If you’re a regular tea drinker, you might know your ceylon from your sencha, or your gunpowder from your earl grey. But pu-erh tea? It’s a little different from the others, and drinking it might come with its own perks.
Like black and green tea, pu-erh tea comes from the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. But pu-erh leaves are prepared a little differently, since the leaves are fermented and aged for long periods (often, years) before being packed into bricks or cakes.
This special process means that pu-erh, which hails from Yunnan, China and has been consumed for some 1,400 years, has a distinctly earthy flavor. It’s also long been thought to have some special health-promoting qualities, including potentially helping with weight loss.
As for what the science says? TBH, the research on pu-erh tea isn’t super robust. Still, let’s take a look at what is known about this special brew, hey?
Again, the number of quality studies out there on pu-erh tea isn’t very big, and much of the research that’s available has been done on animals. So take these as potential perks, people.
It might help you shed a few pounds
A few small studies show that taking high doses of pu-erh tea extract — which is much more concentrated than drinking pu-erh tea — is tied to weight loss, reduced body mass index, and less abdominal fat.
The fat-burning power could come from gallic acid, a compound with known weight loss effects in animals.
It can make your gut happy
Fermented teas like pu-erh contain polysaccharides, naturally occurring sugars that promote healthy microbial communities in the gut — in turn supporting healthy digestion and keeping your immune system in fighting form.
It stabilizes blood sugar
Pu-erh tea has been shown to significantly lower fasting blood sugar levels in mice — and the more of the stuff the mice were given, the better their blood sugar control got.
For now there’s no proof that the same applies to humans, but since pu-erh tea is naturally sugar-free, sipping it definitely won’t hurt your blood sugar levels.
It can help keep cholesterol in check
Pu-erh seems to help your body excrete more dietary fat (which comes out bound to bile acid through your poop) as well as keep excess fat from building up in the body. And both of those things could potentially play a role in keeping cholesterol from clogging your arteries.
It protects blood vessels
The brew’s been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect (thanks, antioxidants!), which seems to fight chronic artery inflammation. That can keep arteries healthier overall and reduce the risk for conditions like atherosclerosis, which can up the risk for heart disease.
It might have an anti-cancer effect
Test tube studies have found pu-erh tea extracts to kill off several types of cancer cells, including breast and colon cancer. That’s not to say that drinking the tea can actually be used to treat cancer — far from it. But it’s a good starting point for research on future treatments.
It can support liver health
Since it plays a role in getting rid of excess fat and fighting off inflammation, pu-erh tea could help to reduce the risk for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
So far the findings have only been demonstrated in animals, and the research looked at super concentrated pu-erh tea extract, not the actual brew.
Pu-erh has traditionally been seen as a drink that can help you lose weight. And if you do a quick Google (go ahead, we’ll wait) there’s no shortage of claims touting the brew’s fat-burning powers. But will sipping it actually help you reach your weight loss goals?
The answer is… maybe. Pu-erh tea extract has been shown to promote the burning of stored fat and even keep new fat from accumulating, albeit in animals and test tubes.
There’s also the findings on pu-erh extract potentially helping with blood sugar control — and steady glucose levels can be good thing for losing weight.
As for the evidence on actual humans? One small study of 36 adults showed that taking pu-erh tea extract three times daily for 12 weeks led to lower BMIs and weight loss, and a subsequent study of 59 adults showed similar results.
The thing to keep in mind? Pu-erh tea extract is much more concentrated than a simple cup of pu-erh tea. Which means that ultimately, you shouldn’t count on a daily cup of pu-erh or two to help you drop major pounds.
But drinking it regularly might help support the other things you’re doing to lose weight — namely, eating right and exercising.
Brewing pu-erh is a lot like brewing any other cup of loose-leaf tea. Boil the water and pour a generous splash over the leaves, then wait a few seconds for the leaves to open up.
Discard that water, then pour the rest of the boiling water over your leaves — enough to fill your cup. Steep for 2 to 5 minutes, then strain.
Why get rid of that first splash of water? In general, tea aficionados recommend taking this step to rinse the tea of any lingering dust or impurities.
This might be especially important for pu-erh tea. The fermentation process has the potential to produce mycotoxins (more on those in a sec), but discarding the first rinse can help wash them away.
People have been drinking pu-erh for centuries without a problem. Still, it’s worth knowing that the fermentation process can produce mycotoxins — toxic compounds produced by some fungi — along with possible bacterial toxins.
Studies show that mycotoxins detected in pu-erh tend to be at low levels that are considered safe, and there aren’t any published reports of people getting sick from pu-erh. But it’s something to keep in mind, and a good reason to rinse your tea before doing a full brew.
Other than that? Like all fermented foods rich in bacteria, pu-erh has the potential to change your digestion or even mess with your stomach until your system has some time to adjust.
Also, keep in mind that it’s caffeinated, though the actual caffeine content can vary quite a bit depending on the age of the pu-erh and how long you brew it. Typically, a cup of pu-erh serves up anywhere from 30 to 100 milligrams of caffeine.