This article on the health benefits and side effects of pu erh tea are based on results of scientific research. The citations of these sources can be found in the bottom of this article.
For pu erh devotees, health benefits aren’t as relevant as the unique flavour they enjoy along their tea journey. Yet, drinking pu erh for health is often why people try pu erh for the first time. We’ve prepared this article to answer all questions related to health. We do not aim to present pu erh as a miracle drink. Instead, we try to be as factual as possible.
Pu erh tea chemical constituents
Pu erh tea is made from the Camellia Sinensis var. Assamica plant.
To understand the benefits of pu erh, we need to make a distinction between raw and ripe pu erh tea, as they aren’t processed in the same way. If you’re not familiar with this distinction you can read about the difference in this article: what is pu erh tea?
See below a table showing the chemical constituents of processed raw and ripe pu erh tea from a research published in 2013 by Hai-peng Lv et al.1
|GABA||13.0 mg/100 g||3.0 mg/100 g|
Based on the table we can see that:
- Tea polyphenols are significantly reduced after raw pu erh tea is pile fermented into ripe pu erh tea.
- Catechins are also reduced. As this compound is responsible for the bitter taste of tea, this explains why ripe pu erh is less bitter.
- Caffeine content is higher for ripe pu erh tea.
Given the significant differences, we find it rather surprising that some research articles doesn't make a distinction between ripe and raw pu erh. At least, they haven't clearly defined what type they're using. We believe these studies are either outdated, or shouldn't be taken serious.
What about natural aging?
There’s still not enough research to conclude how natural aging of raw pu erh (instead of pile fermentation) can affect the constituents of pu erh tea. The main reason is that technically challenging to estimate the age of pu erh. The current conclusion by Ning et al (2011) is that young and aged raw pu erh have very similar chemical components.2
Pu erh tea weight loss, cholesterol & heart health
There are lots of pu erh tea products out there that are marketed as a weight loss product. A cup of pu erh hardly contains any calories, so compared to soda, there are obvious gains to be made. But that can be said also for water and a cup of black coffee. So what are the specific traits of pu erh that help you loose weight, reduce cholesterol and improve heart health? And is there any reliable proof? Here's what science says.
In academic research, obesity, cholesterol and heart health are often studied together. This is because obesity is often seen as a cause of heart and cholesterol related issues.
In a study from 20113, rats were divided in 5 groups and fed different diets with a varying amount of pu erh tea. Here’s how the 5 groups looked like:
- normal diet
- high fat diet
- high fat diet with a low dose of pu erh tea
- high fat diet with a medium dose of pu erh tea
- high fat diet with a high dose of pu erh tea
The researchers concluded that pu erh tea was effective in reducing body weight. It was found to successfully strain fat accumulation of rats that where fed a high fat diet.
In a research from 20094, scientists show that pu erh tea doesn’t only exert strong anti oxidative properties, but also has fat lowering effects in the blood of rats. Therefore, it can be also used to reduce cholesterol and heart related risks. The fat reducing effect was stronger for ripe pu erh relative to raw pu erh.
At last, a study in 2010 suggests that theabrownin is responsible for the cholesterol reducing effect.
When comparing pu erh to other types of tea, a 2005 study5suggest that ripe pu erh tea and oolong are more effective in reducing fat (triglyceride), compared to green tea.
This research article is ongoing. We'll add more paragraphs about specific health benefits and side effects soon. Please bookmark this page for future visits or subscribe to our newsletter.
Pu Erh Tea Side Effects
The side effects of this tea type is related to caffeine. While caffeine can result in mental alertness, over consumption of pu erh can lead to sleeplessness (insomnia). However, for most tea drinkers, who can tolerate coffee, will also be able to handle a 2-4 cups of pu erh a day. We do recommend to mainly enjoy pu erh during the morning and afternoon. In the evening, you can switch to a herbal tea to avoid caffeine intake.
Pu erh tea caffeine levels: While this may probably be the most frequently asked question, in practice it's hardly possible to make general statements. When you google this topic, you'll see lots of article online stating stating caffeine levels per tea type (including pu erh). In reality, there are too many factors at play to precise determine the amount of caffeine that you take in. Factors include ripe versus raw pu erh, leaf-to-water ratio, tea tools used, Western versus ceremonial brewing, personal preferences, cultivar etc.
To give you an example, when you simply brew 3 grams of raw pu erh tea in an average sized Western teapot of 800ml for 5 minutes, you'll end up with a significantly lower caffeine content relative to an Americano coffee. However, brewing 8 grams of pu erh ceremonial style in a 120ml clay teapot will at least result in caffeine levels double that of an Americano!
Future studies: our suggestions
We're glad that there's already an extensive body of research publication allowing us to draw certain conclusions about the benefits of pu erh and tea in general. Yet, there's still a lot of work to do. It's a common best practice for scientists to mention the weaknesses of their studies and give their view on future direction for tea studies.
We definitely do not want to challenge their views, but we do want to contribute our own. We believe that ongoing research is too much focused confirming specific benefits, without answering the question who might benefit from pu erh and when one should drink it. During what time of the day or which season should one drink pu erh tea? Does gender and age matter? Are there other body conditions that make pu erh good or bad for certain individuals? We truly hope that future research will uncover answers to these questions, which are relevant for the tea consumer.
2 Ning, J. M., Zhang, Z. Z., Wang, S. P., Wan, X. C., & Zeng, X. S. (2011). Identification of Pu-erh teas with different storage years by FTRI spectroscopy. Spectroscopy and Spectral Analysis, 31, 2390–2393 (in Chinese).
3 Cao Z.H., Gu D.H., Lin Q.Y., Xu Z.Q.,Huang Q.C. et al (2011). Effect of pu-erh tea on body fat and lipid profiles in rats with diet-induced obesity. Phytotherapy Research, 25(2) 234–238.
4Hou Y., Fang W.F., Xu K.L., Ma Z.Z. et al (2009). Pu-erh tea aqueous extracts lower atherosclerotic risk factors in a rat hyperlipidemia model. Experimental Gerontology, Volume 44 (6–7) 434-439.
5Kuo K.L.,Weng M.S., Chiang C.T., Tsai Y.J., Lin-Shiau S.Y., Lin J.K. (2005). Comparative Studies on the Hypolipidemic and Growth Suppressive Effects of Oolong, Black, Pu-erh, and Green Tea Leaves in Rats. J. Agric. Food Chem., 2005, 53 (2) 480–489