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Why is Pu'er ripe tea soup so beautifully red? Revealing the health code of the tea pigment family

Mar 26,2024 | taetea

The color is like amber, bright and deep red
Talking about Pu'er Ripe Tea
We can always think of warmth, softness, and heaviness
Most of these feelings come from the unique qualities of cooked tea.
When the cooked tea is poured into hot water and simmered for a while
What comes out is amber soup color
The color of this soup is different from that of raw tea. It is red, thick and translucent, deep and calm.
The color of the soup alone can make cooked tea unique.

   We can't help but wonder, why does Pu'er ripe tea have such a deep color? Who put this mysterious veil on him? When we raised various doubts, scientific researchers gave the answer through molecular level research: It is all related to a class of substances called "tea pigments"...

/Tea Pigment·Tea Soup Color Mixing Artist/

   Tea pigments are a type of plant phenolic pigments that are enzymatically oxidized or non-enzymatically oxidized from tea polyphenols, mainly catechins.
   Tea pigments are one of the main bioactive components of tea and can be divided into two categories. One is fat-soluble pigments, which mainly contribute to the dry tea color and leaf base color of tea; the other is called water-soluble pigments, which mainly contribute to the dry tea color and leaf base color of tea. It has an impact on the color, taste and other quality characteristics of tea soup.

   The difference in soup color displayed by different types of tea is due to the transformation and reshaping of the contained material components by the tea-making process. This change not only affects the relative proportions of various substances in tea, but also causes the formation of some new chemical substances or the reduction or disappearance of original substances. Therefore, the main factors that affect the color of tea soup are: the contained substances and their relative proportions.

/Theabrownin·Fermentation process creates “amber” soup color/

First Stop/Theaflavins

Formation: When the tea leaves are picked, tea polyphenols begin to come into contact with oxygen in the air and begin to oxidize under the catalysis of enzymes.

Features: Theaflavins are primary oxidation products that give tea leaves a light yellow color.

Effect: Some theaflavins can increase the sweetness of tea.

Second stop/Thearubigins

Formation: As oxidation proceeds, theaflavins are further oxidized to form thearubigins.

Features: Thearubigins are the main tea pigments in black tea, giving black tea its bright red color.

Effect: Thearubigins can bring a unique fresh and mellow taste to tea.

Terminal Station / Theabrownin

Formation: Under the action of microorganisms, thearubigins, theaflavins and proteins, polysaccharides, caffeine and lipid substances form theabrownins through oxidative polymerization, coupling polymerization and other methods. Because the formation mechanism of theabrownin is relatively complex, its chemical structure is not yet clear.
Features: Theabrownin mainly exists in post-fermented teas, mainly Pu'er ripe tea, and appears dark brown.
Effect: The red soup color brought by theabrownin means that the tea tastes more mellow and the astringency is reduced.


   During the fermentation of Pu'er ripe tea in Wodui, the tea pigment content in the tea leaves changes dynamically. In the early stage of fermentation, the content of tea polyphenols decreases significantly, and the content of theaflavins and thearubigins increases. In the later stage of fermentation, theaflavins and thearubigins increase. The content gradually decreased, and theabrownin became the main polyphenolic compound, and the content increased with the prolongation of fermentation time.

   Microorganisms play an important role in the fermentation process of Pu'er ripe tea and are the main driving force for theabrownin formation. During the fermentation process, microorganisms can decompose the organic components in the tea leaves and release enzymes. These enzymes can further promote the oxidation and condensation of polyphenols in the tea leaves.


In order to promote the formation of theabrownin, the following factors need to be met:

1. Enzymatic action of microbial extracellular enzymes;

2. Microbial respiration;

3. High temperature and high humidity fermentation environment.

   Of course, under the conditions that meet these external factors, the formation of theabrownin still requires time for precipitation. As the fermentation time prolongs, the content of theabrownin will also increase.

Proportion of tea pigments in Pu’er tea of different aging years

● Raw tea

● Ripe tea

▲Data comes from Gao Li, Liu Xongxong. Research on the components and antioxidant properties of Pu'er tea with different storage times [J]. Food Industry, 2013(07):127-130.

   Whether it is raw tea or cooked tea, they all contain theaflavins, thearubigins and theabrownins. Just because the proportions of each material component are different, the soup colors they present are also different. After aging, raw tea is called tea red. It is mainly composed of theabrownin, and cooked tea is mainly composed of theabrownin. During natural storage and aging, whether it is raw tea or cooked tea, the theabrownin content will increase with the aging period.

/Theabrownin·Promotes tea health/

   Theabrownin not only decorates the soup color of Pu'er ripe tea, but also gives Pu'er ripe tea a variety of healthy and beneficial bioactive functions. Current research has confirmed that theabrownin has antioxidant, anti-sugar and lipid-lowering, anti-tumor and other biological activities.
1 Antioxidant
   Theabrownin is formed by the oxidative polymerization of polyphenols. It also has the characteristics of phenolic substances and has good free radical scavenging ability. It can delay human aging and prevent the occurrence of various diseases.

2 Weight management

   Theabrownin can affect the activity of enzymes related to fat metabolism, regulate intestinal flora, and inhibit the proliferation and differentiation of adipocytes. Therefore, it has the effect of lowering fat and losing weight, can reduce the occurrence of diseases, and is beneficial to human health. At the same time, theabrownin can also be combined with exercise to further accelerate lipid metabolism and inhibit weight gain.

3 anti-tumor

   Theabrownin can achieve anti-tumor effects by inhibiting tumor cell proliferation, promoting tumor cell apoptosis, inducing tumor cell cycle arrest, and regulating tumor cell signal transduction.


   Tea pigments are like the master of color mixing in tea soup, and the unique rich color of Pu'er ripe tea is attributed to the enrichment of theabrownin. It not only gives the ripe tea a rich red and deep soup color, but also because of its antioxidant, It has received widespread attention from the scientific community for its health effects in reducing blood sugar, lipids, and anti-tumor. However, Pu'er ripe tea fermented by microorganisms not only contains theabrownin, a healthy component, but also contains many beneficial components generated during the fermentation process, such as fermented tea polyphenols, tea polysaccharides, etc. Drink a cup of Pu'er, observe the color of the tea, smell the aroma of the tea, taste the original taste of the tea, feel the changes in the pigments of the tea, and set sail for health.

[1] Dai Lifeng, Jiang Jielin, Guan Xingli, et al. Research progress on the physical and chemical properties and biological activity of theabrownin [J]. Food and Machinery, 2023, 39(06):227-233+240.
[2] Yang Xi, Li Yuchuan, Luo Qianqian, et al. Research on dynamic changes in taste and soup color quality during the stacking process of Yunnan high mountain Pu'er tea [J]. Journal of Food Safety and Quality Inspection, 2023, 14(07):218-225.
[3] Shan Bo, Gong Jiashun, Wang Qiuping, et al. Composition and lipid-lowering effect of the aqueous extract of Pu'er cooked tea and theabrownin in Junfang [J]. Food Science, 2023, 44(08):257-267.