Pu-erh tea is made from the leaves and stems of the Camellia sinensis plant. This is the same plant that is used for making green, oolong, and black teas. Though the same source plant is used, the different teas are made by using different processes. After harvesting, the processing of pu-erh tea involves two stages. During the first stage, the tea leaves are prepared similar to green tea. During the second stage, the leaves undergo fermentation and then prolonged storage, or “aging,” under high humidity. Pu-erh tea that is aged for a longer period of time is supposed to taste better. However, it can also smell musty or taste stale because mold and bacteria will sometimes attack the tea during the long aging process. Pu-erh tea is produced mainly in the Yunnan district in the southwestern part of China. It has also gained popularity in Taiwan. Pu-erh tea is used as medicine.
Pu-erh tea is used for improving mental alertness and sharp thinking. It is also used for high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes, but there is no good scientific evidence to support these uses.
What Is Pu-erh Tea?
Tea lovers with a taste for exotic varieties may be familiar with pu-erh tea, a brew prized for its rich flavor. Named for a city in the Yunnan region of China (and primarily produced in that region), pu-erh tea is also said to boast a wide range of health benefits.
Like green tea, black tea, and white tea, pu-erh tea is made from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. However, pu-erh tea is created according to a specialized process that involves a longer fermentation period. Once fermented, the tea leaves are aged (sometimes for years or even decades) and packed into bricks or cakes.
Along with lending pu-erh tea its distinct flavor, this fermentation and aging process is said to give the tea a number of unique medicinal properties.
In China, pu-erh tea has long been sipped to achieve a variety of health benefits, such as improvements in heart health and reductions in cholesterol levels. It’s also said that pu-erh tea can help promote weight loss, enhance eyesight, stimulate circulation, and soothe hangovers.
In preliminary research on animals and in test tubes, scientists have observed that pu-erh tea may fight oxidative stress, regulate blood sugar levels (a key factor in diabetes control), protect against obesity, and possess anti-cancer activity.
How does it work ?
Pu-erh tea contains caffeine, although not as much caffeine as other teas. Caffeine works by stimulating the central nervous system (CNS), heart, and muscles. Pu-erh tea also contains antioxidants and other substances that might help protect the heart and blood vessels.
There is interest in using pu-erh tea for lowering cholesterol because, unlike other teas, it contains small amounts of a chemical called lovastatin. Lovastatin is a prescription medicine used for lowering cholesterol. Investigators think that bacteria that sometimes contaminate pu-erh tea may somehow make the lovastatin in the course of their normal life cycle. Animal research suggests that pu-erh tea might lower certain blood fats called triglycerides as well as total and “bad” low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. It might also raise “good” high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. But it isn’t known if pu-erh tea has these benefits in humans.
TastePu-erh tea comes in green and black varieties and has a smooth taste. The leaves offer a mildly sweet flavor and brewed leaves emit the aroma of autumn leaves. These teas can also appear darker than black teas and have a more full-bodied flavor and aroma. Pu-erh tea is caffeinated and is often consumed in the morning or early afternoon to increase energy levels.
This type of tea is aged and naturally fermented and has been revered in traditional tea societies in Asia for centuries thanks to its high concentration of polyphenols, catechins and flavonoids. Pu-erh tea is the most oxidized type of tea and just like fine wine, this tea leaf gets better with time and results in a mellow flavor the longer it’s aged. Some of the most rare and expensive pu-erh teas are aged for more than 50 years.
The tea leaves undergo a two-part fermentation process using Yunnan green tea leaves and a humid environment. This fermentation process allows beneficial bacteria and fungal bacteria to develop, resulting in the tea’s health benefits. After the tea leaves are aged and fermented, they are packed into bricks or sold as loose leaf teas.
May boost liver health
Because it can help decrease fat accumulation, pu-erh tea may help prevent or reverse nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a disease in which excess fat accumulates in your liver. However, this has only been noted in animal research so far.
Another animal study also found that pu-erh tea extract may protect the liver from damage caused by the chemotherapy drug cisplatin.
This is a promising area of research, but human studies are needed before any claims about pu-erh tea and liver function can be made.
Inhibits cancer growth
In test-tube studies, pu-erh tea extracts have killed breast cancer, oral cancer, and colon cancer cells.
While these findings offer a promising starting point for future research, pu-erh tea should not be used as a cancer treatment.
These studies involve applying highly concentrated extracts directly to cancer cells, which is not how drinking pu-erh tea would interact with cancer cells in your body. More research is needed to understand how drinking pu-erh tea would affect cancer cells.
Several animal studies have observed that supplementing with pu-erh tea extracts benefit blood fat levels.
Pu-erh tea extracts may help reduce cholesterol levels in two ways.
First, pu-erh tea increases how much dietary-fat-bound bile acid is excreted in the feces, thus keeping the fat from being absorbed into your bloodstream.
Second, in animal studies, pu-erh tea also decreases fat accumulation. Together, these effects can decrease heart disease risk.
Yet, animal studies using concentrated extracts do not prove that drinking pu-erh tea will have the same effects in humans.
May promote weight loss
There’s some limited evidence to support the use of pu-erh tea for weight loss.
Animal and test-tube studies have shown that pu-erh tea may help synthesize fewer new fats while burning more stored body fat — which can lead to weight loss.
Yet, given the lack of human studies on the topic, more research is needed.
Additionally, pu-erh tea is fermented, so it can also introduce healthy probiotics — or beneficial gut bacteria — into your body.
These probiotics may help improve your blood sugar control, which plays a key role in weight management and hunger.
A single study in 36 people with overweight found that consuming 333 mg of pu-erh tea extract 3 times daily for 12 weeks resulted in significantly improved body weight, body mass index (BMI), and abdominal fat measurements, compared with a control group.
Still, this research doesn’t prove that drinking pu-erh tea can help you lose weight. These studies employed highly concentrated extracts, which contained the active ingredients of pu-erh tea in much higher doses than those you’d get from drinking it.
Thanks to the caffeine in pu-erh tea, drinking a cup a day can help to increase your energy levels and focus. Every 8-ounce cup of pu-erh tea contains about 60 to 70 milligrams of caffeine compared to the 105 milligrams in a standard cup of coffee. This makes pu-erh tea a good choice for people who find themselves too jittery after just one cup of coffee.
Caffeine can help to improve mental focus and give you that extra boost you need to get through tough afternoons. Drinking pu-erh tea can help you focus better and settle in to your day. Setting aside a few moments to drink a cup of pu-erh tea can help you relax and refocus before getting back to work energized.
Promotes a Healthy Heart
By drinking one cup of pu-erh tea a day, you can help to lower your risk of heart disease while enjoying a delicious, soothing beverage. Pu-erh tea aids in preventing heart disease because it helps produce lovastatin. This natural statin is commonly used to treat high cholesterol.
A Chinese study shows that pu-erh tea can help to reduce bad cholesterol, also known as LDL cholesterol, and prevent obesity-related diseases. This study used pu-erh tea on rats with high-fat diets over an eight-week period.
The rats that received pu-erh tea had lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels, which are often associated with obesity. At the same time, pu-erh tea increased good cholesterol known as HDL cholesterol. Higher HDL cholesterol levels have been associated with a lower risk of heart disease.
Cleanses Toxins and Free Radicals
Pu-erh tea uses its oxidative properties to deliver increased levels of oxygen, which enhances circulation and blood flow. By delivering more oxygen to the brain, pu-erh tea can help combat headaches and migraines and reduces free radicals that can cause serious illnesses.
In traditional Chinese medicine, pu-erh tea has been used to aid the spleen and stomach in filtering toxins throughout the body. Pu-erh tea contains simple sugars and microorganisms that help the spleen cleanse blood and eliminate free radicals. You can consume pu-erh tea daily to enjoy consistent effects or use it periodically as a cleanse to restore your body’s essential functions.
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Protects Bone Health
It’s no secret that bones lose density and become weaker as you age. The risk of serious bone conditions such as osteoporosis increases as you get older and can result in hospitalizations in severe cases.
Many things can contribute to the weakening of bones including inactivity and a lack of important vitamins and minerals. Smoking and drinking can also be contributing factors to developing bone diseases as you age.
Studies on animals have shown that the polyphenols in tea can help to develop higher bone mass and greater bone strength. These polyphenols also contain antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties that help to minimize pain and discomfort.
While pu-erh tea contains caffeine, that doesn’t mean it’ll make you wired or jittery. In fact, pu-erh tea can help to reduce stress and its inflammatory properties aid in relaxation when experiencing minor aches and pains.
Pu-erh tea contains the phyto-chemicals GABA and theanine, which have been attributed to lower stress levels. These phyto-chemicals increase the production of melatonin, which can aid in better sleep and a calmer demeanor throughout the day.
Since pu-erh tea is high in antioxidants and vitamin C, drinking a cup of this brew every day can help prevent illnesses such as the common cold and flu. Pu-erh tea is fermented, meaning it has higher concentrations of these antioxidants than non-fermented teas. Since pu-erh tea comes from the Camellia sinensis plant, it also has more antioxidants and disease-fighting catechins than herbal teas.
Side effects and precautions
Most of the side effects of pu-erh tea come from its caffeine content. Depending on the strength of the brew, pu-erh tea can contain 30–100 mg of caffeine per cup.
Most people can tolerate up to 400 mg of caffeine daily, but some of the side effects of excessive caffeine can include:
- changes to your heart’s rhythm
- diarrhea or excessive urination
Because fermented foods may affect your gut bacteria concentrations, pu-erh tea may also affect your digestion and potentially cause some digestive upset.
How to Brew Pu-Erh Tea
Pu-erh tea is traditionally brewed at higher temperatures than other true teas so aim to use water at 212 F when brewing. You can go the Western route and use a large teapot or opt for the traditional Asian method and brew with a lidded bowl known as a gaiwan. Brewing using the Asian method will result in tea with fuller flavor and more dimension than when using larger amounts of water.
Step 1: Prepare Your Tea Leaves
Pu-erh tea can be purchased as loose leaf tea or in solid forms such as bricks, cakes and balls. If your pu-erh tea is the loose leaf variety, simply prepare as you would any other loose leaf tea. If your pu-erh tea comes in a brick, cake or ball, break off small amounts depending on how many cups you are making. In general, you should use 1 gram of pu-erh tea leaves for every 15 milliliters of water.
Step 2: Rinse Tea Leaves
Start first by rinsing the tea with hot water. To do this, place the tea in your teapot or vessel and add just enough water to cover the leaves. Immediately pour out the water. Rinsing the pu-erh tea leaves allows the leaf to open and results in a smoother taste.
Step 3: Steep Tea Leaves
If using the Western method, pu-erh tea should steep for three to four minutes before being consumed. If using the Asian method, the leaves are steeped in increments of 10 seconds for each steeping. For example, the first steeping is 10 seconds, while the second steeping is 20 seconds. Typically, Western-brewed pu-erh tea yields two to three servings, while Asian style yields six to eight.