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Have you ever tried to drink raw Pu Erh tea in the late evening and been kept awake for hours on end? Cooked Pu Erh tea is fermented and aged artificially and could, according to rumor, be a solution to this problem.
A valid alternative if you are not allowed to consume as much caffeine or will it still keep you awake? If you want to find out how much caffeine is in cooked Pu Erh and what influences the caffeine content of this tea, keep reading.
SHORT ANSWER – Caffeine Content Of Cooked Pu Erh Tea
Cooked Pu Erh Tea goes through the prolonged wet piling before being pressed into cakes. Through this fermentation and other processes, the caffeine content does in fact increase. Cooked Pu Erh tea on average contains anywhere between 50 and 80 mg caffeine per cup.
Why Cooked Pu Erh Tea Contains This Much Caffeine
Caffeine Content Of Raw Pu Erh Tea
Cooked Pu Erh tea is produced through the fermentation of the same raw material that raw Pu Erh tea cakes are pressed from. Both of these types of tea contain the same plant material.
If the caffeine content is different between these teas would depend on the effects that the fermentation and further processing of the leaves has on the caffeine.
The raw material used to produce either raw or cooked Pu Erh tea contains less caffeine than the material used to make green or white teas.
Still, a cup of raw Pu Erh tea will contain anywhere between 30 and 40 mg of caffeine per cup. This is much less than a cup of coffee, which contains between 150 and 200 mg of caffeine in a single cup.
How Caffeine Decomposes Naturally
You may have noticed that most food and beverage is supposed to be stored in cool and dark places. This is due to the organic compounds in these products are sensitive to both temperature and ultraviolet light, which is a somewhat major part of sunlight, too.
When organic compounds are exposed to these conditions they will decompose. Ultraviolet light will destroy molecules through the energy it has and increased temperature will accelerate any processes, including the breakdown of chemicals like caffeine.
What Influences The Caffeine Content?
The caffeine content of tea is heavily influenced by the plant material the farmers and tea masters choose to use. The caffeine content varies between buds, young leaves, and older leaves. Plant material with high caffeine content will always yield a more potent tea – which may or may not be desired.
Other important factors are the processing of the tea and the age of the tea. Through processing both flavor and caffeine content can be manipulated, while the flavor of a tea will mellow as the compounds decompose or oxidize through time.
How Much Caffeine Is Still In Cooked Pu Erh?
Even though it is often rumored that cooked Pu Erh tea contains less or even no caffeine at all, it does, in fact, contain more caffeine than raw Pu Erh tea. The reason for this lies in the processing of the plant material and will be further explained later in this article.
Cooked Pu Erh tea contains anywhere between 60 and 70 mg of caffeine per cup at the time it becomes available on the market.
This is still noticeably less than is contained in coffee but can add up quickly if you drink a few pots of tea a day. If you want to learn more about why the caffeine content is higher in cooked Pu Erh compared to raw Pu Erh, keep reading.
What Determines The Caffeine Content
Fermentation Process And Caffeine
The fermentation of raw Pu Erh tea is a process that has been developed mainly to mellow the harsh and bitter taste of freshly produced Pu Erh.
The bitter taste disappears through decomposition and oxidation of catechins and polyphenols by bacteria and air in large wet piles of tea, which are stored and kept wet for months.
While the fermentation can decompose many compounds contained the tea, which is exactly the desired outcome.
A study from the Japanese Society of Agricultural Technology Management found that even though many compounds do break down during this process, the caffeine content actually increases over time.
This is most likely due to volatile compounds evaporating and the tea losing mass, while the caffeine amount stays the same.
Caffeine Content of Pu Erh Over Time
The bitter and astringent taste of raw Pu Erh tea mellows with age. While the bacteria present in the fermentation stage of cooked Pu Erh tea is not able to decompose caffeine, it will, however, decompose if given enough time. This process takes a long time if the tea is not exposed to direct sunlight, heavily ventilated or raised temperatures.
As the freshly produced cakes of cooked Pu Erh tea have a very intense and somewhat unpleasant smell and taste, the cakes are commonly stored for one or two years before being sold to distributors and vendors.
In this time the caffeine content will decrease a bit. Teas with high caffeine content are mostly fresh and less processed teas like green tea and raw Pu Erh tea. Teas that have been stored for many years lose a lot of their caffeine to natural breakdown.
Steeping Method For Decreased Caffeine
Even though the caffeine content of the leaves does not change with the brewing method you chose, there are some tricks you can apply to be absolutely sure to get the least caffeine out of the cooked Pu Erh tea as possible.
Caffeine is pretty soluble in hot water and may because of that purposefully be removed. You may have experienced that the first one or two infusions have the most effect if you want to stay awake. This is due to them containing much more caffeine than later infusions.
Since cooked Pu Erh tea should be rinsed with hot water before steeping the first infusion of the tea, you can remove a lot of caffeine if you rinse the leaves for about half a minute to a minute before brewing. The piece you have broken of the cake will by then be partially opened and release all its flavor for a perfect first infusion.
The Raw Material and Caffeine Content Of Pu Erh Tea
Tea leaves are plucked differently depending on the type of tea that will be made. For white teas, only the bud is plucked, which according to a study published in the Journal for Agriculture and Food Chemistry contains the most caffeine. The older leaves on a shoot generally contain less caffeine than the younger leaves do.
As the raw material used in the production of Pu Erh tea mostly contains larger amounts of older leaves, Pu Erh tea has less caffeine than white or green teas.
The before mentioned study found, however, that older leaves contain more catechins – which is the compound that makes the tea bitter. This is the reason for your raw Pu Erh tea being bitter and astringent.
Even though it is commonly rumored that cooked Pu Erh tea contains less or even no caffeine at all, it does, in fact, contain noticeably more caffeine than most other types of tea including raw Pu Erh tea. If you are sensitive to caffeine or have medical reasons, be careful with cooked Pu Erh tea.
The caffeine content is heavily influenced by the fermentation process, which actually increases the caffeine content by weight because of the evaporation of volatile compounds while the caffeine is not decomposed.
Both the raw material used to produce the tea and the age of the tea itself also determine the caffeine content, since buds, young leaves, and old leaves contain different amounts of caffeine and the caffeine itself will break down over time.
If you really want to drink cooked Pu Erh tea, but do not want to consume all that caffeine, it is possible to rinse away most of the caffeine either through a long rinsing step before brewing or through the discarding of the first one or two infusions. If you have medical reasons not to consume caffeine, you should stay away from this tea.
How Can I Manipulate The Caffeine Content Of My Tea?
Since it is not practical to roast your tea at home the best method would be through adjusting your brewing method.
The first infusions of a tea will contain most of the caffeine and later ones will be easier on the body. By discarding the first one or two infusions or rinsing the tea for a prolonged time you will lose some flavor, but be mostly free of caffeine.
How Can I Estimate The Caffeine Content Of My Tea?
The caffeine content varies with both processing methods and aging. Fermentation has little effect on the caffeine content, but heavy oxidation or roasting will partially destroy the caffeine present in the leaves.
Through direct sunlight or merely through time caffeine will decompose slowly, which is why teas that are many years old do not keep you awake at night.
There’s a lot more to learn about tea! If you are looking for a good place to start, I highly recommend the book Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties. You can check its current price on Amazon here.