Pu-erh is one of the most controversial tea categories out there. Today we are exploring a popular topic of debate: pu-erh caffeine. A common misconception is that the darker the tea is — the more caffeine it contains. This could not be further from the truth. Perhaps it's because darker brews of tea resemble the highly caffeinated culprit coffee? While in fact we know that often times the freshest, youngest green teas usually have the higher caffeine contents.
Ripe vs. Raw Pu-erh In A Nutshell
There are two types of pu-erh tea — raw (sheng), and ripe (shou). These teas can only be produced in Yunnan Province, China. Following the fermentation and roasting process, pu-erh tea is aged for a various number of years, varying from 2-3 to 25 and up. This results in its dark color and bold, mellow flavor.
Raw (Sheng) Pu-erh is made from non-fermented green tea leaves that were picked, quickly roasted, sun-dried, and then steamed to be compressed into cakes. Then, the cakes are aged until the tea's taste is appropriately transformed.
Ripe (Shou) Pu-erh is made from black tea (oxidized). After going through the same steps as sheng pu-erh, shou pu-erh undergoes a special procedure called "wet-piling". During wet-piling a special bacteria is added to further ferment the pu-erh leaves.
While raw pu-erh is a tea with over 800 years of history, ripe pu-erh is a relatively new type of tea. Most recipes and techniques of making ripe pu-erh were developed by tea farmers in the 1970s.
If drinking raw pu-erh can be compared to drinking a green tea, ripe pu-erh is closer to black tea in its taste qualities.
Pu-erh Tea Caffeine Comparison
While there are many sources out there that pu-erh is an excellent "low-caffeine" alternative, this is not precisely the case. While pu-erh tea can be an excellent tea alternative to coffee, it does not contain much less caffeine than other types of tea.
Now when we look at raw vs. ripe pu-erh, there is one key component that comes into play — our good old friend fermentation!
When the tea leaves are post-fermented, their caffeine content starts slowly breaking down. In short, the longer the tea is aged, 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. The longer the tea leaves are aged, the less caffeine they will have.
On the other hand, ripe pu-erh tea, thanks to the wet-piling process which quickens aging, naturally has more caffeine.
A 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 will usually contain more caffeine than raw pu-erh.
For more information on the topic, check out this article.
What Else Affects Caffeine Content In Tea?
Finally, it is essential to note that there are many other factors which determine tea caffeine content, some of them being:
- the part of the tea plant being used (buds contain more caffeine)
- brewing time (the longer we brew, the more caffeine gets released; this will also be evident by the astringency of the tea)
Without taking into account all of these components, it is a bit too soon to make a conclusion about the caffeine content of a particular tea type.
Studies that aim to measure the caffeine content of a variety of tea types usually show us caffeine levels can vary more between individual teas in one tea category, than amongst the categories themselves (like black, green etc.)
In conclusion, pu-erh doesn't necessarily have the lowest caffeine content of all the different types of tea. However, the caffeine in tea vs coffee has a different effect on people. For one, it doesn't give you "caffeine crashes." The caffeine in tea allows us to have an alert and sharp mind while remaining well-balanced. Although we don't recommend drinking pu-erh before bed, it is a great way to start your day. Also, everyone has a different caffeine tolerance. If you are sensitive, start slow and work your way up throughout the day. Perhaps you are one of those people who can easily drink pu-erh right before bed!
How To Brew Pu-erh Tea
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