The story behind the Tea in England banner

I Love My Blog

One of the things I especially love about my blog is my banner. I’m not really sure how many people click on that little ‘About’ tab at the top of the page and take the time to read the About Me, About This Blog, and About My Banner pages, so I thought I’d be a bit cheeky and splash them out to you over the next few days.

The Tea in England banner was a collaborative effort between myself and London illustrator Emma Block. (Okay, okay, yes, she did the hard part.) I knew what I wanted in the banner, and the very talented Emma made it happen.

Dotted across the illustrated landscape of the Tea in England banner are representations of what I believe to be the more important contributions to England’s tea history:

 

 

The Tea in England Blog Banner

Tregothnan, Cornwall – Tea Plant · Home to the first tea grown in England.

Devon Tearoom  · See that cute little sign in the window? There’s nothing like a Cream Tea in Devon, birthplace of the Cream Tea.

Stoke-on-Trent – Teacup · Teacups, teapots, teawares – and more. England’s ceramics industry base for over 300 years.

Woburn Abbey · Anna, 7th Duchess of Bedford, lived here and in 1840 she ‘invented’ the ritual of Afternoon Tea.

Village Féte · I love fete’s, fairs, and county shows. Look for me in the tea tent.

Big Ben · Represents London, a city I love and one with a rich tea history. Appropriately, it’s three o’clock – teatime!

Locket engraved with Rex CII & Regina C · In 1662, Charles II’s new bride arrived in Portsmouth from Portugal. Her name was Catherine of Braganza and she brought with her an impressive dowry: money (lots of it); a city (little place called Bombay); and tea. Catherine had tea trending in England long before the Twitter hash tag.

Teapot Balloon · In the 17th and 18th centuries, hot air balloon rides were given at Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, London’s famous tea gardens. So that’s me up there, teacup in hand, travelling across England visiting fantastic places and tea-centred spaces.

Cutty Sark · The great tea clipper. Newly refurbished and now a living history museum in Greenwich, just east of London. If tea clippers could talk . . . . .

I hope this post has been an enjoyable insight into the people, places, and things that I consider to be important factors in the story and history of Tea in England.

 

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I can’t resist Whittard tea

Whittard Shop

Once upon a time there was a man named Walter. Walter was born in London in 1861, the son of a wealthy merchant family who owned leather factories in the tannery district. But Walter wasn’t into leather. He was into tea. He spent five years learning all he could about the tea trade and at the ripe old age of 25, he started his own business – a smart shop of shelves filled with gleaming caddies, brass scales, and tea .

Londoners of Walter’s day loved their tea. Capitalising on its popularity, Walter created exquisite, expertly blended luxury teas and made them available to everyone. Understanding the importance of tailoring your product to your customer, and inspired by the be-wigged law residents of the nearby Inns of Court, he even created a tea blend called ‘Barristers Refresher’. Cheeky Walter was a clever man, and he built a tea empire.

 

Whittard of Chelsea Logo

 

Walter died in 1935, and his tea shop passed to his sons, who kept the business thriving through war, a warehouse fire (the rebuild propelled a move to Chelsea), and family tragedy.  It’s had its up and downs since that time but through it all, this chain of tea shops – WHITTARD – has maintained high quality teas, and a loyal customer base.

Whittard has been a favourite of mine since my very first trip to England over ten years ago. The honest truth is that I simply cannot pass by a Whittard shop without popping in. Their store fronts are so welcoming and vibrant, and their products are wide-ranging and absolutely top quality. I have owned Whittard mugs, Whittard teapots, Whittard tea tins and Whittard tea.

 

Whittard Mug

 

I am at the moment somewhat obsessed with Whittard’s White Chocolate tea. When I first read about it, I was skeptical. White tea, made from the youngest, most tender of buds, is so very, very delicate and I felt sure that chocolate (even white chocolate) would surely overpower it. But it doesn’t – not at all.

 

Whittard White Chocolate Tea

The tiny, creamy pieces of Chilean white chocolate add just the right touch of taste and luxury to this beautiful white Chinese tea. If you are a Builder’s Tea kind of person, do yourself a favour and indulge. This is the type of unique, luxury blend that Walter would have liked.  Oh go on – try something new. Walter would be pleased.

 

 

 

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Steamy Valentine Greetings from Tea in England

 

 

 

Vintage Tea Valentine

 

 Happy Valentine’s Day from Tea in England

 

Are those tea leaves on Harrods’ family tree?

A Harrods Cup of Tea

Whenever I’m at Harrods, the first place I head to is the Food Hall, mainly because it’s one of the few places in the store where I can afford something. But the real reason is because I love the tea section. It’s not a particularly large space, but it’s crammed with boxes and tins of more than 300 pre-packed teas, and 165 single-estate, single original teas.

The last time I was there, they were featuring this 22-carat gold tea. As if.

22-carat gold tea from Harrods

You probably know all there is to know about Harrods, the world’s most famous department store:

That it had the very first escalator in history.

That it sits on 4.5 acres and is visited by 100,000 shoppers every day.

That A.A. Milne found the original Winnie-the-Pooh for his son Christopher Robin in the Toy Department.

That it employs 5,000 staff from over 50 different countries, together with 7  ‘Green Men’ who stand by certain doors to offer heavily-laden shoppers a helping hand.

But there’s one fact that I bet you didn’t know.

A brief history of Harrods

In 1834, Charles Henry Harrod, a London tea merchant (and grocer), rented a small shop on Brompton Road, Knightsbridge. The area was quickly becoming quite fashionable, and in just a few years, the discerning Charles – a man of good taste – put his store, Harrods, on the proverbial map.

It eventually passed from father to son, and Charles Digby Harrod continued to build the business by purchasing adjacent stores and introducing a delivery service that is still in operation today. The family sold the business in 1889, but Harrods continued to grow in profits and in size. Its motto is Omina Omnibus Ubique: All things for all people. It truly is legendary.

Harrods Tea Court

“Our customers want the best teas…” ~ Yousef Serroukh, Tea Buyer, Harrods


And all due to one man, a tea merchant, whose legacy lives on through the sales of luxury tea to discerning drinkers from across the globe.

 

The next time you are in London and visit Harrods, don’t be so much amazed by its size, atmosphere, or wealth as with the fact that it all started with a cup of tea.

 

 

 

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London’s Cabbie Tea Huts

Russell Square Cabbie Tea HutThere are so many, many things I love about London. The most endearing sights for me, as a tealover, are these adorable little green buildings known as Cabmen’s Shelters or, as I call them, Cabbie Tea Huts. These shelters were built in Victorian times as places where a London taxi driver could grab a cup of tea and a sandwich. They serve the same purpose today.

The first shelters were built in 1875. At that time, it was illegal for a cab-driver (in his horse-drawn carriage, called a Hansom Cab) to park his cab and leave it unattended. This made it a bit difficult to get a hot meal during the day. In stepped The Earl of Shaftesbury who, with some other philanthropists, created a charity called the Cabmen’s Shelter Fund. The charity built and ran these “shelters” at major cab stands to provide cab-drivers with good, wholesome food at reasonable prices.

Cabbie Tea Hut in LondonIf you have ever watched movies depicting the hussle and bussle of street traffic in Victorian England, you will appreciate the building requirement that these charming little buildings be no larger than a Hansom Cab. Though twee, they still managed to fit in a kitchen and seating for 10-13 men. 61 shelters were built between 1875 and 1914, and 13 remain, located here:

  • Russell Square
  • Chelsea Embankment – near the Albert Bridge
  • Embankment Place
  • Grosvenor Gardens – west side of north garden
  • Hanover Square – north of central garden
  • Kensington Park Road – outside numbers 8-10
  • Kensington Road – north side
  • Pont Street
  • St George’s Square, Pimlico
  • Temple Place
  • Thurloe Place, Kensington – opposite the Victoria & Albert Museum
  • Warwick Avenue – Clifton Gardens
  • Wellington Place, St John’s Wood

The next time you are in London, keep an eye out for these tiny tea houses. At most of them, anyone – not just a cabbie – can order a cup of tea or a sandwich.

Cabbie Tea Mug, 1935-1945 (Museum of London)

This 3/4-pint tea mug would have been used by a London cabbie in a Cabman’s Shelter. A cabbie would bring his own mug to the hut, where it was kept and looked after by “shelter boys.” (Image from Museum of London archives.)

 

 

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Tea at 78 Derngate may be the best Afternoon Tea value in England

78 Derngate decorated for Christmas

Charles Rennie Mackintosh was a Scottish architect and designer of both the Arts and Crafts and Art Nouveau movements.  My interest in Mackintosh began many years ago when I learned about the furniture and interiors that he and his wife Margaret Macdonald created for The Willow Tearooms in Glasgow.  I haven’t made it up to Glasgow (yet) to see The Willow Tearooms, but I was fortunate enough recently to have been invited to see 78 Derngate in Northampton – the site of Mackintosh’s only domestic commission in England.

The modest house at 78 Derngate was a wedding gift in 1917 to Northampton businessman W. J. Bassett-Lowke from his father.  Not entirely to his liking, Bassett-Lowke hired Mackintosh to help with a renovation. The end result took portions of the house from modest to remarkable – a hybrid mix of geometric Mackintosh (the hall/lounge) and cosy Mackintosh (the dining room, below) – which is the Mackintosh style I favour.

 

78 Derngate decorated for Christmas

The Dining Room, 78 Derngate

 

I highly recommend a visit to 78 Derngate in Northampton. The staff are very friendly and accommodating, and the house tours are led by knowledgeable guides. Exhibits, special events,  and educational activities are held there, and you will also find a gift shop. More importantly, I am happy to say, is that there is also a place for Afternoon Tea.

 

 The Bassett-Lowkes at tea, 78 Derngate

Tea in the Dining Room, 78 Derngate, the Bassett-Lowkes

 

A balcony tea at 78 Derngate

Tea on the balcony, 78 Derngate

 

 

Afternoon Tea at The Dining Room tea room 78 Derngate, Northampton

Tea in The Dining Room restaurant, 78 Derngate

 

The Dining Room restaurant at 78 Derngate provides home cooked fresh food for breakfast, lunch, dinner – and Afternoon Tea.  The space is very welcoming: lots of windows with a simple but classy ambiance.

But the real attraction of The Dining Room is the food. I have had many an Afternoon Tea – and the tea food here ranks tops.

 

Afternoon Tea savouries from The Dining Room at 78 Derngate, Northampton     Afternoon Tea at The Dining Room, 78 Derngate, Northampton     Afternoon Tea scones and sweets, The Dining Room, 78 Derngate, Northampton
 

The full Afternoon Tea at The Dining Room is served on two – yes, two! – separate cake stands. The first arrives with savouries. On the day Mr. Tea and I visited, the first stand had sandwiches of egg; ham; and cucumber on the bottom tier; warm tarts and cheese scones on the middle tier; and coronation chicken filo cups on the top tier. All savouries – one of each per person – were freshly made and contained plenty of flavour and plenty of filling. We consumed it all, and it was superb!

At this point, we didn’t think we could eat another morsel, but when the second cake stand arrived – laden with warm scones; cakes (including a cupcake topped with mini-marshmallows which had been lightly toasted – scrumptious!); tarts; macarons; and truffles – we couldn’t resist giving it our best shot. Perfection on a plate is the only way I can describe it all.  There truly is more food here than two people can eat, but fear not – a takeaway box will gladly be provided.

At £16.50 per person, which includes unlimited tea or coffee, Afternoon Tea at The Dining Room has to be one of the best – if not the best – Afternoon Tea values in England.

The designs by Charles Rennie Mackintosh at 78 Derngate aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but tea at The Dining Room, 78 Derngate is certainly mine.

 

 

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From our Christmas Pinterest Board

I hope you are enjoying the holiday season and that things at your house aren’t overly manic. Today I am posting some teacup images from my Christmas Pinterest Board. I just love a pretty teacup and I just love these images. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Victoria Sponge – its history and a recipe

Victoria Sponge Recipe

The Victoria Sponge is a sponge cake sandwiched together with raspberry jam and dusted on the top with caster sugar*. It is a quintessential English teatime treat and became popular during the reign of Queen Victoria. You will encounter a Victoria Sponge in most tearooms in England. It will be a friendly encounter. I have rarely met a Victoria Sponge I didn’t like.

The ingredients in a traditional Victoria Sponge (sometimes called a Victoria Sandwich) – eggs, flour, sugar, and butter – should be of equal weight; the eggs are weighed in their shell. There are a number of Victoria Sponge variations including using strawberry jam instead of raspberry; adding buttercream or whipped double cream instead of just jam; and dusting the top with icing sugar rather than caster sugar.

 

History of the Victoria Sponge

 

It is widely written that the Victoria Sponge was Queen Victoria’s favourite cake.  That may well be true, but I was listening to English food expert Clarissa Dickson Wright on telly the other night and she said that the Victoria Sponge originated at the nursery tea. She explained that afternoon tea cakes in early Victorian days would have consisted of a fruit cake and a seed cake. For safety reasons, it was believed that children should not eat a cake containing pieces of fruit or seeds, so the light, harmless Victoria Sponge was created as their teatime treat. It wasn’t until later that the Victoria Sponge made its way to the adult tea table.

 

 Finished Victoria Sponge batter Pour batter evenly into prepared tins Cool sponge cakes on wire rack
 

Buttercream Spread jam on one cake, buttercream on the other, then sandwich together Victoria Sponge
 

Ever since seeing the cute Victoria Sponge recipe in Betty magazine, I have been wanting to try it and this past week-end was the perfect opportunity. The directions were very straightforward and easy to do, and the cake turned out beautifully. I only had one hiccup with the recipe as written and that is that it yielded way too much buttercream for the cake – and I carelessly used it all. (Mr. Tea says that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.) Next time I will eat the extra buttercream myself halve the amount.

 

A slice of Victoria Sponge and a cup of tea

 

Here is a page with the Victoria Sponge recipe in case you’d like to give it a go. Do you have a Victoria Sponge story or recipe you’d like to share?

 

*An authentic Victoria Sponge, according to The Women’s Institute

 

 

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Ten tips to tracking down a terrific tearoom

Trying to track down a terrific tea room

For over 300 years the English have been drinking tea in tearooms. The first known tearoom was opened by Thomas Twining in 1706 at 216 Strand, London. In 1864, the Aerated Bread Company opened the first chain of tearooms called the A.B.C. Tea Shops. Thirty years later, J. Lyons and Co. started a chain of their own more upmarket Lyons Corner Houses. Hotels in cities began serving Afternoon Tea, and traditional English tearooms could be found in almost every town and village in England. Country farms, particularly in Devon and Cornwall, created their own little version of a tearoom, offering cream teas (with homemade clotted cream) to passing tourists.

Although A.B.C. Tea Shops and Lyons Corner Houses no longer survive, the English tearoom has and there are thousands of places across this Land of Hope and Glory and Tea where one can enjoy that most charming of English traditions called Afternoon Tea. But with so many tearooms scattered about England, how exactly do you go about finding a good one? I get asked this question all the time, so I thought I would share with you my ten tips to tracking down a terrific tearoom.

 

1. Word of mouth

 

Ten tips to tracking down a terrific tearoom: Word of mouthA glowing recommendation by a family member, friend, work colleague, or neighbour is the best and easiest way to find a terrific tearoom.  The next time you are at a family gathering, out on the town with your bestie, chatting with the person who sits across from you at work, or having a natter over your garden gate, make, “Been to any good tearooms lately?” one of your first questions.

 

2. Tea Books

 

Ten tips to tracking down a terrific tearoom: Tea booksThere are a number of excellent tearoom guides in print. My top favourite is Fancy A Cuppa; it not only lists great places for tea, but also the stories behind the tearoom owners, and the building. The AA Afternoon Tea books and Teashop Walks series have stood the test of time and are superb resources when looking for a tearoom. Bruce Richardson’s Great  Tearooms of Britain contains some of the country’s most well-known tearooms (and stunning photographs), and Jane Pettigrew’s Tea in the City: London focuses on the best tearooms in the capital.   Margaret Thornby’s Guide to Tea Rooms is another classic and chock full of tearoom listings and reviews.

 

3. Tea Magazines

 

The magazine Tea & Tea Room Talk regularly features tearoom reviews from all around England. I have also discovered the names of tearooms in the Food and Drink section of my local Lifestyle magazine, so find out the name of yours and check it out.

 

4. Tea Blogs

 

Top Ten Tips for Tracking Down a Terrific Tea Room: Tea blogsTea bloggers love to talk about tearooms and a tea blog is an excellent place to learn about places for tea. You will also usually find fantastic photographs and detailed tearoom reviews because, well, that’s just the way we are! Tea bloggers can be very opinionated about their tearoom experience, so these blogs are fun to read. Top English tea blogs (besides Tea in England, of course) are Kate and Chelsie and Teasemaid.

 

5. Tea Directories

 

Obviously, an online tearoom directory should be near the top of your list when you are searching out that perfect place in England for afternoon tea. Here are three of them that every tea lover should have bookmarked: Afternoon Tea, the UK Tea Council, and Tea at Three.

 

6. Tea Websites

 

Many tea company websites display their stocklists, helping their customers find tearooms and tea shops that carry their teas. Teapigs is one of them, as is Tregothnan Tea. Travel websites, such as Trip Advisor, are also a good place to look for a tearoom in the part of England you are interested in.

 

7. Facebook

 

Ten tips to tracking down a terrific tearoom: Social mediaThe Facebook search function makes it easy to do a quick keyword search using the words “tearoom” or “tea room”. Although tearoom owners are very busy people, many of them still find time to update their Facebook pages regularly with menu specials, upcoming events, discount codes, pictures, etc. The Tea Rooms (London) and Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms (York) are two personal Facebook favourites.

 

8. Twitter

 

When I first set up my Twitter account, I searched the keyword “tearoom” and followed a few of them that showed up in the results. I started re-tweeting their tweets and it wasn’t long before new tearooms were following me back and I was discovering ones all across England that I never knew existed. If you are on Twitter, you could do the same – or simply post a “Looking for tearooms in my area” tweet and see what happens.  Here are a few tearooms in England whose Twitter accounts I follow: Peacocks Tearoom (Cambridgeshire),  Scrumptious Tearooms and Poppy’s Tea Room (Essex), and Well Walk Tea Room (Gloucestershire).

 

9. Google search

 

Ten tips to tracking down a terrific tearoom: Google searchThere’s nothing quite as efficient as a basic Google search. To look for a tearoom, type “tearooms in (insert name of city, state, county, country, etc here)” or “tea rooms in (insert name of city, state, county, country, etc here)” in the Google search box. Don’t give up if you don’t see the name of a tearoom on the first few pages. Keep scrolling through because their website might be ‘buried’ amongst all the other listings.

 

10. Just ask!

 

Ten tips to tracking down a terrific tearoom: Just ask!When all else fails, never be afraid to email a tea blogger, tea book author, tea expert, or tea shop owner for the name of their favourite tearoom. Most tea people are happy to “talk tea” and they will consider it a privilege to be of help.

 

 

 

I hope my ten tips to tracking down a terrific tearoom will help you find the tearoom of your dreams. If you have a particular resource that you like to use when on the hunt for a tearoom, please share it with us by leaving a comment below.

 

Note: As “the only constant in life is change”, I strongly advise that before visiting any tearoom, you first ring to confirm that it is still open for business.

 

 

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Lemon Cake recipe from The Tea Rooms in London

Lemon Cake using recipe from from Secrets of the Tea Rooms Those of us who love frequenting tea rooms (you know who you are), just can’t help ourselves from obsessing over their decor, teapots, cups and saucers, and food. And although we wouldn’t dream of ever giving up the pursuit of the perfect tea room, we do enjoy re-creating one or more aspects of our favourite tea room once we’re back home.  Whether it’s sourcing their beautiful china for our own tea table, buying a tin of their popular house blend, or having a go at trying to bake their cakes or scones, we want the tea room experience to go on within our own familiar habitat long after it has ended at the one away from home.

The Tea Rooms, 153-155 Stoke Newington Church Street, London N16 0UH

The Tea Rooms, London

But when it comes down to baking that cake or those scones, the problem is that some tea rooms want to keep their recipes a secret. Drat. Luckily, some tea rooms don’t mind sharing their recipes and even go so far as to publish them. The Tea Rooms, Stoke Newington Church Street, London is one of those, and I recently had a chance to review their cookbook, Secrets of the Tea Rooms – Recipes for Traditional British Cakes and Savouries.

The Tea Rooms, 153-155 Stoke Newington Church Street, London N16 0UH

The Tea Rooms, London

The Tea Rooms opened in 2007 and are owned and operated by mother and daughter team Anne Wilkinson and Isabelle Allfrey; Isabelle is a professional chef. The tea setting is traditional (LOVE those bentwood chairs), with an emphasis on quality homemade cakes and confectionery. Who wouldn’t like a cookbook filled with quality recipes from a tea room with a professional chef, huh?


Purchase
 

Secrets of the Tea Room contains a variety of great sounding recipes – scones; cakes and pastries; soups; savoury pastries; biscuits and batch bakes; and Christmas cooking –  originating from family members and cookery books and adapted for the tea room. Measurements are given in imperial and metric, so the book is suitable for cooks on both sides of the pond.

Handy tips are sprinkled throughout as are colour photographs, making it an immediate winner as far as I’m concerned. There is also a brief history of tea in Britain – always a good sign.

I am certain that I will eventually try each of the recipes in this book: they are solid, traditional British tea fare. But I did have to narrow it down to just one for the blog post, so I decided on the Lemon Cake. With the days drawing in, I have been in a mood lately to drink more Earl Grey, and Lemon Cake and Earl Grey tea are an excellent pairing.

 

Lemon Cake

For one small loaf cake, made in a tin about 9 in (23cm) long. This loaf cake is made extra tangy with lemon syrup poured over the cake, straight from the oven.

 

Collected ingredients for the Lemon Cake recipe from Secrets of the Tea Rooms

Ingredients

1 lemon
5 oz (140 g) plain flour
2 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 tblsp dark rum (I did not have any rum or rum extract, so I used vanilla extract)
6 oz (175 g) caster sugar
2 oz (50 g) melted butter
3 oz (75 g) double cream
2 oz (50 g) icing sugar

 

Method

Set the oven to 180°C (350°F) or Gas Mark 4, and prepare a small loaf tin by greasing lightly and lining with baking paper.

Grate the zest of the lemon (the skin without the pith) or use a zester. Add the zest to the eggs, salt and sugar, and whisk together, without overworking. Stir in the cream. sieve the flour and baking powder together and fold into the mixture. Then add the melted butter and rum. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 7 minutes at 200°C (400°F), Gas Mark 6. Then lower the oven to 180°C (350°F), Gas Mark 4, and bake for a further 33 minutes.

 Warm Lemon Cake just out of the oven, dotted with holes, ready for lemon syrup to be poured over

While the cake is baking, heat the juice of the lemon and the icing sugar together, until dissolved.

Tip: Do not let the lemon syrup boil, otherwise it could taste bitter.

The cake is ready when it is springy to touch and a skewer comes out clean. Remove from the oven, but leave in the tin. Prick all over with a skewer (I didn’t have a skewer, so improvised using a matchstick) and then pour over the lemon syrup while the cake is still warm. Turn out when cold.

 

Lemon Cake using recipe from Secrets of the Tea Rooms

The Lemon Cake looked and tasted fantastic. The recipe was easy to follow, and I already had everything on hand. Baked in small, individual loaf tins, the Lemon Cake recipe from Secrets of the Tea Rooms would be perfect for holiday gift-giving to friends, neighbours or work colleagues, together with a festively wrapped copy of the book itself.

Visit The Tea Rooms website for opening hours and more information about their tea room, teas, bespoke cakes, venue hire, and home tea party service. You can also find them on Twitter and Facebook.

 

The Tea Rooms logo

 

 

 

 

155 Stoke Newington Church Street
London N16 0UH
0207-923-1870

 

 

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