mixed bag. Looks can be deceiving. Some of the eggs that I guessed would be thoroughly marbled and delectable, were hardly even stained by the tea and spices because the membrane had not been broken. I let a few eggs soak overnight to see how they would turn out. I have included a picture of an egg removed after 4 hours, and one removed after about 18 hours. This is one that I will have to try again and play with some to get a more consistent method down.
If anyone has any experience with this, I am wondering if perhaps adding a bit of vinegar to the water at the initial boiling might weaken the membrane, or help it adhere to the shell and thus, break with it. Or if rolling the egg on the counter to crack the shell might be a better way as it uses a bit more force. I’m also wondering if it might work better with a medium-boiled egg.