Life and Work Status Update

Dear Readers,

It has been quite some time since I’ve written to you personally. As I’ve written about in the past, a small team and I have been diligently working on a startup company, Analytical Flavor Systems. I’d like to update you on how things are going and what we’re working on through the rest of this post.

 

Overview

Analytical Flavor Systems (AFS) has built a narrow-band artificial intelligence (AI) to quantify and predict what individuals, demographics, and populations will taste in food and beverage products. The AI is linked to the production process, allowing end-to-end optimizations in flavor profile consistency and consumer hedonic perception from raw ingredients to finished product along every step in its creation.

We (currently) work with beer, coffee, and spirits producers. We’ve also developed applications for chocolate and tea.

 

Updates

AFS has recently raised a new round of venture capital, and we have moved our headquarters to Manhattan, New York City. John, Emily, and Ryan, all Tea Institute Alumni, are based with me at our new headquarters.

Living in NYC has been a dream come true, with the exception taken for the lake of tea and tea education… I might have to do something about that.

 

Asks

For AFS, please reach out if you have an interest in the intersection of food technology, data science, and artificial intelligence for beverage manufacturing, own a beverage company, or just want to grab coffee with a founder in NYC.

For tea, I’d like to gauge interest in starting a new tea group in the city. It would be amazing to start teaching again, with a new group of tea lovers.

 

Overall

I am very lucky to have been this successful in my endeavors thus far; overjoyed at the continued success of the Tea Institute, and working hard to ensure the success of Analytical Flavor Systems for our clients, investors, and employees.

Luck, as they say, is 99% preparation and 1% opportunity.  I hope to do a better job of writing down what I learn and discover about tea, and to create more opportunity through connections fostered on this blog.

 

Cheers!
– Jason

Microbial Colonies of Pu’er Tea – new research

I’ve been talking / teaching / writing about the importance of the origin and cultivation of the microbial colonies within Pu’er tea for years,as they’re responsible for everything from “aging” rate to flavor profiles. (Reminder: all tea ages at the same rate of 1 year per year)

Yet, outside of the Institute, I’ve gotten some pushback;
including some crazy counter arguments like  pu’er is never actually fermented, or that there is no effect on colony strains from the factory / plantation / forest, or that the steaming process kills of the microbial colonies during compression (it doesn’t).

 

This new paper (June 2016) does a good job of showing just how important the microbiological colonies and inoculations are in determining arability, flavor profile, and quality of Shou Pu’er.

The Microbiome and Metabolites in Fermented Pu-erh Tea as Revealed by High-Throughput Sequencing and Quantitative Multiplex Metabolite Analysis

 

Abstract

Pu-erh is a tea produced in Yunnan, China by microbial fermentation of fresh Camellia sinensis leaves by two processes, the traditional raw fermentation and the faster, ripened fermentation. We characterized fungal and bacterial communities in leaves and both Pu-erhs by high-throughput, rDNA-amplicon sequencing and we characterized the profile of bioactive extrolite mycotoxins in Pu-erh teas by quantitative liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry. We identified 390 fungal and 629 bacterial OTUs from leaves and both Pu-erhs.
Major findings are: 1) fungal diversity drops and bacterial diversity rises due to raw or ripened fermentation, 2) fungal and bacterial community composition changes significantly between fresh leaves and both raw and ripened Pu-erh, 3) aging causes significant changes in the microbial community of raw, but not ripened, Pu-erh, and, 4) ripened and well-aged raw Pu-erh have similar microbial communities that are distinct from those of young, raw Ph-erh tea.

Twenty-five toxic metabolites, mainly of fungal origin, were detected, with patulin and asperglaucide dominating and at levels supporting the Chinese custom of discarding the first preparation of Pu-erh and using the wet tea to then brew a pot for consumption.

Kilns for Firing a Yixing Teapot

There were two types of kilns historically used in Yixing: Snake Kilns and “Modern Tunnel” Kilns. Later, gas and electric kilns came to be used instead.

Snake kilns were used throughout China for thousands of years, and the only type of kiln in use up to 1957. Snake kilns are simple, single-column climbing kilns made of clay and brick with a frontal firing chamber, air and fuel ports along the side, and a tall chimney at the far end. The kiln is set on a slope with the chimney at the highest point, which causes a consistent oxygen flow due to the heat rising up the slope and out of the chimney. These kilns could be up to 60 meters long and burn for over a week (though they would have been shorter and faster for yixing firings).

burn baby burn!

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Basic Verification of Yixing Teapots

calligraphy on a teapot; flowing liquid poetry; I want more tea to speak to me

Yixing teapots have been in nearly continuous production (wars being the primary cause of discontinuity) since the Song dynasty, reaching the height of their production during the Qing dynasty, before the market became flooded with teapots made from other clays.

The increase in price and rarity of real yixings of known provenance has caused a ripe market for fakes – often an expensive mistake for new and experienced practitioners alike. Simple fakes are often made from clays other than Yixing, and are not particularly hard to identify.

The better “fakes” can be real Yixing – but from the wrong year or maker. Most yixing teapots were made by students and apprentices of masters, who learned to make teapots by copying the designs of the masters before them. Masters from previous dynasties would have both later masters and their students copying their designs – “fakes” existed as early as the Ming Dynasty, with potters copying master made pots from the Song Dynasty. Students and apprentices copied their masters’ designs using the same tools, clay, and kiln. Thus, most master made pots would have been copied at least 10 times by students in training, using identical clay and equipment.

Are all of these teapots fakes? No – that would be a poor definition of “fake”…. Do yixings need to be master made to be real? No – they simply need to improve the tea you decide to pair with it to be used within GongFu.

Thus, even if one knows how to determine the composition of the clay (yixing vs. not yixing) by hand or through an analytical test, determining the age and provenance is still a challenge (for example, you can’t use radio-carbon dating on clay…. clay is really very old).

A practitioner of tea who wishes to purchase yixing for GongFu must learn a set of methods to separate real from fake. This first post will explain.

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Buddha wasn’t a Buddhist

It’s a poetic anomaly,
There is no right theology,
It’s phenomenology you need to Witness the reality:
No koan spoken understood;
No vista below the gaze undertook;
No path you know underfoot;
The crucible denied because even though you tried the reality you saw was caused by the illusions you had in mind – it was but shadows on the wall, hinting at a larger picture beyond, an impermanent veil instead of all… you could see, if we just opened our eyes, maybe for the first time.

This poem uses Buddhist philosophy to argue against certain Buddhist beliefs structures. The specific beliefs are left as an exercise to the reader.