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Does pu-erh tea have caffeine? It’s a question that’s asked time and time again, likely due to the complicated nature of the answer. In short, yes! All teas from the camellia sinensis plant contain naturally-occurring caffeine. Tisanes, or herbal teas, are the only truly decaffeinated “teas” available.
Correlation between the type of tea and its caffeine content
Despite the fact that all tea varieties are derived from the same plant, the levels of caffeine in the varying types of tea are quite different. Many rely on the simple dogma that the type of tea (black, green, or white, for example) determines its caffeine content—black tea is more highly caffeinated than green tea, and green tea contains more caffeine than white tea. However, these generalized comparisons of “black tea has the most caffeine” and “white tea has the least caffeine” can be misleading.
To set the record straight, researchers compared the caffeine content across all types of teas. Surprisingly, they found no correlation between the type of tea (green, black, white, etc.) and the determined caffeine content. Their results were published in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology in 2008.
Caffeine in aged teas like pu-erh
While generalizations continue and arguments rage on, less attention is given to discussions of the caffeine levels within deliciously complex aged teas like pu-erh.
While aging, the post-fermentation process breaks down the caffeine present in the pu-erh leaves. Just as expected, the longer that pu-erh teas are aged, the less caffeine they will contain. This means that young raw pu-erh (also called sheng pu’er) aged less than two or three years will have more caffeine than raw pu-erh aged for five or ten years. Pu-erh teas that are allowed to age for fifteen, twenty, or even thirty years will contain less and less caffeine with age.higher levels of caffeine.
Caffeine in aged white tea
Just like pu-erh, the caffeine within white tea also decreases with age. According to a 2014 study performed at the Fujian Agriculture University, one type of fresh white tea contained 4.28% caffeine, while the same white tea contained only 3.6% caffeine after one year of aging, 3.5% after three years, and 2.5% after an impressive twenty years.
Impact of brewing practices on caffeine
Despite this general, comparative information, it’s important to remember that generalizations are not always true, and even brewing times and methods can affect how much caffeine makes the journey from leaf to cup—the caffeine in coffee vs. tea debate, for instance, is a perfect example. The tea plant actually contains more caffeine than coffee beans, but steeped tea generally has less caffeine than brewed coffee. It’s all about dilution and brewing practices!
While these generalized statements about caffeine content in aged teas are a good place to start when determining the amount of caffeine in your preferred selection, it’s best for tea lovers to remember that every body responds differently to caffeine. If you are sensitive to caffeine, try testing out your new tea in small amounts or in the early morning to see how your body responds.
Of course, if you have any condition, it is important to consult your physician.
Mansa Tea is a handcrafted aged tea company that specializes in aged teas, tea experiences, and education for modern connoisseurs. We aim to elevate tea experiences at Michelin-starred restaurants and luxury hotels so that tea enthusiasts can taste aged tea at its peak as part of their fine dining experience.
This article is just one part of the Mansa Tea Education blog series. Subscribe to our newsletter to become a tea connoisseur.