So tell me, fellow Steepsters, how DO you STEEP?

Most (if not all) of you have been doing this much longer than I have. I was hoping for some of your wisdom (anyone’s).

Here are some of my “Brewing guidelines”:

- Once the water comes to the proper temperature, I typically don’t pour the water directly on the leaves for the first steep, but instead pour it down the side of the vessel so it doesn’t scorch the leaves. I pour the water directly on the leaves for every other steeping.
- I include the time it takes to pour the water (typically 15 – 30 seconds) in my steep time. – When brewing green tea, I am especially careful to strain out all of the water from the Bodum press to avoid astringency on later steepings.
- I like to brew every tea at least twice (I guess it’s the thrifty-ness in me!). I typically brew green tea (and yellows) at least three times, blacks/reds two or three times, whites three to five times, herbals twice, and oolongs as many times as they can continue to yield flavor.
- I push limits when brewing the tea for the first time, steeping it until there is no longer any flavor worth speaking of, as some teas can be steeped more than others, even within the same class. (I brewed a Seven Cups Spring Dawn Keemun tea at least six times until I couldn’t taste much flavor! And who says you should only brew black/red teas once!)
- As a rule (there are exceptions) I brew each steeping longer, and hotter.
Temperature: for black/red teas, I start just off the boil, then build up to boiling over three steepings (the purpose of this is to ‘spread out the flavor’ over three or so steepings). For greens, I typically start at 170, then 175, then 180 (Japanese teas start 10 degrees cooler). Whites 160, 165, 170, etc. Herbals, boiling.
Steep Time: Greens 1 minute + 30 seconds each additional steep, blacks/reds/whites 2 minutes + 1 minute each additional steep, herbals three minutes, then five minutes. Oolongs vary.

So, how ‘bout you? << learning hat on >>

40 Replies

I pour water into the kettle of my breville, add the tea to the basket, and then press a couple of buttons. In a few minutes, I have tea. :)

That’s the way I do it for most of my teas these days … except most of my Oolongs, Yellows, Jasmines, pu-erh and Whites.

For these teas, I generally use my gaiwan. Fortunately, my Breville can also heat my water so I have the right temperature without having to babysit it (which is what I used to do, going by eye according to the way the bubbles were forming at the base of my kettle… instinct, basically). Heat the water to the right temp, put the tea into my gaiwan, add water to perform a “reawakening of the leaves” and then steep. I short steep my teas in the gaiwan, so the length of time depends upon what kind of tea I’m steeping.

I also don’t use my breville to prepare rooibos, since the thin needle-like leaves filter through the basket. For rooibos, I usually use my Libre mug… which is also nice because it continues to steep as I sip.

Ditto.

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MaddHatter said

Ooh, I don’t know, I’m new to this too, as of late May… Thanks for the question, I’m suddenly curious now to see what others have to say.

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Angrboda said

I boil water to a suitable temperature for the tea I’ve chosen, add leaves to pot, pour water on and steep most things, if I’m making a small pot, for 1 minute.
I use about two teaspoons, slightly heaped, for about 500ml water, so one minute is usually plenty of time. If it’s a green, oolong or espeically if it’s a pu-erh sometimes a bit less for the first go.

If I’m making a pot to share with the boyfriend, I use four teaspoons to something between 1 and 1½ liters of water and let it steep about 3 minutes.

I don’t use anything like leaf baskets, filters or tea-eggs of any sort. I always have the leaves flowing freely in the pot and use a small sieve when pouring instead. The only time I use a filter bag is when I’m cold-brewing something in the fridge.

All those fancy-pants brewing machines that can boil, steep and pour in one go are not for me. I don’t find them interesting at all and can’t imagine buying one for myself. It’s a bit too high-tech for making tea, I think. I prefer an ordinary kettle that I can also use to boil water for other things and an old-fashioned ceramics or porcelain teapot with handle, spout and lid. And if it can have farm animals on it like my Roy Kirkham pot, all the better. :) I can stretch as far as having a kettle with a few temperature settings on it, but I don’t need more than a handful and even that much is a luxury. If I needed something more sensitive than that, I’d get a thermometer.

I use tea balls and cup filters, yet I do toy around with the idea of doing what you do , and going native (letting the leaves stretch and breathe unrestricted in my pot). I did it a time or two when I first started drinking loose leaf (Dragon Well), but it was more hassle than I was willing to put up with (something I don’t like to admit is how often convenience affects the decisions I make). I know ideally, its best to let them roam freely in the pot, and it certainly is more interesting to watch (in a glass pot, at least). It’s just that all that extra hassle of taking the leaves from the sieve/strainer and putting them back into the pot for the re-steeps prevents me from doing it. I do have a few samples of some good stuff from Harney and Sons (Anji Baicha and Bi Lo Chun); maybe I’ll brew them ‘naked.’

I hear you on the high-tech, fancy-pants comments. At this point in my tea career, it’s not for me either, as I have the time, energy and desire to brew it the old-fashion way. Yet at some later date it may be worth it, especially if my life ever get’s too busy or if I get tired of doing it that way (and I can certainly understand others wanting to use one, especially if it comes down to: tea with it, or without it and no tea at all!).

btw, what’s a Roy Kirham pot?

Angrboda said

I’ve bought a larger sieve that I use only for teapots. Then I just rinse the pots out with water and pour the leaves out in the sieve. It takes maybe two or three rinses, sloshing it around well to catch all leaves before pouring out. Drain as much water off the leaves that I can, tipping the sieve sideways seems to be the best way of doing this and then tip the leaves out in the bin. Or the compost heap if you’ve got one. :)

I suppose it did strike me as a bit of a hassle to begin with, but it’s second nature to me now, so I don’t think about it anymore. The sieve I use for this is only used for this purpose, not for cooking, so it doesn’t get super icky. I just throw it in the dishwasher now and then, but otherwise keep it on the table next to the kettle. Upside down on a plate.

As for Roy Kirkham, this is their site http://www.roykirkham.co.uk/index.php They make some lovely bone china that I wish I could just buy all of.
My pot is from a tea for one set in this design http://www.roykirkham.co.uk/categories/please_shut_gate.php and I’ve got the set of six Louise mugs as well, two with pigs, two with sheep, two with cows, +an extra sheep and mug with kitties on it from a different series. It’s ever so cute and the pot is really top class. It never dribbles when pouring. The contents of the pot fits exactly inside the Louise mugs, so unless I’m sharing with the boyfriend, I rarely make more than one cup of tea (about 500ml)

Ahh, the dribbling. I wonder if that in itself could be an entire thread of discussion (then again, maybe not.) My Bodum glass press ALMOST never dribbles, but at least it does it a LOT LESS than the traditional ceramic pots we have (it amazes me how annoying that can really be). I’m still not sure why it—or any decent pot for that matter—dribbles. I have gotten in the habit of simply pouring it in a place where it doesn’t matter if it dribbles.

Thanks for the details on the leaf straining. I have a no-so-fine mesh strainer that I have used similarly: it fits perfectly on top of a glass pitcher we have so I can pour water over the strainer to catch any escaping leaves. Unfortunately, it isn’t fine enough to catch smaller leaf fragments (like CTC tea or even the fine cut Japanese teas).

But I have resolved to going without the strainer for my next two green samples. I look forward to trying it that way again. You have thus inspired me.

I looked at the Roy Kirham teacups and pots: very stylish pots and I like the animal motif cups, especially the bird ones. :)

Angrboda said

I bought the tea for one set as a birthday present to myself some years ago. Just because I thought it was cute. I used to have a whole array of pots in different sizes for different teas and different moods, but after I got the pot, I found myself never using anything else. I’ve got another large pot (not Roy Kirkham) that I use when making tea for both of us. In time I’ll probably get around to replacing it with Roy Kirkham as well. If the small pot is so awesome to pour from I reckon their large pots must be good as well.

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For most teas I use a steeping cup that’s 12oz. I usually use the measure of 2.25g tea to 6oz water, so 4.5g per my cup.

I then put it in the strainer inside the cup and pour the water over, put the lid on and let steep however long for that particular tea.

Different teas of mine that I’m experienced with sometimes get different steeping times, but generally greens and whites get 2min to start, oolongs get 3 to start, blacks get 4 to start.

With Pu Erhs I’m experimenting with the gongfu method a bit, so I use 2g/2oz usually (am also trying this with some of my Oolongs).

Oh, and I have one of those electric kettles that is digital so that it heats the water to the temp I want.

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K S said

I fill a cup with water. Throw in a bag. Heat in the microwave 3 minutes. After a couple minutes, if I am feeling fancy, I squeeze the bag out. Otherwise I just leave until I finish the cup…. I’m kidding, I’m kidding.

You got me on that one, K S! I cringed when I saw the word, ‘microwave’.

So, really now, how DO you STEEP?

After re-reading this, I realized it’s possible you really do use the microwave. Just for the record, I used to use it all the time to heat water in my mug to steep my tea bags (in the past, that is, the very, very distant past) , so, really, no judgements. ; )

K S said

Seriously this time. I am only skilled in the art of tea enough to stick with basics. I brew one cup at a time. I start with a little more water than needed in my electric kettle (even a cheap one is better and faster than a microwave any day). While it is heating, I eyeball measure out my tea into my French press. Depends on the tea, but usually around a spoonful – less for gunpowder, more for big wiry leaves.

For black tea I let the water come to a roiling boil and pour directly over the leaves, steeping for 5 minutes. For green, as the water begins to boil, I turn it off and raise the lid. When the pot grows quiet and the steam mostly subsides I pour over the leaves, setting the timer for 4 minutes. I don’t know what the water temperature really is but it works.

Often, especially on the first steep, I will gently stir the leaves before pouring. For CTC, tea with floating pieces or rinds, I use the strainer on the press. If it is a whole leaf or large pieces tea where leaves settle nicely to the bottom, I often don’t bother straining.

Using my method I normally get two steeps from black tea with a time increase on the second cup. The greens I am currently using will easily go five steeps with no problem. 100 grams of tea lasts a really long time when you get 250 cups out of it. Switching to loose I have cut my expense in half and raised my quality level tenfold.

Clean up is a breeze. It takes mere seconds to dump the leaves and wipe the press and is only necessary after exhausting the leaves. My pot and press take up precious little desk space. Once you get a routine down, I can’t see it takes a bit more time or effort than the bags I’ve used for years. If I could just learn to be critical of what and how others brew, the transformation would be complete. Dang it, I just can’t stay focused on serious.

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Dinosara said

I brew 90% of my tea in my 12oz Kati cup with it’s steeping basket. With the exception of dark oolongs and jasmine pearls, I measure about 2tsp of tea in, and use a variable-temperature kettle to heat the tea to the right temp. It doesn’t have number markings for each temp, but I think I have a handle on where to put the dial for accurate temperatures.

I usually look up what the company’s steeping time and temp recommendations are first and make an effort to try those the first time I steep a tea, and I’ll also look on here for reviews and see how others have been steeping it. Black teas I will always steep at boiling for 3 minutes first, and if it’s at all bitter I’ll drop it down to 205°F. I almost never steep black teas for more than 3 minutes unless it is unusually weak.

I love my Kati… but, now that I have the breville I don’t use it nearly as often. I love the Kati, but I love my breville even more!

Dinosara said

I’m sure if I had a Breville I would feel the same way!

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kuanyin said

Black tea: this is simple. I have uncomplicated this and actually like the results much better than when I was worrying over which tea needed what brewing time. Add 1 tsp per cup, then add a generous amount more, pour boiling water over leaves and steep for 3 minutes.For the second infusion, brew for 5 minutes. I don’t think you can scorch black tea with boiling water, I used to worry with on boil for some, off boil for others and 4 minutes for some and 5 minutes for others, now its all the same and less astringency and more goodness. You do have to use ample amounts of tea to do less time with some teas and I don’t mind that.

In the mornings I use an infuser basket and a cast iron medium sized pot, and in the evening, I will usually use a single serving pot with a strainer spout, Yixing for the China teas and a glazed one for the flavoreds. I drink less in the evening and the single serving pot gives me the chance to make 3 infusions and only 3 cups of tea. I was wasting tea in the evenings using the larger pots. I seriously thought about the Breville super wonder tea maker as I love gadgetry and I lusted after it for the longest time. I still have a pang when people write that they have one! If they had been cheaper I would too, but while I was waiting for Christmas last year, I finally decided against asking for it because a: I do like my oolongs and green teas to not be brewed in a basket. b: I love my Yixing pots c: I know myself and I love selection as much as I love gadgetry. I figured I could get a lot of little teapots for the money, which I am still doing. I DID get the Adagio Breville-style water heater that you push the button for the water temp of the type of tea you want so that I don’t have to watch the small bubbles just breaking the surface for oolong and it will hold the temp for 30 minutes, so far I am quite happy with that.

For oolongs I put the leaves in my Yixing, I push the button for oolong and time it for 2 minutes. For green tea, I use a small glazed pot, push green and time for 1 minute. I am making those more often now that they are easier.

Extra infusions depends entirely on the tea, oolongs are the ones I will fuss with the longest. I almost always go for two on the black and once in a while a third that I will brew ten minutes or longer and then drink cold. If I didn’t leave to go to work I would do that more often. Green or white teas, two is about tops.

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I enjoy hearing all the different ways people steep, as it gives me new ideas, and your input gives me a larger context within which I can compare my own tea steeping habits. Of course no method, no piece of equipment used to steep tea is either right or wrong. But, I like to hear you steep, and share how I steep, so I can learn about all the possible ways to do it, and then choose what’s best for me (and hopefully what I have shared will help you choose what’s best for you).

I’ve heard lots of people mention that they look for those telltale signs (string of pearls, etc.) when boiling water to help determine when it reaches the desired temperature. Since I have a standard metal kettle and I can’t ‘look’ for those signs, I have tried listening instead. Yet, I found it very difficult (especially with any noise at all in the kitchen) to get it within any degree of accuracy—-like within a few degrees—-unless I stand right next to it listening VERY INTENTLY (with no other noise going on around me). I have found that’s not a desirable/sustainable way for me to wait for the proper temperature.

So over the last many months I have come up with a better “temperature plan” that works for me. First off I set the timer to help me know how much water to put in the kettle from the faucet—it takes about three seconds per eight ounce cup—and then I fill it to the desired amount (using the timer to get the right amount of water is critical for my next step). Then, based on how much water I’ve filled the kettle with and what class of tea I am steeping, I set the stove timer and turn on the burner. When my stove timer beeps once to warn me I have only a minute left (a nice feature the microwave timer doesn’t have), I stick a long metal thermometer (like a meat thermometer) down the spout of my kettle, and I watch it closely until it reaches the proper temperature—which is usually when the timer goes off. Then I quickly reset the time—for the appropriate time for that class of tea—and pour.

I’m getting better at the timing, but unfortunately the water sometimes gets too hot (if I’m not closely watching, or if I get distracted), and I then have to take a few steps to the sink to rinse the OUTSIDE of the kettle to cool it off until it reaches the right temperature, before pouring it (putting water IN the kettle throws off the amount of water in the kettle. I don’t like doing it either way as it wastes water, and is more hassle). I have found, though, the more often I steep the less often this happens.

Describing this makes me laugh, as those of you who have the Brevilles and are reading this are probably thinking, That’s why I love my Breville! I’m with you on that! But seriously, now that I’ve got it down to a science, I don’t mind the extra attention and time it takes to do it this way (except on days when I’m in a hurry, which luckily isn’t often).

A final reflection: I enjoy the process. I like that I decide when and how to engage the waiting leaves by slowly pouring the crystal clear water into my glass teapot, I like the way the leaves dance and change color as they mingle with the water in their little new-found home, and I wonder how long they have waited for this moment, when they are finally able to bestow their gift, to me.

DaisyChubb said

That was just wonderful to read!
You truly have a gift with words, and with tea _

Thank you @DaisyChubb for your kind reply. It is good to know someone else appreciates what I put out there, as I often put lots of time into it. I enjoy writing, even if it takes hours to compose, because I do it first and foremost for my own satisfaction. But I often wonder if it’s worth the time and effort to ‘put it out there’ (an insecurity I imagine many, if not most, writers have). You reply gives me hope, which urges me on, and motivates me to continue posting. Thank you for honoring me!

DaisyChubb said

Honestly, it’s worth your time and effort.
Especially if you enjoy it! For every moment you enjoy putting your writing to the electronic page (I’m not so eloquent haha), there are so many people taking enjoyment out of reading it :)

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Anybody else decanting into a second pot?

Angrboda said

My preferred pot when making tea for myself is small enough that I can empty it in one go. When making a larger pot for sharing with the boyfriend, it’s the same thing, really. If there’s something left over from pouring two mugs, I’ll decant that into the small pot.

If I hadn’t been able to drain the small pot in one go as I do, I probably would be decanting into a second one on a regular basis.

MaddHatter said

Decanting? I thought Decanting was just for wine and spirits? I am so confused…

Angrboda said

No, if you brew with your leaves loose in the pot and you make more than just one cup, you want to decant the rest of the tea into a second pot to prevent it from stewing and getting ruined by oversteeping.

MaddHatter said

Wow, so much to learn!

Sounds like this is something I will have to look into more, for those times I make a lot of tea.

I have never heard the word ‘decanting’ used in the context of brewing tea either (the first thing that comes to mind when I hear the word decant is wine, as in ‘wine decanter’). It turns out, according to www.m-w.com, the first definition of decant: “to draw off (a liquid) without disturbing the sediment or the lower liquid layers.” (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/decant). So decanting certainly is the appropriate word choice here. I just learned something myself. :)

So in my typical long-winded response, @Annelise Pitt, yes I do decant, but usually into other teacups, and sometimes into a glass pitcher to put in the fridge to drink iced later, and almost never into another pot.

Unfortunately, I have to decant even when I use my Bodum. Theoretically, when depressed, the plunger is supposed to completely isolate the leaves from the water. In practice it only works if there is the EXACT amount of leaf to fill the space at the bottom of the metal strainer when the plunger is very FIRMLY pressed ALL the way down (yet another fun thing to work with when brewing). So I usually pour all six cups of tea from my teapot into a few cups of mine, and one of my wife’s (ooops, at first typed “wives,” that wouldn’t sound good, now would it?!). But, it’s really not much of a hassle. I still love my glass Bodum. :)

How about you, @Annelise Pitt, do you decant?

K S said

The fact that the plunger does not go all the way down is why I love my Bodum. Squeezing the leaves is bad. The liquid decants as well as it would in a pot and no extra strainer required. Also clean up is much easier than trying to get inside a pot IMHO.

You know, I’ve heard that before, @K S, that ‘squeezing the leaves’ is not good for them, although I am not certain why. Often times I read or hear what to do, or not do, but rarely do I hear WHY (I am a teacher, so as often as possible—whether I am teaching or not—I like to make it clear WHY I do or don’t do certain things). I can certainly speculate here: the squeezing harms them such that it bruises them, and/or that it’s forcing them into a smaller space that is natural for them. I wouldn’t want to be squeezed, or forced into a small space; then again, I wouldn’t want scalding water poured on me either!

I’m glad you brought this up, and I think it’s a great question regarding steeping. If someone can give me a good reason WHY not to squeeze them, then I will seriously consider continuing to use the metal strainer but not the plunger (using the plunger helps when decanting, such that if I don’t use it, the leaves start to fall out as I invert the pot/strainer to an almost vertical position to get as much water out as possible, and if I don’t invert it almost vertically, some of the water remains).

Does anyone know if it truly is ‘bad’ to squeeze the leaves, and if so, WHY?

K S said

The reason not to squeeze is doing so releases the tannins which can produce a bitter cup. Same result as oversteeping. I used to squeeze tea bags all the time, but then I like an oversteeped black tea. Of course I quit drinking black tea often because of acid reflux. Hmmmmm.

Thanks for your offering up the WHY. Now that you mention it, I believe I have read before that squeezing the leaves releases additional tannins.

The following may be a soapbox moment for me; consider yourself forewarned! One of the many reasons I like to know WHY someone suggests that I do something a particular way is because each person’s values are different, such that I may still want to do something a certain way even if someone else recommends not to. Your response, I judge, is a good case in point. IF, indeed, the only reason NOT to squeeze tea (any tea) is because of the additional tannins it releases, AND as you mentioned you like to over-steep black tea (thus more tannins, and more bitterness), THEN to me it follows that you like a more bitter BLACK tea, although you evidentially don’t like a bitter GREEN tea. Who knows? Maybe someone wants his or her green tea to taste bitter? Stepping off of my soapbox. :)

As I personally don’t want my green tea to be bitter, either, your tip is helpful. But now, the ‘detail-oriented-ness’ in me wonders, how many tannins are released with a gentle little SQUEEZE of my plunger? That can only be answered through experimentation. Oh well, I don’t see that happening any time soon. I’ll just have to decide: to plunge or not to plunge.

Here’s an interesting article on squeezing and teabags that I thought you might enjoy: http://englishtea.us/2010/06/24/putting-the-squeeze-on-tea-bags/

@K. S. I judge I was a little out of line with my ‘soapbox moment’. If you took it personally—I’m not saying you did, but I can understand if you did—I hope you are willing to forgive me. What I said was in reaction to judgments I have about myself, and consequently have nothing to do with you. It was a learning moment for me. I value your input. : – )

Because of your post about the consequences of squeezing the tea, I don’t push my plunger all the way down (to avoid the extra astringency); and when I do that I think of your helpful words of wisdom. : )

K S said

No problem dude. I didn’t take it personal. Actually my comment was made a little tongue in cheek. When I first mentioned I used a press I caught some flack for squeezing the leaf. Truth is even plunging all the way down does not squeeze the leaf. There is plenty of room under the screen for the leaf. It may look a little packed but that is because it all settles to one side when you pour. I would say that plunging before the leaf is unfurled is a lot like putting the leaf in a mesh tea ball. It doesn’t have a lot of room for the water to circulate. Is that a bad thing? Personally, I love the Bodum so much I see no reason for a blind side by side test to find out.

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MaddHatter said

@SimpliciTEA, you are on to something, the one reason I love tea, is simply because it forces me to slow down. I am constantly on the go: “A woman’s work is never done”, yet when I stop to make a cup of tea or even a pot of tea, I need to actually stop and pay attention to what I am doing.

I am not a pro-steeper, by any means and I am sure I have scorched more leaves than is ever necessary. I have also had complaints that my tea is too weak – from the Scottish Hubby, who prefers tetly bags. I figure if he doesn’t like my methods he can always make me tea while I sit and read.

I have enjoyed this thread, because it has helped me with steeping teas, especially as I get used to my first tea pot. I think at some point I will go out and purchase a proper single serve tea pot, because I am truly loving the way tea tastes from a pot, and I am sure I would enjoy 1 cup much better from a single serve pot than from a cup.

I took your name change as an invitation to check out Jack Layton, so I took a few minutes to look him up (the wonders of the web). My understanding is that you are saddened by his death. I echo your sentiment, may he Rest In Peace.

I have never given much consideration to the single serve pot thing, but now that you mention it, that’s some good food for thought.

I am a ‘type A’ doer, so I continually struggle with paying attention to what I’m doing. And I agree, tea is a pleasant way to invite or encourage me to “stop and pay attention to what I am doing.” Funny thing is though, I seem to have a knack for taking anything I do and oftentimes turning it into more work that it’s really supposed to be (I’m a recovering perfectionist). I do it much less than I used to. And now, it’s all good. Although it was a fun ride—having lived in the fast lane—life is certainly better now that I’ve finally decided to sell that sleek-riding ‘sportscar.’ It’s better now that I know, sitting on the sidelines, watching all of those metaphorical cars go whizzing by, that THAT kind of life is not for me anymore. Now, I can sit back and enjoy the show—of course, while drinking tea!

MaddHatter said

Thank-you, he was a wonderful politician, and he will be missed.

I think we have similar personalities, I think, I cleaned house this weekend and now I have a 6 foot high pile of crap that needs to go to the Sally Ann and I have been twitchy all day because I don’t have enough gas in the car to get it all there, and pay day is not until Friday.

That aside, there is a beauty to the slow down factor of tea.

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