Coffee VS Puerh: the head-on clash
Caffeine is undoubtedly the most popular of legal drugs all over the world. About 85% of Americans consume it in some form every day. Coffee is a drink of choice for billions of people, and so is tea. In recent years coffee has gotten an upper hand in winning people’s hearts and minds. Particularly so in North America, taken to the mainstream and made cool among the urban populace by global chains like Starbucks.
There are many kinds of caffeinated teas, and puerh is only one of them, occupying a small, but loyal niche. No doubt there are many teas that would warrant this analysis, however being devoted puerh AND coffee lovers ourselves, we take these two to the lab for an honest view at PROs and CONs across several dimensions we care about, both immediate and long term.
Read on to learn about them all, or click on the one that interests you most form the list below to jump to the respective section.
Table of contents
Burning fat / weight loss
Improving productivity and brain function
How addictive is it
Coffee has a higher caffeine content than puerh tea. The amount of caffeine in puerh tea ranges between 30 and 70 mg per 8 oz cup (237 ml), and 70 to 180 mg per cup in coffee. This substantial variation in caffeine content is primarily due to the processing and brewing methods for both puerh tea and coffee. For coffee, espresso usually has the highest caffeine content (180 mg per cup), followed by filtered coffee (95 mg), and instant coffee (63 mg) containing the least. The caffeine content of pu erh tea varies depending on water temperature and steeping time, as caffeine dissolves better in high temperatures and with longer steeping.
It can also vary depending on the type of puerh tea. Young raw (sheng) puerh tea contains between 30 - 45 mg of caffeine per cup. Young raw puerh tea will have more caffeine when compared to aged raw pu erh because caffeine decays over time through oxidation and light. Thus raw aged pu’erh tea that is decades old may not contain much caffeine at all.
Ripe (shu) puerh tea contains anywhere between 60 and 70 mg of caffeine per cup. The fermentation process causes microbial activity that decomposes catechins and other molecules over time, but has no impact on the caffeine quantity. This leaves caffeine becoming one of the primary components. As the ripe puerh tea becomes aged, the caffeine will start to break down as well.
Overall, ripe puerh tea tends to be the highest in caffeine content and aged raw puerh tea usually has the lowest caffeine content.
Energy boost / Waking up
Both beverages contain enough caffeine to provide an energy boost, but there are a couple of other components that give them different effects.
Theophylline and theobromine are compounds related to caffeine. Although high amounts are found in coffee, they are barely found in puerh tea. These compounds are responsible for stimulating the heart, which is a common effect of coffee. Not so with puerh tea where the amounts of these substances are so small that their effects are largely unnoticeable.
Additionally, research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that some strains of bacteria during a short-term fermentation may increase the levels of statins, GABA and polyphenols. These compounds aid in reducing stress and anxiety. GABA and polyphenols combined with caffeine in puerh tea can provide a sharp, yet balanced boost of energy, without side effects associated with coffee.
Overall, both puerh and coffee have enough caffeine to keep you alert. Coffee gives a more intense and physical boost of energy, often succeeded by a caffeine crash, while puerh tea gives you a more gentle and calm boost without an undesirable crash.
Burning fat / weight loss
Caffeine is known to promote healthy weight loss. This is because caffeine is a natural stimulant that is proven to boost your metabolism and aid in the breakdown of fat. Coffee contains more caffeine compared to puerh tea. Coffee also contains potassium and magnesium, which increase insulin secretion and assist with regulating blood sugar levels, which in turn helps reduce craving for sugary foods.
The fermentation process in puerh tea introduces healthy probiotics which help balance gut bacteria, leading to the improved digestion. These healthy probiotics may also improve your blood sugar level, which helps with controlling cravings, and may aid in weight management.
One important thing to note is how you take your coffee or puerh tea. If you add lots of creamer and sugar to your coffee then the weight loss effects are negligible, and may actually be reversed. Same goes for puerh, if you add milk or sugar - admittedly practice much less common than with coffee - the added calories offset potential weight loss benefits the puerh tea provides.
Improving productivity and brain function
As you may have observed from experience, after consuming caffeine the effects can be felt almost immediately. These include improved alertness and energy. Caffeine stimulates the brain and central nervous system by blocking adenosine - a neurotransmitter that promotes sleep and suppresses arousal. Studies have shown that people who consume coffee regularly have improved thinking ability and long-term memory performance. Furthermore, in the same study, it was also shown that high caffeine levels in your blood reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Aside from increased energy levels and focus, thanks to caffeine, pu-erh tea also delivers increased levels of oxygen due to its oxidative properties, which promote the circulation of blood. By delivering more oxygen to the brain, pu-erh tea can help combat headaches and migraines. Furthermore, pu-erh tea contains the phyto-chemicals GABA and theanine, which help lower stress levels. These phyto-chemicals increase the production of melatonin, which promotes calmness throughout the day, and can aid in better sleep.
The health risks associated with coffee and puerh tea all stem from caffeine. Consuming too much caffeine can worsen symptoms of anxiety, such as jitteriness, heart palpitations and even provoke panic attacks. Caffeine may also cause insomnia if consumed near sleep time. In addition, caffeine can cause an upset stomach. It’s also been known to induce negative reactions when consumed with certain medications. Caffeine should be taken with caution if you have medical conditions, such as bleeding disorders, heart conditions, diabetes, and others. Be sure to ask your doctor about caffeine intake if you're taking any medications.
Even though puerh contains less caffeine than coffee, it is possible to overdose on it. From our own experience drinking 3-4 cups of puerh tea everyday for several days may make you feel uneasy and increase anxiety. Then skipping it for a day and scaling back the amount of daily consumption will bring things back to the happy equilibrium of enjoying the benefits with no side effects. As long as you stay attentive to your feelings, you will easily find your own balance.
How addictive is it
Consuming coffee or puerh tea regularly in large quantities can lead to caffeine addiction. Although, it is less likely among puerh drinkers since puerh tea contains less caffeine on average, and doesn't provide as intense of a caffeine kick as coffee does. People who depend on caffeine and cut it out cold turkey can experience withdrawal symptoms, such as exhaustion, headaches, irritability and brain fog. This is because regular and consistent caffeine consumption can lead to changes in your brain chemistry. Thus, if you abruptly cut off your caffeine supply, it will leave your brain with lots of free receptors for adenosine to bind to. This can produce feelings of tiredness and dreariness. It is important to note that while caffeine users can develop a dependence, symptoms are generally considered milder than those linked to stronger substances.
In October 2020, according to Statistics Canada, the average retail price for instant coffee in Canada was $7.08 for 200 grams, and for roasted coffee it was $4.98 for 300 grams. This makes roughly 100 cups or 30 - 40 cups respectively, depending on how strong you like your coffee. In June 2020, the average retail price in Canada for tea in general was $4.25 Canadian dollars per 72 tea bags. The retail price for puerh tea is a bit more expensive with an average of about $11.14 Canadian dollars per 50 g based on an averaged puerh tea price at a few mainstream retailers. This makes around 15 - 20 cups. The price can be much higher for aged pu erh teas. We excluded them from this analysis, as they’re antiques enjoyed by truly dedicated collectors and connoisseurs, and ignored by most. These prices don’t take into consideration cafes and restaurants, assuming you intend to make your coffee or tea at home.
Below is the table bringing it all to the level of the cup.
USD / CAD exchange rate is based on a price of $0.77 USD to $1.00 CAD taken on December 2, 2020 from Google.
Puerh tea requires more laborious and time consuming processing compared to coffee and regular tea, which brings up the price. It is perfectly justified in our opinion all things considered.
Despite notable differences, the effects of coffee and puerh tea are largely similar. It is mainly a matter of preference for the taste, and preference for the type of energy boost that you enjoy. Puerh is a great alternative to coffee if you’d like to have a gentler boost with no caffeine crash, or if coffee increases your anxiety or upsets your stomach. It is also more beneficial and less risky to have if you’re craving a drink closer to bedtime.
There are a lot more distinctive benefits to puerh tea that may entice you to have a cup aside from waking up in the morning. Learn more about top 12 health benefits puerh tea can provide.
We think this truly one of those cases that doesn’t need to be a trade off. We will continue to enjoy both, puerh tea of various kinds, and coffee, since we couldn’t agree more with an adage that variety is the spice of life.