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Pu-Erh Tea Caffeine Content: Not What You Might Have Thought

Posted by Path of Cha on

Today we are exploring a popular topic of debate: pu-erh tea caffeine content. Pu-erh is one of the most controversial tea categories out there. Many people believe that pu-erh is particularly high on caffeine. And among those many, some assume that the darker the tea, the more caffeine it contains. Perhaps it is because darker brews of tea resemble the highly caffeinated culprit coffee? Though we know that the freshest, youngest green teas often have higher caffeine content. While it's true that pu-erh is an excellent energizing tea, is it that high in caffeine? And does the color of the brew matter?


What Is Pu-erh?

Pu-erh is a kind of fermented tea common in China. There are two types of pu-erh tea — raw pu-erh (sheng) and ripe pu-erh (shou). Farmers produce these teas in Yunnan Province, China. Although according to guidelines, we can only call pu-erh produced in Yunnan Province "pu-erh," there are other Asian countries that grow and harvest pu-erh. For example, Myanmar and Thailand, making it a very popular Asian tea.  

Following the roasting and fermentation process, producers age pu-erh tea. The aging is usually spanning from 2-3 to 25 and up. The result is a dark color and bold, mellow flavor.


Ripe vs. Raw Pu-erh In A Nutshell

Raw Pu-erh (Sheng) is made from maocha (sun-dried, unprocessed tea leaves) that farmers process similarly to green tea. Tea leaves are quickly roasted right after the harvest, sun-dried, and then steamed and compressed into cakes. Then, producers will age the cakes until the tea's taste transforms into something new, unique, and utterly delicious.


Ripe Pu-erh (Shou) is made from maocha that farmers fully oxidize (like they would with black tea). After going through the same steps as sheng pu-erh, shou pu-erh undergoes a special procedure called "wet-piling". During wet-piling, producers add a specific bacteria to ferment the pu-erh leaves further. 


While raw pu-erh is a tea with over 800 years of history, ripe pu-erh is a relatively new type of tea — most of these recipes and techniques of making ripe pu-erh farmers developed in the 1970s. 


If we compare drinking raw pu-erh to a cup of green tea, then ripe pu-erh is closer to black tea in its taste qualities. 


Liu Bao Hei Cha

One more tea often falls into the pu-erh category — hei cha (dark tea). Hei cha is more so a sister of pu-erh. The reason being, while farmers fully ferment pu-erh, they only semi-ferment hei cha. This tea is very earthy and nutty. According to Traditional Chinese medicine, it is a neutral tea, meaning it has both yin and yang (hot and cold) energy. Usually, hei cha contains less caffeine than both raw and ripe pu-erh.


does pu erh have caffeine


Pu-erh Tea Caffeine Comparison

When we look at raw vs. ripe pu-erh, one key component comes into play — our good old friend fermentation!


When the tea leaves are going through fermentation, their caffeine content starts slowly breaking down. In short, the longer we age the tea, the less caffeine it will have. 


Raw pu-erh aged for a few years has a higher caffeine content than one aged for 10+ years. 


On the other hand, ripe pu-erh tea, thanks to the wet-piling process, which quickens aging, naturally has more caffeine. 


study on tea caffeine content conducted in 2011 came back with the following results:


Ripe pu-erh contains 13.03 – 18.01 mg/g

Aged raw pu-erh contains 7.81 – 14.95 mg/g


Ripe pu-erh: 60-70 mg per 8oz

Raw pu-erh: 30-45 mg per 8oz


Thus, we see that ripe pu-erh should contain more caffeine than raw pu-erh. However, it is not that simple. 


pu erh tea caffeine level



What Else Affects Caffeine Content In Tea?

Finally, it is essential to note that many other factors determine tea caffeine content, some of them being: 


  • the part of the tea plant being used (buds naturally contain more caffeine)
  • cultivar (var Assamica contains more caffeine than var Sinensis)
  • origin
  • Age of tea trees (the older the trees, the stronger their root system is – the more caffeine they contain. For example, gu shu tea trees)
  • brewing time (the longer we brew, the more caffeine gets released. This will also be evident by the astringency of the tea)


So, without considering all of these components, it is a bit too soon to conclude the caffeine content of a particular tea type. 


Studies that aim to measure the caffeine content of various tea types usually show that caffeine levels can vary more between individual teas in one tea category than amongst the categories themselves (like blackgreen, etc.)


Does Tea Go Bad?

One fantastic thing about the Yunnan tea, pu-erh, is it doesn't go bad like many other teas! Of course, everything expires sooner or later. However, when it comes to pu-erh, you can keep a cake of raw pu-erh your whole life! Most tea enthusiasts will put a cap on these cakes for about 25 years, nevertheless. Not because it will go bad on the 26th year, but mainly because after about 25 years, the taste stops transforming as apparently as it did the previous years.

On the other hand, producers don't age ripe pu-erh for too long. We suggest drinking it within 5-10 years. Although it won't go bad from longer storage, the taste won't advance much either.

Pu-erh Caffeine Content Conclusion

In conclusion, this fermented tea from China doesn't necessarily have the highest caffeine content of all the different types of tea. Nevertheless, it is a tremendous energizing tea and a great alternative to coffee! How come?

The answer is L-theanine!

L-theanine is an amino acid present exclusively in tea that affects serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain. According to various studies, L-theanine aids with mental focus, increases cognitive performance, improves mood. It also helps to combat stress and anxiety and reduces blood pressure.

The high level of L-theanine present in sheng pu-erh is responsible for the influx of energy and Cha Qi that many people experience when drinking raw pu-erh.

Drinking pu-erh in the morning will help you gain some focus and energy for the upcoming day and get your digestion going, as it's an excellent tea for digestion.


How To Brew Pu-erh Tea

Here is a video on how to make pu erh tea:


Read more on pu-erh and tea caffeine content.