What Is Pu-erh Tea?

Pu-erh loose tea and teabag

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak 

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.

So far, however, very few studies have tested the health effects of pu-erh tea in humans. Still, there’s some evidence that pu-erh tea shows promise in the treatment of certain health conditions. Here’s a look at some findings from the available human-based research on pu-erh tea:

Reducing Cholesterol

In a study published in Clinical Interventions in Aging in 2016, researchers determined that pu-erh tea may help keep cholesterol in check. After consuming pu-erh tea extract every day for 20 weeks, a small group of overweight or obese adults showed a mild reduction in cholesterol levels. Compared to participants given a placebo for the same time period, those treated with pu-erh tea extract also experienced greater weight loss and fat loss.

Improving Metabolic Syndrome

Several small studies have shown that pu-erh tea may help manage metabolic syndrome. Characterized by a cluster of health problems (including excess belly fat, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, insulin resistance, and chronic inflammation), metabolic syndrome is known to raise your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

In a study published in the Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine in 2011, for instance, 90 people with metabolic syndrome took either pu-erh tea extract or a placebo in capsule form every day for three months. By the study’s end, those given pu-erh tea showed greater improvements in such factors as obesity, blood sugar levels, and cholesterol levels (compared those given the placebo). The study’s authors noted that pu-erh tea is "ideally fit for early prevention of metabolic syndrome."

Side Effects & Safety Concerns

Pu-erh tea is said to contain lower levels of caffeine than other types of tea. Still, consuming too much caffeine may trigger a number of side effects, including headaches, insomnia, diarrhea, irregular heartbeat, heartburn, and dizziness.

It’s also important to note that pu-erh tea should not be used as a substitute for standard treatment of any type of chronic condition (such as high cholesterol or metabolic syndrome). If you’re thinking of including pu-erh tea in your treatment plan for such conditions, make sure to consult your physician first.

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  1. Chen ZM, Lin Z. Tea and human health: biomedical functions of tea active components and current issues. J Zhejiang Univ Sci B. 2015;16(2):87-102. doi:10.1631/jzus.B1500001

  2. Jensen GS, Beaman JL, He Y, Guo Z, Sun H. Reduction of body fat and improved lipid profile associated with daily consumption of a Puer tea extract in a hyperlipidemic population: a randomized placebo-controlled trial. Clin Interv Aging. 2016;11:367-76. doi:10.2147/CIA.S94881

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