Pu’erh tea is a China-based type of tea that continues to grow in popularity in the West for its health benefits and rich flavor. Unfortunately for some, drinking too much pu-erh leads to stomach aches as well as other unpleasant side effects.
What Is Pu’erh Tea?
Also known as “puer”, “bolay”, and “dark tea,” pu’erh tea comes from Yunnan, China, a province in southwest China. The flavor in this semi-rare tea is deep and rich, which you may taste as earthy or natural.
In China, pu’erh is often drunk following a meal, especially after a heavy or greasy meal. Locals drink the tea to aid digestion as well as to reach the host of acclaimed health benefits that pu’erh tea offers.
If you do not particularly enjoy the flavor of pu’erh, you can consume it in the form of a tea blend. One popular variation of pu’erh is the chrysanthemum blend, which has a host of benefits of its own.
Pu’erh tea comes from large-leafed Yunnan tea trees, which are some of the oldest trees in the world. The tea leaves are carefully aged for at least 15, and up to 20 and more years, to add richness and a more complex flavor to the tea.
The tea leaves undergo a series of steps called “shou”, which refers to the expedited fermentation process in a variety of tea products. The process typically includes heat and moisture application, and as a result, the tea has healthy bacteria.
It usually takes at least one year for the fermentation process to complete, although the results of the extensive process are worth it. Tea products that undergo the shou process, especially pu’erh tea, develop a robust, rich color and flavor.
The main takeaway from this unique fermentation process is that it optimizes the microbial activity in tea leaves. Risks from introducing odd flavors and aromas are always threatening tea farmers, and ignoring the most minute details can ruin an entire batch of pu’erh tea.
It is for this reason that pu’erh tea is so special and has a semi-rare status.
Pu’erh Tea Leaf Shape
When it was first consumed thousands of years ago, sellers shaped and packaged pu’erh tea into shapes to hasten the transportation process. Unbeknownst to them, these sellers were fermenting their tea, as the destinations were often far away and the leaves naturally began the fermenting process.
Today, producers use this fermentation process regularly and spend years aging their leaves to reach the unique darkness and flavor synonymous with pu’erh tea. Just the same as the tea processors from thousands of years ago, sellers offer pu’erh products in shapes, most prominently bricks, cakes, and bowls.
Pu’erh is less common in loose-leaf form and even less common in teabags, although you can still find it if you want to.
What Are the Health Benefits of Pu’erh Tea?
One reason for pu’erh tea’s popularity is the health benefits it boasts. Most notably, many in the health community claim that pu’erh improves heart health and reduces cholesterol levels, although there are more benefits.
Although it is not scientifically proven, you may find that consistently drinking pu’erh tea can help you lose weight, enhance your eyesight, and even reduce the negative effects of hangovers. In one study, scientists discovered that pu’erh tea might improve blood sugar levels and protect you from obesity.
If you drink tea for the caffeine content, you may want to take another look at pu’erh. Compared to other types of teas, pu’erh is average or below average when it comes to caffeine.
Most cups of pu’erh tea contain anywhere between 30 mg and 100 mg of caffeine. For reference, a standard cup of black coffee has roughly 70 mg to 140 mg of caffeine. These ranges vary depending on how strong or weak you like your tea or coffee, and how long you brew your beans or tea leaves.
Drawbacks to Pu’erh Tea
Consuming too much pu’erh tea can become a problem, even if you are comfortable drinking a lot of caffeine. Some brands of pu’erh tea have leaves that are too young, which can end up giving people with sensitivities to certain plants or leaves stomach aches.
In some cases, you may find that your pu’erh leaves are musty or even moldy, which can obviously lead to negative side effects. Consuming too much caffeine too quickly also may leave you feeling dizzy or nauseated.
The fermentation process also upsets some people’s stomachs, especially if you rarely consume fermented foods or drinks. Fortunately, these side effects are usually not very severe and you can correct them by simply reducing the amount of pu’erh tea or caffeine you consume.
Remember that the widely accepted guidelines on caffeine are to stay within 400 mg of caffeine daily, and going past this benchmark often results in side effects. Additional side effects from excess caffeine include headaches, diarrhea, heartburn, although everyone responds differently to caffeine.
Treating Health Conditions Using Tea
Despite all of the acclaimed health benefits of pu’erh tea, or any tea for that matter, you should not use it by itself to treat health conditions. You should also consider consulting with a health care provider before drinking pu’erh tea, especially if you have any underlying health concerns.
On a scientific level, pu’erh tea may deliver its properties to increase the levels of oxygen in your blood through a process called oxidation. With more oxygen in your brain, the severity of your headaches or migraines may go down.
Keep in mind that little concrete, scientific evidence supports these claims, although there are natural properties in pu’erh tea leaves that seem to support healthy cholesterol levels. Healthy cholesterol, which is known as HDL, seems to increase when consumption of pu’erh tea increases, while bad cholesterol rates, known as LDL, decrease.
For general health, as well, there is some evidence that pu’erh tea can help keep you healthy and fend off general illnesses and colds. The tea’s high concentrations of vitamin C and antioxidants, a result of the fermentation process that the leaves undergo, can help prevent or weaken any sicknesses.
What Are Some Ways to Ease the Effect on Your Digestive System?
There are a few compounds in pu’erh tea that can lead to an upset stomach. As with coffee, consuming these compounds in healthy doses can improve your health, although overdoing it can lead to discomfort.
Tips to Avoid Indigestion: The first tip to prevent tummy trouble from consuming pu’erh tea, and any tea for that matter, is to drink it slowly, especially if you are not used to drinking tea consistently. You also want to avoid drinking on an empty stomach, as some people’s stomachs are more sensitive to acidic foods and drinks than others.
If you fear that you are sensitive to acidic foods, such as tomatoes, citrus, wine, and others, research before brewing your tea and see how acidic it is. For example, lemon and blackberry variations of tea are pretty acidic, although green and chamomile tea are both safer, with more basic pH scores.
If you add more water to your tea, you can dilute it and potentially remove some acidity from the beverage, since water has a pH level of seven. You can also dilute your tea by steeping it for a shorter amount of time or by refraining from adding acidic additives, such as milk and citrus.
If you are just starting to drink tea, be careful not to drink large concentrations at a time. Make sure that you are brewing your tea for the proper time span, and look for any signs that your tea is moldy or unsafe to drink.
Avoid Switching Abruptly From One Tea to Another: If you usually drink acidic or fermented teas, switching over to a tea with a different acidity or fermentation can aggravate your stomach and digestive process. Switching to a new tea abruptly or drinking a large volume of tea in a short period can leave you “tea drunk,” the same way that you can get drunk by consuming too much alcohol.
If you switch from packaged tea to a freshly picked tea source, you can experience these side effects also, although these fresh tea leaves are usually the highest quality in terms of caffeine concentration and aromatics.
Letting your fresh tea leaves age for a few weeks can help you avoid the repercussions of overly fresh tea leaves. Again, as is the case with most things in life, rushing into them can end up doing more harm than good, so be careful when switching teas, and be careful that your leaves are not too fresh.
Alternatives to Pu’erh Tea
There are five main tea groups, of which pu’erh is one. These different delineations of tea have their respective benefits and drawbacks, and some make better alternatives to pu’erh tea than others. If you are thinking about another tea to try in place of pu’erh, these are some of your options.
Herbal Tea: Many herbal teas offer some of the same benefits as pu’erh tea, although the process they go through is different. Unlike pu’erh tea, herbal tea is usually not fermented, which can make it more agreeable with some people.
If you have issues with digestion or stomach pains, you may want to give herbal tea a shot to see if it helps. If you choose the right kind of tea, you will not have to worry about the leaves being too acidic, which may cause those nagging stomach pains.
Just as with pu’erh tea, herbal teas may offer the key to extra weight loss. You can substitute herbal tea for high-calorie sodas or other beverages to cut down on calories if you wish.
Herbal teas naturally contain no caffeine, which is a bonus if you are sensitive to caffeine or do not want to have trouble sleeping.
Black Tea: Among the main tea groups, black tea usually has the most caffeine, clocking in at 47 mg of caffeine per cup on average. If you are sensitive to the caffeine content in pu’erh tea, then this is most likely not a very good alternative.
Black tea may boast many of the same health benefits as herbal and pu’erh teas and is the most oxidized tea on the list. This means that producers expose tea leaves to air and humidity, which turns the leaves black after a given time.
The result of this extensive oxidation process is a stronger, bolder flavor. Black tea is the most popular tea variant in Western society and many enjoy it daily during breakfast.
Oolong Tea: In the tea oxidation process, oolong teas fall somewhere between green and black teas. In essence, this gives them qualities of both teas, a mild amount of caffeine, and a beautiful fragrance.
If you can handle some caffeine but are upset by large concentrations of caffeine, oolong tea might be right up your alley.
Green Tea: Unlike many other teas, green tea does not go through the oxidation process. Instead, the green tea is packaged quickly and consumed. This process makes for very little caffeine in brewed tea.
Green tea is also visibly bright and fresh, similar to some herbal teas. For meditation, green tea is the perfect choice of tea, as its low caffeine content keeps your blood pressure from spiking and dropping.
If you regularly get an upset stomach from other variations of tea, green tea is a well-rounded option to try.
White Tea: Stemming mostly from the Fujian Province in China, white tea is the most delicate and the least processed kind of tea on this list. It also features the lowest caffeine content as white tea undergoes a very small oxidation process.
White tea is unique in its production process in that farmers collect it when the tea buds are still enclosed in leaves. If you want a very mild, soothing tea with a minimum caffeine content, white tea is a great option.
Pu’erh tea can give you a stomach ache if you are sensitive to caffeine or if your body does not agree with the tea itself. Due to its extensive oxidation process, pu’erh tea is heavily fermented, which may hurt your stomach.
There are other factors that may give you stomach trouble after drinking pu’erh tea, but luckily you can control many of them. Whether you end up going for pu’erh or not, tea is a great diet supplement for just about everyone.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Film/Video/Media Studies, as well as an associates degree in Communications. I began producing videos and musical recordings nearly 15 years ago. I am a guitarist and bassist in Southwest MI and have been in a few different bands since 2009, and in 2012 I began building custom guitars and basses in my home workshop as well. When I’m home, I love spending time with my three pets (a dog, cat, and snake) and gardening in my backyard.