953 Tasting Notes

99

So here’s what happened.

I put this into the Breville to steep, and then forgot about it and took my 4 year old to pre-K. When I came home I remembered, and the timer on the Breville indicated it had been available for drinking for approximately 54 minutes.

I figured it would be cold and probably not very good, but I tasted it anyway.

WOW.

It was lukewarm. But the first thing I noticed was the mouthfeel. Thick. Not really chewy, but thick and textured, somewhere between broth and syrup. And then, unexpectedly, the most wonderful flavor. Gently smoky, with a naturally sweet, smooth undercurrent of tea that tastes like… bread on the initial sip, and as it rounds out in the mouth, plums?

Enough. I have to go make more of this and see how it is hot.

While it’s making, I’m backtracking to the dry tea. Fairly large, brown tippy leaves. A very smoky smell, that has the salty, meaty smoke thing going on.

And yes, it’s even better hot! The thickness of the mouthfeel isn’t as apparent, but there’s a carby sweetness, sort of yam-like, to both the aroma and the flavor. The smoke is an accent, not the main event, but a noticeable one. There’s a lot of depth and character here, something that reminds me of what I like about Samovar’s black teas. That particular quality is more apparent as the tea cools. Too cold, as my first cup has now become, and the magic goes poof. Would not recommend this as an iced tea. But any range between right out of the pot and lukewarm is delicious. Like a nice wine that’s left to breathe, it changes with time. One flavor may not be better than the others, just different and equally wonderful.

I was moved to give this a 100, but I can’t bring myself to do it on a limited edition. It would just be too sad to have decided on a perfect tea, and then have it be unavailable.

Preparation
Boiling 4 min, 0 sec

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34

While I’m on a flavored oolong bender, I thought I’d give this a try. It’s my last sample from The NecessiTeas. With this I’ll have tried everything they currently offer in a sample size, and I suspect I will have ordered everything of theirs I am interested in tasting again with the exception of Coco La Ven. They are still out of that. Sigh.

So, as you can see, I’m coming into this with a prejudice against this tea. I just haven’t had great luck with The NecessiTeas with the exception of some of their rooibos and black blends.

In the sample packet, this tea smells pungently fruity, but I wouldn’t describe what I smell as pomegranate so much as a cherry/strawberry fragrance. The tea’s aroma is buttery and in general green oolongy with a sweet fruit note. I would not recognize it as pomegranate in a blindfolded sniff test. But then, I’m not sure I’d recognize even the most pomegranatey pomegranate so that isn’t saying much.

Unfortunately, my prejudices appear to have been well-founded in this case. The underlying tea seems decent enough, though perhaps a little on the thin and weak side in terms of flavor, but the “pomegranate” flavoring is a decidedly fictitious fruit taste. It has a sort of cherry candy/cough drop note to it.

Second steep. 3 min. Pretty much the same.

Third steep.

Nah.

Preparation
195 °F / 90 °C 2 min, 0 sec
ashmanra

Just tried Harney and Sons Pomegranate Oolong for the first time. I couldn’t believe how light the color was! I did enjoy the flavor, though. I didn’t think to try re-infusing since they are sachets but I think I will give it a try!

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86

This smells awesome in the sample packet. It has that planty, earthy smell I get from good Assams with something else as well. It’s not really chocolate, not really vanilla, but it might be a hint of either of those. Not really smoke but could be a hint of that as well. The leaves are really pretty and bird nesty looking like some Ceylons (which is interesting since this doesn’t have Ceylon in it according to the picture at the top of this page).

It makes a dark, mahogany colored tea, with a sweet, smooth and malty aroma. The flavor is really yummy. It is a hearty flavor without a heaviness to it like some of the stouter breakfast teas (e.g., Queen Catherine). I’d describe it as medium bodied leaning toward full. It isn’t overly complex or deep, but it is full flavored, fairly smooth (a got tiny nip at the back of the throat, but it’s not consistent), and not overly sweet despite its malty aroma.

My main problem now is that I’m liking so many black teas, I’m not being very successful at narrowing down what I buy after sampling. With the exception of a few real stand outs, I’m getting a cluster of very goods and excellents and I’m having a hard time cutting them more finely. I also can’t keep them all in my head each time I taste a new one.

Does anyone have a systematic way of doing this successfully?

Preparation
Boiling 4 min, 0 sec
Angrboda

I try to pay attention to which area they come from. This sampler box from Nothing But Tea that I’ve been playing with has really helped there. For example it has confirmed to me what I already suspected of not really being a Ceylon fan. For a long time now it has seemed to me that I have a tendency to prefer Chinese, it’s just a shame that my box only had three Chinese ones in it, but I might be able to confirm some things depending on what I think of all the Indian ones. So, country first, then region.

JacquelineM

I’m horribly old fashioned and have a molskine in my purse. This is sort of goofy, but I’ll tell you anyway :) Each page has a shop I frequent (whether online or bricks ‘n mortar) and what I’d like to get from it. When I have money, I then have a list of what I’m dreaming of, and then can make decisions based on my budget and needs.

When it comes to teas, I have about 10 pages devoted to shops. I write the shop at the top, and then list all of the teas that I think are good as I taste them (these would be your “cluster of very goods and excellents”) over time. Then when I am ready to order from/go visit a particular shop I have everything that I like/want in a convenient place, and can make decisions. You’ll have the list, and can go back over your tasting notes on Steepster if need be to help you – and you can then get your budget and what holes you have in your collection involved :)

I do this with everything. I have some pages related to clothing, I have a few for bookstores, certain art and craft related shops, etc. Because it’s in my purse at all times, I never get the OMG not WHAT was the book that I wanted or HOW many yards of elastic did I need or wind up buying a pair of shoes when I really, really, really need a blouse.

I imagine this would work in some kind of iPhone type thing too that you always have with you, but like I said, I’m horribly old fashioned. :)

__Morgana__

Thanks for the ideas, keep em coming.

Jacqueline, that is a much better system than I have (I don’t have much of one). Here’s what I’ve been doing. I had been intending to “weed” in layers. I pretty much discount anything that I rate below a 70 as something I’d order again, so that’s the initial cut. Then if it’s a specialty sort of item, like a decaf or a tisane, I ask myself would I really drink it much or would I prefer one I already have. If the answer is no, I don’t put it on the list. For everything else, I’ve been collecting full tins that I have been intending to go back and do a second round on. A good example is chai, because I’m pretty much narrowed down on that one already. I have 4 or 5 front runners and I measure against those. So I have the Samovar which is my all time favorite, then I have a spicy one that I like (Rishi) and a mild one (GM), and a decaf one (LeafSpa), and an unusual one (like the GM pu erh chai). And I measure all new ones that I taste against those. If any of them is close, I’d order more and try to do a run off between them.

The problem with the blacks is that there are so many of them, and they’re blended so many different ways and in so many variations. You can’t even really compare an English breakfast to an English breakfast because their ingredients aren’t standard. I think at some point I’ll have to do what Angrboda suggested and just line them all up by ingredient and do a run off.

ashmanra

Jacqueline, I am with you on the moleskine! I keep one with tea quotes, a list of the tea I have sent to friends via mail, a list of tea currently in the house, and a list of teas I have given people when they come over, indicating their preferences and favorites! At the back is also a wish list based on tea reviews I have read that intrigued me and teas I have seen in shops.

Morgana, I am also trying to “keep things straight” and right now I am trying to rank some of my breakfast teas by smokiness. The difficulty is that sometimes the perception of the taste changes based on whether I measures the leaves and time carefully, how much milk and sugar did I add, what was the temperature of the tea while I was drinking it, etc. So I just shrug and realize I will have to keep trying more tea! :)

Also, sometimes I go through a “mood” where I want a certain tea of type, and then that phase passes and I don’t want it for a while. Fortunately it keeps a long time! But keep those beloved forerunners on the shelf, and then add some that you liked very well for variety!

teabird

Commenting on an old post because 1) Carolyn made this sound delicious so I wanted to read the other reviews and 2) I think that’s an interesting question (organizing and deciding what to buy)

I’ve only been at this for a couple years, so I can’t speak to the long-term effectiveness, but basically I decide based on the tea shop. I use Steepster to keep track of the ones I like well enough to buy a full tin of (that’s what my “shopping list” is for, and my tasting notes really), and I plan to make my next order from whichever company has the most teas I’ve been meaning to buy. I make the order either when there’s space in the cupboard and spending money, or I see they’re running a sale.

It does mean that I sometimes run out of favorites for awhile, but then I usually appreciate them more when I get them back :) I do also add teas I’d like to try to my shopping list, but it’s not hard to figure out which is which – if I haven’t tried it, there’s no tasting note!

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86

I haven’t had a great deal of success finding something I love in the flavored oolong category. The GM Sugar Caramel Oolong was a winner, but the others I’ve tried have ranged from meh to ok.

This one creates a worthy first impression. It’s visually enchanting, with the colorful flower petals among the curly or balled up oolong leaves. It smells wonderful. I get the coconut, the chocolate and some pineapple fragrance. And something that smells a little like tomato. The cereal is even there, though exactly what it is is lost on me.

The tea is a light yellow color and clear, very much what I’d expect from a green oolong. It has that flowery, buttery, green oolong smell, too. The flavoring agents don’t present themselves much in the aroma of the steeped tea, which could be either a good thing or a bad thing.

I think it is turning out to be a good thing. And I think I may be turning into a bit of an oolong purist, as I am finding myself to be with green tea with a few exceptions. This may be one of them. I can taste chocolate and coconut in the oolong, which is actually going pretty well with the butter. I get a hint of pineapple, but it’s only a hint, which I think is a good thing.

Compared to my Toasted Nut Brulee experience of last night, this is a nice performance by a flavored oolong. The flavors work with the tea, rather than against it. They don’t fight with it, trying to cover it up.

I’m thinking the Sugar Caramel is still in the front position, but this is up there.

I’m not following the Dammann Freres steeping instructions, by the way. I’m doing my usual oolong in a cup steeping method. First steep 2 minutes, add a minute per additional steep.

Second steep: 3 minutes. Not surprisingly, given what I’ve come to experience with Dammann Freres teas, the blend does what it’s supposed to do (at least what I think it’s supposed to do). The flavor doesn’t all wash away with the first steep. The second has a nice chocolate/coconut note and I do still get a suggestion of pineapple in the aftertaste. And through this, there is also a buttery, sweet, floral tea flavor.

Third steep. 4 minutes. Still doing what it’s supposed to do. It’s as though the tea has been impregnated with the flavor; it’s actually part of the tea, rather than something added to it on the surface that washes away with multiple steeps.

Fourth steep. 5 minutes. The non-tea flavorings finally faded here, and the oolong itself is starting to as well, but a very good run! And the leaves have gone from something reminiscent of ball bearings to a rather amazing length. I’m eyeballing it rather than measuring it, but I’d say one of them is close to 3 inches long.

Another success story from the Dammann Freres sample-fest organized by Doulton.

Preparation
195 °F / 90 °C 2 min, 0 sec

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62

Another June tea of the month on the classic plan.

It smells terrific in the bag. A sort of nutty, gingery, cinnamony mix. It looks like a typical Teavana mixture with stuff other than tea in it. Big chunky trail mix-like pieces. Not quite as big as some of the other Teavana fruit mixtures that featured almost entire slices of citrus, but chunky nevertheless.

The tea is yellow in color with some orange in it as well. Darkish yellow, and though not entirely opaque, it isn’t clear either. There are little rooibos kitties down at the bottom of the glass. The aroma is fruitier than the dry mix. I can smell the apple (second ingredient) and some other fruit that smells like citrus ( oddly, as there is no citrus listed in the ingredients). I can also detect a faint cinnamon smell.

The taste is, in fact, much better than the aroma at least at first. Interestingly, it’s a third thing altogether. It doesn’t have a lot in common with either the dry aroma or the steeped one. Here I really taste the toasted nutty flavor I was expecting from the name (since oolongs often have a toasted nutty flavor, it seemed a natural fit for this type of flavoring). It’s got a sweetness to it, and some gingery spiciness as well. There’s a strange orangey note that has no real explanation. It seems to be tied to the cinnamon, somehow. Maybe it’s a result of the combination of the various fruit pieces. I can’t say I taste pineapple or papaya.

It’s true, as someone else said, that the initial sips are the best. After the initial nuttiness and toasty flavor, the cinnamon and apple/weird orange note take over. It’s not bad, it’s just not as good as the first sips, and starts to seem more like a Constant Comment echo.

Second steep, three minutes. Pretty much all the flavoring agents were washed away in the first steep it seems, except for a slight apply/cinnamony flavor. Usually at this point at least I’d get an oolong flavor, but unfortunately, the apple/cinnamon flavor is so distracting I can’t even tell whether the tea is bringing anything to the party.

I should disclose that I put about twice as much of the mix in as would ordinarily be recommended, as I find that otherwise the size of the pieces in these mixtures makes for a weak steep.

Not the worst flavored oolong by any stretch, but doesn’t live up to the promise of its name.

Preparation
195 °F / 90 °C 2 min, 0 sec
Lori

This tea is more of a winter blend….way too spicy for summer…

Angrboda

Could the orange-y note be an oolong note? I can’t recall having identified a citrus note in oolong before, but the thought of it being naturally occuring isn’t a million miles away for me.

__Morgana__

Hmmm… interesting. I suppose it could be an oolong note. I thought it was something having to do with the combo of apple and the other fruit flavors, but you could be right!

Angrboda

It’s a theory, anyway. :)

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54
drank Haute Chocolate by Teavana
953 tasting notes

I went through an ordering phase not long ago where I stuck anything that had the word chocolate in it in my shopping basket any time I bought anything from anyplace. Ok, maybe that’s a tiny exaggeration, but it was certainly true of online tea shopping. I was kidnapped by the chocolate tea nymphs and made to do all sorts of unimaginable things.

That explains why I voluntarily ordered rooibos from Teavana.

The mixture is kind of funky. I found what looked like about half of a stick of cinnamon in among the pumpkin-seed looking green cardamom, almost purple colored flakes that must be the chocolate, red rooibos, something that looked like chocolate chips (carob?), and assorted other hunks ’o stuff.

The tea looks a lot like apple cider, the kind that’s opaque. Oddly it doesn’t smell very chocolatey. There’s some chocolate right at the beginning, then a lull of almost no aroma, then the spiciness at the end, with a black pepper exclamation point.

The flavor is pretty much the same. It’s surprisingly vacant right in the middle, with flavor at the beginning and the end of the sip. I wonder whether, like other Teavana blends, I should increase the mixture/water ratio?

Better yet, I think I should make this on the stovetop with milk and sweetener and see how it comes out. It does have a lot of similarity with a chocolate chai, without the caffeine.

Further experimentation will be necessary. Though I’m not getting a lot of rooibos thanks to the spiciness of the blend, this would not be a top choice for me among tisanes just drinking it straight up.

Preparation
Boiling 5 min, 0 sec
Kristin

Thanks for saving me from this one! :) You should try Choco*Late from American Tea Room. I LOVE it.

ashmanra

Has you tried Chocolate Tea from Harney and Sons? I am on the fence about ordering it. I don’t NEED it but I might…you know….need it.

Rabs

Those fargin’ chocolate tea nymphs! ::shakes fist in air::

sophistre

The H&S tea isn’t bad, I’ve had it, but it’s very subtle — like most of H&S’s teas. High quality, and a very balanced blend.

For splurging and feeling like I’m actually sipping something with chocolate in it (because I am), I really like Chocolate Delight from Tea Guys. If you brew it like a chai on the stovetop (boil it in water and then in milk), it’s fannnnntastic. Sweeten it with a wedge of Scharffen Berger and you could be forgiven for thinking it was actually hot chocolate.

ashmanra

Ooooh, decadent!

Jamie

Omg I need chocolate! Hmm I have Chocomate and Chocolate Mint rooibos – opposite ends of the caffeine chain but they’re both equally divine. (my two cents).

__Morgana__

Will try all these chocolate marvels I haven’t yet had the pleasure to try. Eventually. I am having anxiety dreams where I find myself sinking in a quicksand of tea containers!

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74
drank Genmai Cha by Tavalon Tea
953 tasting notes

This is a sample in a tea bag that I got with a Tavalon order a while back. I didn’t pick it, it just showed up.

The bag looks like a little evening bag. It has a string that attaches in two places rather than one, so it looks like a little gauzy pocketbook. The bag itself looks scarily like a bandage. On the plus side, it has an opening that is folded over, and if you feel curious you can peek inside and see the tea rather than having to hold it up to the light to get a feel for what the tea looks like.

This genmai cha has more “popped kernals” than others I’ve had. It really does have a popcorny look about it, and I should know, having just eaten a bag at Toy Story 3 last night. (Great movie, by the way. Enjoyed it at least as much as my kids did.)

I’m having this at work, and yes, I did forget to bring a thermometer yet again. I have a mental block about it, I think. I figure the water quality is going to suck anyway, so trying to control for other variables isn’t going to make the brewing conditions perfect no matter what I do.

The tea’s aroma is curiously sweet, giving the tea an almost kettle corny smell. Almost. I don’t mean to suggest it’s bordering on cracker jacks by any stretch.

It has the expected toasty rice flavor over a mild, slightly buttery green tea. It’s not as toasty and nutty as some other genmai cha’s I’ve had, but it has more tea flavor than some others.

I suspect I’m going to settle in on Den’s as my genmai cha provider of choice with an occasional dip into others like the Samovar Ryokucha, but I’m glad I got a chance to try this.

Preparation
175 °F / 79 °C 1 min, 30 sec

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77
drank Masala Chai by Teavana
953 tasting notes

This is another of the June teas of the month on the Teavana classic tea of the month plan. I tried it today using the Samovar stovetop method with Leafspa Yunan Gold as the extra black tea.

This is a sort of in-between chai on my scale. It’s not too spicy, but it’s hardly mild. It has a little kick at the end. The spiciness must come from the ginger and cardamom as there’s no pepper listed in the ingredients. It’s also got a decent amount of tea flavor to it, though there’s a tad of harshness to it even through the milk and sweetener. There is vanilla listed among the ingredients, and if I close my eyes and try hard I can taste the vanilla, but it’s not among the stronger flavors in this. It’s hard to say what flavor is the strongest, really. It’s probably the ginger, tied with the cinnamon.

If I hadn’t gotten this as part of the tea of the month club I probably would not have tried it. At this point in my chai experience I’ve narrowed things down enough to know that if it doesn’t have black pepper it’s not going to be able to compete with my favorites in chailand. Even so, I’m glad I got a chance to try this and I’m even gladder it wasn’t just a sample size so I’ll have another shot at it. At it happens, I made this then had to put the 4 year old down for nap, and fell asleep next to him so this was pretty much lukewarm by the time I got to it. I’m sure it’s improved by being hotter.

Preparation
Boiling 8 min or more

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82
drank Rose Scented by Harney & Sons
953 tasting notes

I enjoyed the rose Earl Grey from H&S, Sally’s Secret, quite a bit, so I was looking forward to seeing what this one was like.

In the sample packet the scent is very strongly of rose. Although I escaped an association with bath products, I can see how others might not. The ingredient list indicates that this contains rose oil, and there is a sort of volatile quality to it that makes it smell stronger than one might expect simply from fresh roses. This isn’t to say that the smell is bad or has a false note. I didn’t find it to be that way, but then I’m a really big fan of rose fragrance.

The intensity of the fragrance smooths out some with steeping and I can smell the biscuity sweetness of the tea underneath. There’s still a nice rose scent to the tea.

The rose is very, very present in the taste and I liked it quite a bit. It has been a while since I tasted the GM rose, and this is stronger, at least as far as memory serves. It’s about on a par with the degree of flavor present in the Numi Velvet Garden White Rose, only it may seem a little less because the black tea provides more of a buffer than white does.

This is a little too rosy for daily consumption, even for a rose lover like me. However, it’s an amazing flavor for an occasional dose of rose.

Preparation
205 °F / 96 °C 4 min, 0 sec

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84

Slightly more than 100 pages into War and Peace and I can’t believe I didn’t have the guts to pick up this book before. It’s bulk scared me. But man, is it a fast read. I needn’t have been scared, it’s such fun I feel like I want to lock myself in a room with it and only come out to make tea. But alas, that’s unlikely. I have to go to that wretched weight work out soon and then we might go see Toy Story 3 or at least I’d like to if we can pull it off.

In any case, I decided drinking something with the word Russian in its name would at least keep me feeling like I’m locked in the room even if I’m not. In the sample packet this one smells nice and smoky, as I’d anticipated, very much like the H&S straight lapsang with the volume turned down by a half to two thirds.

After steeping its aroma is a bit milder. I wonder if Keemun is one of the four teas in here? Maybe Ceylon as well? The underlying tea has a sort of sweet, woody smell to it with a bit of smoke.

There’s a mild smokiness in the flavor, which is actually quite nice, and there is also some gentle woody flavor. I could see this one being a nice morning tea. Although I haven’t tasted it in a while, this one is making me think of Upton’s Baker Street Blend but without the perkiness. If there is darjeeling in this, I can’t tell. This one has a mildly smoky flavor that would make a nice segue into smoky teas for someone interested in giving them a try but not yet up for the very tarry, piney strength of the more intense lapsangs.

This is going to make it into my Russian run off, for sure.

Preparation
Boiling 4 min, 0 sec
Angrboda

You are really beginning to make me curious about that book! I’ve thought about it before myself but I too was scared by the size of it. And it’s always that one that people use as an example for a really long book. I’m not always a very fast reader so I’ve got two fairly big ones to get through first, but I might give it a go afterwards.

UpInTheAir

That’s an interesting sounding tea

__Morgana__

@Angrboda, yeah, I know. My edition is about 1500 pages long in paperback, but if the rest goes as fast it won’t take that long to read. It’s surprisingly humorous; very interesting commentary on the Russian upper class in the early 1800s. There was one line that cracked me up, something along the lines of the way one of the characters talked you couldn’t tell whether he was really brilliant or a total idiot. I have known people like that!

Librarian-esque

Thematic tea drinking! One of my absolute favourites.

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Profile

Bio

I’ve updated this bio as it’s been a couple of years since I “started getting into” tea. It’s now more accurate to say that I was obsessed with tea for a while, then other things intruded, then I cycled back to it, and I seem to be continuing that in for a while, out for a while cycle. I have a short attention span, but no shortage of tea.

I’m a mom, writer, gamer, lawyer, reader, runner, traveler, and enjoyer of life, literature, art, music, thought and kindness, in no particular order. I’ve recently started writing fantasy and science fiction under the name J. J. Roth.

Personal biases: I much prefer to drink tea without additives such as milk and sugar. If a tea needs additives to improve its flavor, its unlikely I’m going to rate it high. The exception is chai, which I make on the stove top using a recipe I found here on Steepster. Rooibos and honeybush were my gateway drugs into the harder stuff, but once I learned how to make a decent cup of tea they became far less appealing to me. That said, I’m not entirely a purist, and I enjoy a good flavored tea, particularly flavored blacks.

I like all kinds of tea depending on time of day, mood, and the amount of time I have to pay attention to preparation.

Since I find others’ rating legends helpful, I added my own. I’m revising them slightly to make them less granular as I don’t really find myself hating most things I try.

I try to rate teas against other similar versions. So I rate Earl Greys, for example, against other Earl Greys, rather than against all teas. If something rates very high with me, though, it probably means it’s a stand out against all other teas I’ve tried.

95-100 A once in a lifetime experience; the best there is; will keep this stocked until the cows come home

90-94 First rate; top notch; really terrific; will definitely buy more

80-89 Excellent; likely to become a favorite, will likely buy more

70-79 Very good; would enjoy again, might buy again if in the mood for this particular one or a better, similar version not available

60-69 Good; wouldn’t pass up if offered, but probably wouldn’t buy again unless craving this particular flavor

50-59 Okay or run of the mill

Below 50 So-so, iffy, would definitely pass
or ick. The lower the number, the closer to ick.

Location

Bay Area, California

Website

http://www.jjroth.net

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