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Pu-erh and Kombucha – match made in Heaven (Tea for Digestion)

Posted by Boyka Mihaylova on

Today we'll discuss how tea can aid digestion – the way it has been doing for nearly five millenniums ago. People all over Asia have used Pu-erh tea from ancient times as a medicine for bad or insufficient digestion and precious addition to their daily menu. To this day, some western pharmacies still sell Pu-erh as a "slimming tea" that helps to lose weight. On the other side of the globe, Kombucha is a traditional-turned-modern remedy for effectively supporting the digestive system's work. Let's explore their benefits from the past to nowadays – and marvel at the result of their collaboration!


The story of tea and digestion

According to the famous Chinese legend, it all started five millennia ago. This is when the divine farmer, Shen Nong, laid the foundations of what would later become the system of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Namely, he was tasting herbs to see their properties. The legend says he tested 100 herbs within a single day. Unfortunately, 72 of them turned out poisonous. Suddenly, Shen Nong felt very bad and saw black spots forming inside his crystal clear tummy. That was a sure sign of poisoning. Suddenly, as he was lying on the grass, unable to move, he felt a faint, sweet aroma from a nearby bush. Making one last effort, he picked some leaves and chewed them. He felt immediate relief, so he chewed some more. The black spots started to disappear, and soon he was good as new. And so, tea was discovered and passed down to humanity. 

While we cannot claim that chewing the raw leaves is the same as drinking Pu-erh, it's probably the first testimony of tea's healing and restorative properties for human digestion.


Pu-erh tea and digestion

Doctors in Traditional Chinese Medicine have used Pu-erh as a medicine for ages. Here is the description of Pu-erh from the famous "Supplement to the Compendium of Materia Medica", written by Zhao Xuemin during the reign of the Qing dynasty: 

"Pu-erh tea is warm in nature, bitter in taste, and fragrant. It breaks down the meat and eliminates toxins from cattle and sheep grease. People with deficiencies should not use it. It's bitter and astringent, has an expectorating effect, clears the intestines, and drives away internal heat. The Pu-erh paste is black as lacquer from a varnish treе. Its main effect is sobering and dissolving alcohol. Green colored is more outstanding. It breaks down food, aids digestion, and reduces phlegm. It has a powerful effect of clearing the stomach and promoting body fluids secretion."

People from the border minorities – around Sichuan, Xinjiang, and Mongolia, traditionally use Pu-erh tea in their daily diets. They mainly raised cattle in the mountainous highlands. Thus, they consumed more meat and dairy, which are harder to digest. With the development of the Ancient Tea and Horse route, Pu-erh tea has become a precious commodity. It helped them break down the animal food, eliminate the toxins, and stack on valuable nutrients and vitamins that are deficient in the cold and harsh mountain climate. It is there that the famous Chinese saying: "Better three days without food than one day without tea," was born.


pu-erh tea cake


What are the differences between Pu-erh tea variations?

Pu-erh tea exists in two variations. Both use the leaves of the Big Leaf variety (Da Ye Zhong – 大叶种) of Camellia Sinensis tea bush. What sets them apart is the production process.

  • Raw Pu-erh (Sheng Pu-erh – 生普) is the tea produced from the fresh leaves of the tea bush. Traditionally, farmers first roast them to stop the oxidation, then roll and spread them to dry in the sun. The result is a semi-processed loose tea called Maocha. They then further steam and press it into different shapes, incl. Raw Pu-erh cakes, bricks, balls, Tuo cha, etc.
  • Ripe or cooked Pu-erh (Shu Pu-erh – 熟普) is Sheng Pu, further transformed through microbial fermentation. It happens during the "wet piling" (Wo Dui 渥堆) processing stage. It involves heaping a good amount of maocha and spraying water over it. As the temperature and humidity rise, a complex of molds and bacteria emerge that begin to ferment the leaves. The workers unpile and ventilate the tea after some time (often 40 to 60 days). They then press it into different shapes.

Both types of Pu-erh are different in nature; thus, their effect on the digestive system also varies. Let's explore them one by one.


Raw Pu-erh tea and digestion 

Raw Pu-erh tea processing is similar to that of green tea. It is also colder in nature than its cooked counterpart. Raw Pu-erh is richer in polyphenols (mainly caffeine) and saponins – especially the younger ones. That makes it somewhat stronger, bolder, and more aggressive in terms of taste, aroma, and effects on the human body. Some polyphenols and saponins bind to lipids in the digestive system and the blood flow. Thus, they help break down greasy food and protect the blood vessels.

Caffeine, on the other hand, has a "moving" effect on the bowels (the same that rushes you to the toilet in the morning after a cup of strong coffee :). Thus, it aids discharge and promotes regular bowel movements. Some substances in Pu-erh tea stimulate the secretion of gastric juices and gastric emptying – so drinking Pu-erh can make you feel hungry!

Polyphenols and saponins have a powerful action on the human body. That is especially true for younger teas that still have not mellowed enough. Consuming them in larger doses might hurt the delicate stomach and bowel mucus. That's why there are some taboos when consuming Raw Pu-erh. 

  1. People with sensitivities (i.e., gastritis) or people with "colder" constitutions should avoid raw Pu-erh so as not to worsen their condition.
  2. Pregnant and nursing women should also not drink raw Pu-erh, as the caffeine might enter the baby's blood flow.
  3. One should not drink Pu-erh tea on an empty stomach or immediately after a full meal. Pu-erh tea contains tannic acid, which can interfere with food decomposition. This acid also binds to iron and can deplete it from the body. In addition, drinking too much Pu-erh tea right after a meal may dilute stomach acid. That can easily lead to bloating and indigestion.
  4. Avoid drinking raw Pu-erh in the evening. The caffeine in tea stimulates the nervous system and wakes up the brain. Drinking Pu-erh tea before bed may affect sleep quality.


Cooked Pu-erh and digestion

Unlike its raw counterpart, cooked Pu-erh has transformed through microbial fermentation, and that causes the production of enzymes, which have a soothing and healing effect on the digestive tract. Enzymes are key factors for proper food decomposition – thus, this type of Pu-erh is strongly advocated for helping with digestion. Additionally, air and microbes have decomposed some of the harsher ingredients. Thus, they are not that aggressive on the stomach anymore. That applies especially to aged Pu-erh, which becomes softer and more mellow as it transforms further in time. 

During the fermentation process of Pu-erh tea, the enzymes that form start to decompose the leaves' inner substances. They also react with the ones produced by the human body. Namely, they increase pepsin secretion and enhance the stomach's ability to digest protein foods. Additionally, the cellulose in the leaves is further broken down into insoluble fibers. They clear away toxins, keeping the gut nourished and healthy. Therefore, cooked Pu-erh tea has the characteristics of eliminating greasiness and helping digestion while remaining gentle and not irritating the gut and the stomach.


Kombucha – the tea mushroom

Kombucha is a traditional fermented tea beverage that has existed for ages in many countries and cultures. 

People make Kombucha by fermenting tea (usually black tea) and sugar. More precisely, Kombucha is a sweetened tea fermented using a SCOBY (a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). It takes 7 to 12 days for the fermentation to complete, depending on the temperature and the SCOBY's power. The SCOBY uses over 90% of the sugar during fermentation. The result is a nutrient-rich, low in sugar beverage that contains a range of vitamins, minerals, and enzymes.

Similar processes take place in sourdough bread and milk/water kefir.

kombucha pu-erh tea


What exactly is a SCOBY?

Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast, or SCOBY, is the group of bacteria that transforms sweet tea into a probiotic beverage. In a nutshell, it is a living colony of good bacteria that converts sugar into probiotics and healthy acids.

Kombucha is sometimes referred to as "Mushroom Tea" because SCOBYs are sometimes referred to as "Mushrooms." A SCOBY is a slippery disc that covers the surface of the brewing liquid to shut it off from the air, enabling anaerobic (airless) fermentation.

A SCOBY is sometimes referred to as "The Mother." The reason is that SCOBY frequently produces a "baby" on top of itself during brewing that can be used to produce more batches.

A SCOBY can live for many years if properly cared for.


Kombucha tea and digestion

Although there is plenty of word-of-mouth evidence for Kombucha's numerous health benefits, scientific research on it is still scarce. However, what we know for sure, is that it undergoes a traditional fermentation process, making it rich in microflora which is beneficial to the human gut. Kombucha also contains a variety of good acids like lactic acid and glucuronic acid. They are known to promote digestion and assist the absorption of nutrients. 

Additionally, Kombucha is rich in at least six types of Vitamin B. One cup provides 20% of the daily recommended amount of Vitamin B12. B12 is often insufficient for those on a meat-free or strictly plant-based diet, making Kombucha a healthy and natural supplementing option.

Kombucha is also a great substitute for sugary beverages like soda. Its bubbles are naturally occurring. Plus, it contains probiotics and minerals not found in soda. For those that worry about the sugar content: sugar in Kombucha serves as the good bacteria's diet and is mainly consumed during fermentation.

So, while Kombucha is no magic pill, its content, rich in nutrients and probiotics, makes it a valuable helper for improving digestion, increasing energy levels, and promoting nutrient absorption in the human body. 


Kombucha Pu-erh tea – the digestion powerhouse

We at "Path of Cha" are proud to present to you our special Kombucha Pu-erh - the ultimate tea for digestion. It is based on the joint action of traditionally crafted Cooked Pu-erh with the Tea mushroom, Kombucha.

Kombucha Pu-erh Tea

This tea is a truly innovative product combining tradition and modern science. We got this idea from our customer and tea-mate, Robert Arnesen. Then we at "Path of Cha" turned to our long-time partner, the tea producer Mr. Yang, who helped us put our thoughts to action. Mr. Yang used a 100kg of Raw Pu-erh, picked from ancient trees (aged 100 years and up), to create this first exclusive batch. 

A curious fact: usually, people use black tea brew to feed the Kombucha. However, to preserve and enhance Pu-erh tea's unique character, Mr. Yang fed the Kombucha with water from a 10-years aged Raw Pu-erh instead. 

He added the Kombucha during the wet piling stage. Then, he let the tea leaves ferment for two months. The result is a remarkable tea that is not only damn tasty but also heals the gut and assists digestion. 

Our special Kombucha Pu-erh tea combines the forces of two traditional remedies for digestion, used across different cultures. Chinese consider cooked Pu-erh a tea that is especially good for the stomach. The enzymes in tea leaves are a key factor in decomposing food. They are especially helpful for breaking down meat and oily food. After a heavy meal, the Chinese recommend drinking cooked Pu-erh, which dispels the heaviness and bloating. Additionally, cooked Pu-erh is softer and mellow than its raw counterpart. Its inner substances are gentle and, as we mentioned earlier, don't irritate the delicate mucus of the stomach and intestines. 

On the other hand, Kombucha is rich in various acids, known to assist digestion and help with nutrient absorption. Its content, rich in minerals and good bacteria, further enhances the action of Pu-erh tea and aids digestion. 

Our Kombucha Pu-erh tea has a slender and complete shape. It is pressed by hand with a traditional stone block. The compression is not too tight, making daily usage convenient. Its color is an oily, full of vigor, reddish brown. The taste is thick and smooth, with notes of orange peels and an intensity that surpasses regular cooked Pu-erh. The flavor is a little fruity, which relates to the addition of Kombucha during the fermentation stage. To put the final touch to this authentic product, we have wrapped it in a unique cotton paper handcrafted by the local Dai minority.