There is a lot to say about Pu’erh tea, which is why we have a few articles on the subject. This is a tea that has failed to win us over 100%, a tea that we treat with uncertainty, but a tea that we still have time and respect for. It’s a tea that can be healthy (as is the case with all of them) but one about which there are many weird and wonderful claims made.
Pu’erh divides opinions with regards to taste and price more so than any other variety, but it’s the supposed and actual health benefits that cause the biggest divide with drinkers and detractors of this Chinese fermented tea.
Is Pu Erh Tea Healthy?
Pu’erh is black tea. Black tea is healthy, so by definition, pure is healthy. The problem is, we can’t quite leave it there. The questions asked about this tea are not limited to whether it has cancer fighting properties, whether it’s a good antioxidant and whether it can help with digestion, claims that can pretty much be made for black, green, white and even red tea. Pu’erh tea has taken on somewhat of a mythical status and many of the questions we have been asked about this tea concern whether or not it really is as magical and as powerful as stated.
You probably knew this already, but…no, it’s not.
We love tea and we are huge proponents of tea in its many forms. We have been drinking it for years, we have immersed ourselves into every aspect of the industry and we have lived and breathed tea in all of its forms for well over 15 years. Trust us, we don’t make negative comments lightly, but the issue with this tea is that it is connected to traditional Chinese medicine, which doesn’t exactly synchronize with Western beliefs.
Firstly, we just want to made it clear that we have nothing against Traditional Chinese medicine or the people who practice it (providing there is no poaching, animal abuse or illegality involved). We also don’t want to discredit this tea in anyway as we think it’s great and we still make room for an occasional cup. However, there are a few things that need to be said about it:
Pu’Er Tea is Not a Magic Bullet
To reiterate, pu’erh tea does come loaded with antioxidants and it can help in many of the same ways that other teas can. But some of the claims made by manufacturers and proponents of the tea need to be addressed because they are being used to lure unsuspecting buyers into spending a lot of money and ultimately not getting the results they seek. Firstly:
Can Pu’erh Tea Help with Weight loss?
No. It contains caffeine and caffeine is a stimulant that may work to suppress appetite and to every-so-slightly increase the metabolism, but Pu’erh Tea is not more effective as a weight loss aid than green tea or black tea. It does have an impact on visceral fat in rodents though and black/green tea can have a minimal affect with regards to fat loss.
Spot Fat Burning
“Spot” weight reduction is a bizarre conception as it is, and one that just isn’t possible without liposuction, let alone with a tea.
Pu’erh Tea can be considered a panacea, or “cure-all”, so we don’t mind this comment too much. We do mind it when the claims are that Pu’erh tea can cure cancer. There are studies that link tea consumption to a reduced cancer risk and we know that regular tea drinking will limit your chances of developing many forms of cancer and cardiovascular diseases, but in people who already have such issues Pu’erh tea is not the cure.
Pu’erh Tea Side Effects and Health Warnings
The highest quality Pu’erh teas are perfectly fine, but not all of these teas are of a high quality. Whenever you have an expensive raw product like this you have people who will look to try and copy it. They don’t care what they put in or take out as long as the end product looks, smells and tastes similar and they can sell it for the same amount of money.
As a result, many low quality Pu’erh teas are known to contain dangerously high levels of fluorine. This is because they are often made with low quality and old tea leaves that would otherwise be thrown away. These teas are often sold in and around the areas in which they are produced, leading to many cases of fluoride poisoning in China and specifically in Tibet.
High quality teas are left to age for months and even years. Low quality teas will be left for a mature of days or weeks and may be sprayed or mixed with chemicals to try and mimic the aging process. Generally if you stick with good suppliers and good teas you will be okay, especially if you’re buying imported teas, but it’s still worth doing your due diligence.
What About the Microorganisms in Pu’erh tea?
One of the things that separates Pu’erh from other teas is the fermentation process. Unlike the simple oxidation that turns green tea to black, Pu’erh undergoes a deep, long process that essentially allows yeasts and bacteria (all of which grow naturally on the tea plant) to do their thing. It is from these bacteria that many of the supposed benefits of Pu’er tea originate.
But therein lies the issue. Most societies have some form of fermented foodstuff that they claim can help with an array of issues and in all cases these foodstuffs have been passed down through thousands of years of history. The Japanese and Scandinavians have their fermented fish and shark; the Germans have their fermented cabbage; the Russians have their fermented milk; and countless others have fermented yoghurts. Many claims are made about these things and in most cases, only a few of these can be backed up by actual scientific studies.
When something gets passed down through thousands of years of history and hailed as a cure-all through every generation, it takes on a superhero status. Don’t forget, we’ve only been able to disprove many health claims in the last few decades, which is just a fraction of the time that these products have been consumed.
There is a lot of history, anecdotal evidence and faith to try and debunk and therein lies the issue with Pu’erh. Traditional Chinese Medicine also rejects many of the practices of the West and has created its own system, which already flies in the face of what we know about the human body. Their beliefs about this tea have thrived and will continue to thrive because of that, but it’s tea—it’s healthy, it’s natural. There are way worse things they could be consuming and while most of the health benefits being claimed probably aren’t true, a small number of significant ones are.