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From Hugh Jackman to the Beatles to “the Oprah,” famous faces are popping up related to tea. All this to get you to go ga-ga (or should I say “go Lady Gaga”?) over their tea and rush out to buy some (and inspire various tea accessories like these Beatles-themed ones). Good or bad, it seems to work, at least for awhile…until the next celebrity tea endorsement comes along. So here I present my good and bad reasons for these endorsements (and why you might want to ignore these endorsements).

Celebrity endorsements are common worldwide. (Screen capture from site)

Celebrity endorsements are common worldwide. (Screen capture from site)

3 Good Reasons

There must be something good in this marketing practice, because companies keep doing it over and over. So I put on my thinking cap and also did some online searching. Here are the results:

  1. Gets a big splash of attention from customers.
  2. That big splash very often results in a spike in sales.
  3. The association of the brand with the celebrity continues in people’s minds for awhile past that initial big splash.

3 Bad Reasons

After awhile, I tend to go “ho-hum” when the latest celebrity tea endorsement is announced, such as the one a large coffee shop chain (that is now getting into tea big time) recently ballyhooed. But there are other bad reasons besides customer ennui. Here are the ones I came up with:

  1. Implies that we should all drink the tea the celebrity is endorsing, with little or no information given about the actual quality and value of the tea product.
  2. Encourages “celebrity worship” where we base our life choices on what these famous people like instead of on what we like.
  3. The association of the brand with the celebrity continues in people’s minds for awhile past that initial big splash. (Yeah, this one can be both good and bad. If a celebrity like Lindsey Lohan is pictured with a bottle of ready-made tea in hand and has clearly been partying all night, that image will be linked with the tea.)

Feel free to add your own good or bad reasons for celebrity tea endorsements. Love ’em or hate ’em, I’m pretty sure they’re not going away any time soon.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

It’s been a while since I’ve been a student, so I don’t know what the curricula is like these days. But there was a time when anyone who had passed from the hallowed halls of elementary school had a fairly thorough grounding in that famous incident in American history – the Boston Tea Party. You know the story, of course. Colonists dress as what we used to call Indians and storm ships in Boston Harbor, dumping tea into the drink as a protest against unfair taxation and whatnot.

Black teas too good to throw overboard! (ETS image)

Black teas too good to throw overboard! (ETS image)

Or so the story goes. Of course, the popular and commonly accepted versions of history are not always one and the same (George Washington and the cherry tree, anyone?) and apparently that’s the case with the Boston Tea Party. Here are a few of the alleged myths that might need some debunking.

Author Ray Raphael has written a book that claims to debunk various myths about the founding of the United States. He takes on some Boston Tea Party myths here. For starters, he asserts that not all colonists celebrated the event and many actually viewed the dumping of the tea as an unsavory act of vandalism that might hurt their cause. No thoughts on what was made of the wastefulness of 340 chests of tea being dumped into the harbor, but speaking as a modern-day tea drinker I always find that aspect a bit unsettling.

Another myth that most people probably aren’t aware of is that tea taxes had actually been reduced around this time. So the rebellion was not about high taxes but rather the fact that colonists didn’t have any say in taxes that were levied on them. As the author notes, land taxes as well as those on the likes of sugar, molasses, and wine were much more significant. Taxes on tea were comparatively modest, and even if they hadn’t been, there was a brisk smuggling trade for anyone who was out for a bargain.

Some time ago I wrote about the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum. Which is pretty much what the name suggests. But since this site is devoted to tea I wanted to reiterate, as I mentioned in that article, which types of tea were tossed in the harbor on that fateful day a few centuries ago, “the three tea ships contained 240 chests of Bohea, 15 of Congou, 10 of Souchong (all black teas), 60 of Singlo, and 15 of Hyson (both green teas).”

At the attraction’s very own web site they take on some Boston Tea Party myths as well. Look here for a video in which “noted Revolutionary War scholar” Professor Benjamin L. Carp attempts to straighten a few misconceptions.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

When Johnny Carson was host of the Tonight Show (yes, I’m that old), he would do a countdown of 10 top this or that. I am now shamelessly “borrowing” that routine here (as others have done before me) with my top 10 ways those print version tea books are much better than those e-book versions.

Image viewing this photo on a tiny e-reader screen. Ugh! (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Image viewing this photo on a tiny e-reader screen. Ugh! (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

10 Taking your time – Gee, maybe it’s just me, but that printed book, especially one about such a topic of interest as tea, makes me want to slow down and take my time, leisurely absorbing the color photos, page layout, and general ambience that the e-book version doesn’t have. Call me nostalgic, old-fashioned, or just downright dinosauric – I will answer “Yes, yes, and yes, and proud to be” and then leisurely turn another page.

9 Larger size – We’re not talking about font size here. One area where e-books shine is being able to decide how large you want the print to be. Here, though, I mean the overall size where you can see that entire tea garden photo in all its large-sized and brilliantly colored glory, sometimes in a “spread” that goes across two pages. You can see lovely setups of teapots and tea leaves and all things tea without having to either reduce the size or view a small chunk at a time.

8 View of pages – Sure, in an e-book version you can jump from one page to another and do searches, but if you’re taking your time (as stated in #10 above), you may want to look back at an image or section in chapter one but not lose your place in chapter 17 and even be able to look at each back and forth quickly to see and compare things. Tea books are often meant as reference, not straight reading, but you will also find yourself referring back to something.

7 Less jumping around – Not to contradict myself, but printed books, even those about tea, are less distracting (no hyperlinks tempting you to jump to some other point in the book before you’ve fully read the part you’re currently looking at). But if you do need to find something, you can reference the index. Yes, the index – a vanishing art (creating an index can often take longer than writing the book did).

6 Static layout – Those e-books change depending on the device, so you miss half of the experience in a tea book (at least, one that is well-laid out and meant to have this visual appeal). In the printed book you see a beautifully thought out arrangement of text and images that doesn’t change. This is especially good for keeping photos with their relevant text (not just the photo captions).

5 Availability – Due to digital rights management, you could find yourself unable to even download the book, let alone read it. The printed book can usually be ordered online and shipped just about anywhere.

4 True ownership – That tea book is yours – all yours – assuming you bought it. With an e-book, you just have an e-file on a device that can go “poof!” if things go wrong (yes, they can be downloaded again, but what good does that do you at midnight while you’re reading in bed in your PJs?).

3 Lendable and resellable – You can lend the book to someone. Why on earth you would want to is another matter. An e-book covered by digital rights management cannot be lent to anyone outside of your own account. Printed books can also be resold were the e-books cannot since, per #4, you don’t fully own them.

2 Sensory elements – There is just something about the smell of a book that you can’t get from that e-reader. It’s the paper and the ink and any odors absorbed from where the book was made plus where you bought it from and from in your own home. Think of that new car smell or when you walk into a spice or perfume or candle shop. Plus there is the feel of that book – the cover, the pages, the very motion of turning them. Aaahhh!!

1 No batteries – Your printed book will never have the batteries run down and need a recharging.

While e-books are fine for some topics, I’ll stick with printed versions for my tea books!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Occasionally I take a look at a book here that I might have overlooked and this time around its Wild Tea Hunter, by JT Hunter, who “has studied with Taoist masters, Buddhist monks, and the tribal people of Yunnan in their mysterious tea cultures.” The book currently appears to be available only in an electronic edition and, though it’s only 152 pages, it promises quite a lot to prospective readers. Check out the description of the book and more at the web site. You can also find out more about the author at his web site, Wild Tea Qi.

One of the topics Hunter tackles in his book are the alleged health benefits of tea. A topic that’s expanded to book length in The Healing Power of Tea: Simple Teas & Tisanes to Remedy and Rejuvenate Your Health, by Caroline Dow. The author makes what may be the unique claim of being “a tea-leaf reader and herbalist for thirty years, and conducts popular workshops on tea-leaf reading all over the country.” [Disclaimer: This is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your physician for your particular needs.]

While the book contains the obligatory sections on the history of tea and other common topics, it’s obviously focused on health and also includes sections on recipes, specific health benefits and how to grow a tea garden of your own. Look for it at the end of 2014. If you’re interested in the subject of tea leaf reading, then have a look at Dow’s Tea Leaf Reading For Beginners: Your Fortune in a Tea Cup, which came out a few years ago.

Tea person Lisa Boalt Richardson, who was profiled on this blog recently, has written a few books about tea thus far and she’s got another in the pipeline. In the last few years she’s come out with such titles as Tea with a Twist: Entertaining and Cooking with Tea and The World in Your Teacup: Celebrating Tea Traditions, Near and Far. I wasn’t able to find much in the way of details for her latest – Modern Tea: A Fresh Look at an Ancient Beverage – but look for it in late 2014.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A great tea from India: Darjeeling (ETS Image)

A great tea from India: Darjeeling (ETS Image)

So which great people throughout history drank tea and which did not? This is hardly the place to do an in-depth review of the topic, but we can be pretty sure about the tea drinking habits – or lack thereof – of certain great historical figures based on where and when they lived. It’s likely that Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, and William the Conqueror never drank tea, simply because they lived in Europe long before tea is known to have been introduced there.

Then there are those historical types whom we might expect to be tea lovers but who weren’t. Take Gandhi, for instance, who lived in India, a country that by the time he lived was already a powerhouse of tea production. Though Gandhi was once a tea drinker, he came to believe that tea was an intoxicant and that the tannins it contained were bad for health. Thus he gave it up. Take a look at his tea-free ginger lemon alternative at his grandson’s web site.

Another great head of state, Winston Churchill, apparently was not all that enamored of tea either, according to the National Churchill Museum, who claim that he avoided it. He tended to forego that time-honored ritual of afternoon tea and apparently preferred to drink something with a little more of a kick than tea.

Like the English, the Russians were hardly slouches when it came to tea drinking and even gave the world a tea prep gadget known as the samovar. So perhaps it’s not surprising that Russian dictator Vladimir Lenin was a tea drinker. As a contemporary biography recalls, black bread, tea, and porridge was a common meal for Lenin and in the those early violent days of the revolution he often drank his tea without sugar as a measure of solidarity with the rest of the population.

Then there are our presidents. As this page on presidential eating habits recounts, tea and coffee were served at breakfast in the household of our first president, while Jefferson apparently bought some of a tea he sampled in Amsterdam to take back home. Mary Lincoln is known to have served tea and cakes to her guests while Rutherford B. Hayes mixed it up, with a cup of coffee at breakfast and one of tea at lunch. As for Honest Abe Lincoln, one legend recounts that when he was a storekeeper in his early days, he walked a great distance just to make a customer’s tea order right.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Cultivar or varietal? It’s all tea! (Stock image)

Cultivar or varietal? It’s all tea! (Stock image)

The world of tea is full of all kinds of terms, many that are bandied about willy-nilly and not used correctly. Not long ago an attempt was made to clarify using “cultivar” versus “varietal” when talking about tea plants. Now, I’m all for going for such clarity, but I think the very short article didn’t go far enough and still left a big gap in readers’ knowledge. Time for a closer look.

What Is a Cultivar

This is pretty simple. There are many definitions online, and some go into great depth regarding every aspect of this term horticulturally speaking. Here’s a pretty simple and straightforward one:

cul·ti·var (kŭl′tə-vär′, -vâr′) n. A race or variety of a plant that has been created or selected intentionally and maintained through cultivation. (From Thefreedictionary.com)

More facts about cultivars:

  • The word “cultivar” [short for “cultivated variety”] was coined in 1923 by Liberty Hyde Bailey (1858–1954). He stated, “I now propose…cultivar, for a botanical variety, or for a race subordinate to species, that has originated under cultivation; it is not necessarily, however, referable to a recognized botanical species. It is essentially the equivalent of the botanical variety except in respect to its origin.”
  • Officially, a cultivar must be distinct, having characteristics that easily distinguish it from any other known cultivar, and under repeated propagation these characteristics must be retained.
  • The origin of “cultivar” is based on a need to distinguish between wild plants and those with characteristics due to cultivation.
  • Example of correct text presentation: Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans’ (the scientific Latin botanical name is in italics, and the cultivar name is in single quotes).

What Is a Variety

You probably noticed that the word “variety” is part of the term “cultivar.” Here is a good definition I found online:

…a “variety” (sometimes abbreviated “var.”) arises naturally in the plant kingdom, and plants grown from its seeds will typically come out true to type. … When a variety is named, it appears differently than a cultivar name does. Rather than being presented in single quotes, it is italicized and in lower case — just like the species name, which it follows. (From Landscaping on About.com)

For the tea plant, we have Camellia sinensis (the main plant), Camellia sinensis var. sinensis (China), Camellia sinensis var. assamica (Assam, India), Camellia sinensis var. parvifolia (Cambodia), and Camellia sinensis var. japonica (Japan). There may be others.

What Is a Varietal

Time for finding out what a “varietal” is. Here is a typical definition I found online:

adj. adjective – Of, indicating, or characterizing a variety, especially a biological variety. (From dictionary.search.yahoo.com)

Therefore, calling something the assamica varietal is correct usage. It’s simply short for saying Camellia sinensis var. assamica (where “var.” stands for “variety”). And, as that other author said, calling something the Tieguanyin varietal is improper, since it is a cultivar, but I have to disagree that saying “Tieguanyin is a varietal tea made from the ‘Tieguanyin’ cultivar” is a correct usage of the term “varietal.” And I’m not sure where the author got that definition of “varietal.” It certainly differs from the ones I found (dozens, all saying virtually the same thing).

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Great smile! (screen capture from her web site)

Great smile! (screen capture from her web site)

If you want to peruse the full range of Lisa Boalt Richardson’s tea-related achievements, consult her web site here. There are quite a few of these achievements, but we’ll just touch on some of the highlights. She claims to be “one of the first 15 in the world to graduate from the Specialty Tea Institute (STI) with a ‘Certified Tea Specialist’ title in 2008″ and has trained and worked with various other tea organizations.

Then there are the books. There’s Tea with a Twist: Entertaining and Cooking with Tea, which came along first, in 2009, and in which the author “inspires readers to set their tables for fun and serve up any of her eight contemporary tea parties.” The next year saw publication of The World in Your Teacup: Celebrating Tea Traditions, Near and Far, which finds the author “leading tea-lovers on a fact-filled, taste-as-you-go journey around the world.” The latest of Richardson’s books, which is so recent that it’s not even out yet, is Modern Tea: A Fresh Look at an Ancient Beverage, which is set to be released in late 2014. Richardson has also been featured in or written for such august publications as the New York Times, Woman’s Health, Real Simple and Cooking With Paula Deen, as well as many, many others.

In an interview with the National Geographic Intelligent Travel site, Richardson said that her love for tea came about first because she liked the taste of tea. Following that she became enamored of the contemplative aspects of tea drinking and culture and the ability it gives one to slow down. Finally, she said, “When I really began to study tea as a career, my interest in tea grew to discovering and loving tea traditions and culture from around the world. Learning where tea is grown, who grows it, and how it is experienced all over the globe became fascinating to me.”

When asked her favorite tea, however, Richardson declined to pin things down, citing some of the following as favorites, “Darjeeling first flush, keemun, golden monkey, oolongs of all kinds, jasmine pearl green tea, and dragon well.”

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

If you’ve ever noted some of the weighty titles and subtitles of books that are published nowadays, rest assured that this is hardly a recent trend. Older books equaled or surpassed anything that modern-day publishers and authors can come up with. If you want proof of this then look to the subject of this article, Breakfast, Dinner, and Tea: Viewed Classically, Poetically, and Practically: Containing Numerous Curious Dishes and Feasts of All Times and All Countries, by Julia C. Andrews.

The book was published in 1860 and as the title suggests it’s a somewhat unusual take on the cookbook. Obviously tea is not the focus of the book and the “tea” in the title refers to tea in the sense of a meal rather than a beverage. But the tea section is an interesting one nonetheless and is further divided into five chapters.

Black tea boiled for 15-20 minutes? Yikes! (ETS Image)

Black tea boiled for 15-20 minutes? Yikes! (ETS Image)

Three of these look at the Tea-Biscuits and Cakes, preserves and other things that might be served at a tea, including such items as rye drop cake and Mrs. Grundy’s Cake. There are a few short chapters on tea the beverage as well, which are certainly worth a look. Tea as a Beverage considers the origins of the drink, pinpointing it no further than some unknown date in “the Chinese Empire.”

What follows is a brief sketch of the history of tea after it was first introduced into England, a time when it might sell for nearly fifty dollars a pound. The author claims that tea first came into use in New England in about 1720 and goes on to briefly cover tea during the time of the Revolutionary War and some of the tea substitutes used then.

The author claims that the variety of black teas at the time were Bohea, Congou, Campoi, Souchong, Caper, and Pekoe, while the green teas were Imperial, Hyson, Twankay and Hyson. She also remarks on the cheering effects of tea, which are “unanimous” in every country where it is used. And I’m certainly not going to argue that point.

From there it’s on to preparation. Andrews gets it half-right here, remarking that green tea should not be boiled, which is great advice. However, I’d shudder to think what her black tea must have tasted like after it had been boiled for the fifteen to twenty minutes she recommends.

But as long as you’re not adhering too closely to the author’s advice on tea prep this one’s worth a look for yet another glimpse at how tea was perceived in an earlier time. Take a look at it here.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: A Pop-up Adaptation (from Amazon.com)

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: A Pop-up Adaptation (from Amazon.com)

As I research assorted and sundry articles dealing with various aspects of tea history, I’ve run across a number of important historical events that have taken place in the month of April (or more specifically on the 1st). Here are a few of them:

April 1, 2813 BC
Chinese emperor Shung Mung discovers tea and the tea bag at the exact same moment. The Emperor is folding pieces of paper (which he’d invented the year before) into little kitty shapes when a sudden windstorm blows a bunch of leaves from off of the tea plant located right next to the window of his workshop. As he happens to look away for a moment a number of the leaves happen to blow directly into the paper kitty he is working on. At this very moment he just happens to drop the paper packet and tea leaves into a pot of water that was boiling on a fire next to him – for no apparent reason.

April 1, 1703
At the request of the eccentric inventor Baron Percival Egspeth Snork, a blacksmith creates what is believed to be one of the first tea infusers. It is a large, unwieldy device fashioned out a heavy piece of cast iron and tends to crush the dainty porcelain tea cups it’s tested on. Unfortunately, while working on the design of a second prototype of this device, Snork dies in a bizarre whittling accident that remains unexplained to this day.

April 1, 1773
Mrs. Edna Winkerbean holds the first tea party in what will soon become the United States. The party is held at her home in Boston. It is a very nice affair and is attended by several ladies in the neighborhood. Crumpets are served. The participants refer to this momentous event as the Boston Tea Party, which turns out to be a bad choice of names.

April 1, 1899
Jedediah Whufflesnorfer invents the Teafflesnorfer, which he insists is not named after himself. It’s a device that automatically begins to prepare tea at the sound of a rooster crowing. Through a complicated system of gears, belts, and levers, it cleans itself after each use and refills itself with tea leaves and water. It does not do windows. So don’t even ask.

April 1, 2013
Alarmed by the news that the Dormouse kept dozing off during the Mad Tea-Party in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a number of tea companies begin research into tea products that are “enhanced” with extra caffeine.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mistakes happen. It’s just part of life. This is true of those of us who blog about tea, too. So what should you do when a tea blogger gets something wrong? Well, as with many things, there’s the helpful approach and the not-so-helpful approach.

(ETS image)

(ETS image)

The Not-So-Helpful Approach

You see something wrong on a site and immediately start peppering the blog with comments. Since most blogs are set up to approve comments before they get posted (as a way to deter spam and those self-serving comments that include a link to your own blog), you will get increasingly frustrated as these comments do not appear on the site. The next step is to escalate things to social media sites, posting your correction there. It’s sort of understandable when you are so passionate about a topic, as many people are about tea. Seeing blatant misinformation getting posted such as which teas have what amount of caffeine or calling a Darjeeling tea an oolong can really get you riled, but resist the temptation to go ballistic.

The Helpful Approach

If the blogger is someone you’ve been reading awhile, been in touch with through social media, or even met in person, or if you have their email address, send them a private message about the error. Someone was nice enough to let me know privately through social media that I had the wrong “Mary” listed in a recent article. I thanked him and made the correction. No harm, no foul, and the error is fixed. On another occasion, I got an email showing that a tea I had said was Darjeeling was actually from Sri Lanka (I had gone by the vendor’s label and, being the helpful sort, passed along to that vendor the correction as well as fixing it on my own blog).

It would seem that the helpful approach is best. Of course, that’s true of a lot of things, following the old adage “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Of course, people don’t always listen when you try to clarify things and get the misinformation straightened out, but staying cool and posting your own article that gives the real information is a better alternative. I’ve done it several times.

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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