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Health Benefits of Pu-erh Tea

Updated on January 23, 2015

Pu-erh tea (pronounced poo-air) is a variety of fermented dark tea that comes from China’s Yunnan Province. It is the only tea that undergoes true fermentation.

Unlike teas, such as green tea or black tea which are produces from tea buds and new leaves, pu-erh tea is produced from the broad, mature leaves of older tea trees. Further, unlike other teas that are best fresh, pu-erh can improve with age. Some pu-erh teas are more than 50 years old, and rare ones sell for many thousands of dollars in Asian specialty stores.

Pu-erh is moderate in taste. It improves in taste over time and aged pu-erh tea is really sweet. You can reuse good quality tea leaves several times. Tea lovers say that the subsequent infusions taste better and better.

Pu-erh tea has been harvested for 1,700 years and the health and medicinal benefits have been touted for centuries. Studies have shown that Pu-erh tea has demonstrated a wide range of health benefits. In recent years, studies of Pu-erh tea have shown effects on antioxidant, anticancer, lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar, and improving bacterial flora in the intestines.

Reduces Cholesterol: According to rat and human studies and testimonials, drinking pu-erh tea can reduce LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and triglycerides and increase HDL (“good” cholesterol). A 2009 study published in the journal “Experimental Gerontology” found that rats given pu-erh tea saw a profound reduction in LDL and an increase in HDL cholesterol. Another study at China`s Kunming Medical College involving 55 patients found that consuming pu-erh tea 3 times a day lowered cholesterol levels by 64%, nearly as much as cholesterol medication (67%). Additionally, in a Financial Times article, one woman noted that since drinking pu-erh tea, her cholesterol levels dropped by 100 points. This is just one of many testimonials of the cholesterol reducing ability of pu-erh.

Reduces Blood Sugar Levels: According to studies done at Jilin University and the Changchun Science and Technology University, pu-erh tea dramatically reduces blood sugar levels in obese rats and diabetic patients. The researchers compared the rats’ blood sugar levels of those that were fed Rosiglitazone, a widely used medicine to lower blood sugar levels, with those who were fed pu-ehr tea. After two weeks, they found that the rats fed Rosiglitazone had 36.5% less blood sugar while those fed pu-ehr tea had 42% less levels. The same researchers carried out a test among 120 diabetic volunteers, who were asked to drink pu-erh tea regularly and stop their medicine, while making no changes to diet. 70% of the patients reported lower blood sugar levels by 7 mmol/L, with an average decrease of 35%.

Antioxidant properties: Pu-erh tea is also high in antioxidants, particularly in catechins which is believed to be responsible for preventing cancer cell development in the body. It should be noted that all the studies that concluded that tea helps in cancer prevention were made on animals. The studies made on human patients are still inconclusive and there is a debate in the medical world about tea’s effectiveness when it comes to this particular disease. Early research has found that pu-erh may also be useful for sunburn protection, reducing dental plaque formation, colitis, diabetes, renal disease and as an antiseptic.

Fat Loss: Pu-erh tea was used for centuries by the Chinese people to help them control their body weight. In a study conducted by the Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from USA, pu-erh has shown its efficacy in reducing body weight and is much more efficient than any other tea variety in reducing weight. The chemical compounds that are thought responsible for the anti-obesity effect are the antioxidants such as catechins and the caffeine. This study also showed that pu-erh tea is effective in reducing the fat content in the liver.

Types of Pu-erh Tea

Pu-erh tea consists of three different categories: raw, aged and ripe.

Raw

Raw pu-erh is unoxidized tea that is freshly picked and stored. Because it is unoxidized, it is effectively a green tea, and has the same health benefits as a green tea. Raw pu-erh has a fresh smell, can be bitter but with generally a sweet aftertaste. The color is a bright yellow.

Aged

Aged pu-erh is oxidized slowly under natural conditions. In many respects, the health benefits are similar to oolong tea (which is half oxidized) or black tea (which is fully oxidized).

Ripe

Ripe pu-erh is oxidized in a factory. Because of the fermentation process, it is reddish-brown. Ripe pu-erh is milder and has a very earthy smell.


Generally speaking, a tea that is less oxidized will be more potent. Thus, a raw (green) pu-erh tea will have greater health benefits than an aged/ripe pu-erh. Although maturation improves the flavors of the tea, it reduces its potency. However, this does not mean you should only drink ripe pu-erh as they all have benefits. Particularly, ripe pu-erh tea is well known in China to be a good digestive and is more gentle on the stomach than any other tea.

Preparation

Pu-erh tea is brewed the same way as black and oolong teas.

  • Heat good quality water to a vigorous boil.
  • Place 1 heaping teaspoon per 6 ounce cup
  • Steep 4-6 minutes
  • Resteep until the flavor is exhausted

While pu-erh tea can be more expensive than other teas, you can still buy a good, effective brand at a nearby tea store or Amazon. I hope this becomes your cup of tea!

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