Pu-erh tea has shown anti-obesity effects but little is known about its effect on proliferation and differentiation of preadipocytes. This study investigated the effects of the aqueous extracts of raw pu-erh tea and ripened pu-erh tea on proliferation and differentiation of murine 3T3-L1 preadiopocytes. We examined dose and time effects of both aqueous extracts on proliferation of 3T3-L1 preadipocytes. The contents of triglycerides in cytoplasm and the mRNA expression of critical transcriptional factors involved in differentiation were determined. Cytotoxicity and apoptosis rate of preadipocytes by pu-erh tea extracts treatment were test for toxic and pro-apoptotic effects. Both aqueous extracts of pu-erh tea inhibited the proliferation of 3T3-L1 preadipocytes at the selected time points. At lower concentration of raw pu-erh tea extracts (less than 300 µg/ml) and ripened pu-erh tea extracts (less than 350 µg/ml), no significant cytotoxic and pro-apoptotic were observed. Ripened pu-erh tea was more effective with lower IC50 than raw pu-erh tea. Both extracts suppressed the differentiation and down-regulated the gene expression of peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-γ and CCAAT/enhancer binding proteins-α. Therefore, these results indicate that both aqueous extracts of pu-erh tea can inhibit proliferation and differentiation with ripened pu-erh tea more potent. Polyphenol rich in both extracts may play a role in the inhibition of proliferation and differentiation of 3T3-L1 preadipocytes. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.