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back to article Boffins brew up formula for consummate cuppa

Here at Reg Hardware, we rely on a regular supply of fresh tea in order to function properly. We'd like to think we're rather good at brewing our bevvies too, but apparently there is actually a science to it. Boffins at the University of Northumbria have come up with a mathematical formula that can be applied to produce the …

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Boffin

Why didn't they just use the British Standard?

It's what it's there for... BS 6008:1980/ISO 3103/1980

Preparation of liquor for use in sensory tests: sub.spc.org/san/docs/BS6008.pdf

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spooky

even the timestamps are the same.

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Perfect cuppa?

As any other fule kno, that depends! However, I discovered the worst cup of tea: freshly brewed tea from a tea/coffee/hot chocolate machine (other means of teamaking were not allowed in the office). It took the machine almost 60 seconds to complete a cup and the tea tasted like hot, caffeinated water. I was hooked on this stuff within weeks (2 cups an hour? bah! That wouldn't make me type one word).

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This is not tea

First of all, the "tea" itself is just some scrapings from the factory floor at Twinnings or Lipton. The official trade name for the "tea" used in "traditional" teabags is "dust". If you're lucky they will put some "fannings" in the bags too...

And second - if you put milk in tea you get soup, not tea.

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Au contraire...

Considering that 80%+ of tea drunk in the UK is in teabag form, the process for creating the >20% of loose tea must be seriously wasteful to provide enough "scrapings" for all those teabags. That, or you are talking rubbish.

Give me a properly brewed MUG of good, solid breakfast tea, with a dash of milk. No more, no less.

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Pirate

not necessarily

As a Yorkshire Tea enthusiast, I was fascinated to read about the work their blenders have to do. They claim (and I don't have any reason to disbelieve them) that the tea they choose for their teabags has to be extremely good and well chosen as the bag 'dampens' (my summary not theirs) the tastes

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It's very simple

Just tear a teabag apart and see what's inside...

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re This is not tea

The UK teabags are not 'dust', they contain proper selected tea. I think in America tea bags use dust which is one reason why the tea there is not as we'd like it (to be polite....)

Water temp is a big factor. Pour in just as the kettle has finished boiling then here in London(ish) the tea will be ready in 30-60 seconds.

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Tea "strength"

You need to understand that fannings and dust make the "strongest" tea quickest. That's why they are being used for teabags.

You cannot use proper tea leaves in small paper bags because the restricted flow of water in combination with the smaller surface area of loose tea leaves (BOP, OP and higher) will make them ineffective. Also, larger tea leaves are highly hygroscopic, they will absorb water, expand and fill the volume of the teabag, further restricting the water flow.

Because of this, expensive teabags with more or less proper tea in them use larger volume nylon mesh bags instead of paper...

Dust and fannings contain more caffeine (which is produced through oxidation) because of their high reactive surface area. For the same reasons they release the soluble substances more easily and quickly. So a small pinch of fannings will make your a "stronger" (more bitter and with more caffeine) infusion than a larger (and more expensive) pinch of leaves.

The problem is that the "strength" was not the original idea of tea. As sometimes happens, Europeans imported something from a different culture, misunderstood the purpose and the recipe and came up with a drink which is completely different from what was intended in the first place.

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Boffin

Bzzzzt! Missing information

If the amount of milk (10ml) is critical, then so is the size of the cup, which was not stated.

it seems likely that this experiment was conducted and reported by sociologists or the equivalent. A real scientist would not have omitted such an important measurement.

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or alternatively

it is just another cheap bit of publicity (a la Goldacre per previous posts)

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Facepalm

Centigrade?

What? Have we gone back to 1948? Celcius, surely?

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Headmaster

Celsius

Actually, spelling as above if you're going to be particular.

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Nice spot Retarded

Keyboard dyslexia today. I blame not having enough tea.

I just thought though, there's no adjustment in that formula for altitude. What happens if you can't get boiling water at 100C? I lived in Mexico City at ~2,200m altitude so water boiled at about 90C. By the time you poured it in a teapot it was probably down to about 80C.

In the end I found that putting the loose leaf tea straight in the kettle (one of those whistling stove kettles rather than an electric one of course) just as it came to the boil, turning off the heat and leaving it to brew for about 5 minutes seemed to work.

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Childcatcher

Tsk...

If this were done by real scientists, the temperature would be measured in Kelvin!

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simple

Mug, boiling water, 1 Yorkshire Gold tea bag, bit of tinfoil on top of the cup, brew for 5 mins, splash of skimmed milk and you're sorted.

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Skimmed Milk?

Ugh! Philistine!

You need proper full fat milk or the tea won't form an emulsion properly.

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Anonymous Coward

You should never...

you should never be able to use the phrase "This tea has not formed a proper emulsion". Tea should not emulsify!

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Pint

Tea's all well and good...

...but a coffee never fails to disappoint. Or a beer.

+1 for the Reg Mug as well, very smart. Got the envy something rotten after looking at my own non-descript Ikea cup.

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Pint

I love the way

...that the kettle's spout is pointed directly at the mains outlet. It would be even cooler if it was balanced on top of a server.

Who needs tea when you can have beer?

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Errr

So how does this account for people with different tastes? I like my tea much stronger than quite a lot of people I know, some of whom barely want the teabag dipping in the water. One man's ambrosia is another man's poison.

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Meh

Or in the case of my mum

She would prefer if you just added milk to hot water and then show the cup a picture of a teabag. No accounting for taste.

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Trollface

I'm guessing but ...

... that's the first time in weeks you've cleaned the el-reg mug, right ?

I mean, specially tarted-up for the photo ... and not the usual tannin-encrusted-abomination ...

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Tea, also known as brain juice

It has become routine to the possible extent of OCD that I must have tea at least 3 times in the working day, more usually 4 or 5. This may seem a small amount, but the cups are the larger kind of paper coffee cups, plus I try to keep down the quantity, mainly because I've always thought that no matter how good something is, in large enough quantities it will harm you. The bag MUST be placed in the cup prior to having the water from the hot water dispenser, approximately 2cm gap is left to the rim, the lid must then be placed immediately on the cup, then it is queued and paid for, I get irritable if the queue is too long or too short as I rely on having just a few people there for brewing time. Once paid the lid can be removed and the sugar placed ONTO the floating teabag, the bag is then pushed down and stirred between 3 and 6 times (depending on how long the queue was) with a stick rather than a spoon, the stick allows the bag to be wrapped around it and satisfyingly squeezed to ensure the maximum flavour is extracted. Once complete the bag is removed and milk is added to the brim, it's not to weaken the flavour but to enhance it and also to reduce the temperature. A small amount is drunk immediately to reduce spillage, but then I allow the tea to cool to an almost tepid temperature in order to drink it swiftly.

It's just my taste, I know it's not to everyones, particularly my wife who insists that tea must be drunk whilst it has the capability to scald your mouth and cannot contain more than about 5 drops of milk. We do both agree that it should have 1 teaspoon of sugar though.

I despise coffee.

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Terminator

Mmm, hot caffienated beverages

Must admit, the research here sounds a bit lax - have they never read Douglas Adams' opinions on tea making?

Anyway, crappy instant coffee for me, two spoons, quarter spoon of sugar, no milk, ta.

If I want decent coffee, I break out the cafetiere - I'm not so prissy as to grind my own beans (requote at will) but it makes a better cup than fecking Nescafe.

As for tea - gotta be loose leaf, in a teapot - accept no substitutes. Brew it up, then serve to taste.

Steven R

Where the 'ooh, lovely brew' icon? Terminator instead, as vending machine tea and coffee is clearly a plot to kill the human race with poison.

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Oh ffs

Another crappy piece of 'research' funded by the marketing department of a tenuously-linked otherwise-dull corporation.

Next on the Daily Mail / Reg: Scientists 'discover' the equation for taking the perfect dump, research sponsored by Andrex.

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Milky milky

Once I saw this was funded by Cravendale I was surprised not to see them recommending LOTS of milk to drive up consumption and sales of milk.

I remember when Kellog's Corflakes Ads said "Just a splash of milk" until the Milk Marketing Board got at them and it changed to "DRENCHED in ice-cold milk".....

At least that's how it happened in my mind :)

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If it's with a bag, it's not perfect tea,

Loose tea (my preference is nilgiri leaf, but not everyone has taste) in the pot. Boiling water poured on whilst stirring, Cover with a cosy for no less than four minutes. Full fat milk in the cup. Pour tea onto milk. Replace cosy to keep the warmth in for seconds.

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Milk?

"I'd leave out the milk"

Yes but the hint is in "research - funded by dairy Cravendale Milk" .... missing out the milk would get the same reaction as I had couple weeks ago at the Bath&West show when I asked for a black coffee at what I hadn't realized was the Jersey GoldTop drinks bar!

"One thing they did get right, at least is the need for English tea to be brewed with boiling water,"#

As opposed to a cafe in Portugal which responded to my wife's request for "tea with milk" (in our best approximation of portugese) which arrived as a tea bag floating in a cup of hot milk!

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Desaster is imminent!

Or did they separate Eddie from the Nutrimatics Drinks Dispenser?

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Coffee/keyboard

I'm a miffie, and proud of it

You may sneer, but putting the milk in first means the milk can never get hotter than the final mixed temperature. Putting milk into hot tea overheats the first part of the milk which goes in and gives a less creamy "UHT" taste. Try it and see.

Obviously you must use a teapot, and take the bags out of the pot as soon as it's brewed. Loose-leaf tea is also good, but you must (a) pour the whole lot at once; (b) use a very fine strainer and (c) give it only 1 minute or so to brew, because it goes waaaay faster than teabags.

New keyboard icon, because tea is responsible for most such incidents.

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Brewing time

One thing that everyone appears to have missed is that brewing time is heavily dependent on the water you use. I'm well-versed in the water we have here in Edinburgh. In London, though (apart from having a kettle full of scum), you only need to let the teabag *see* the water before it's ready. And in Glasgow it seems that you have to beat the shite out of the bag to get anything approaching colour or flavour.

Shoddy research.

Assam. Black, no sugar, ta!

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nonsense

The fact that this is sponsored by cravendale makes a mockery of it really.

For starters good tea does not come in a bag, and personally i prefer it without milk.

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Coffee/keyboard

My perfect cup of canteen tea

According to my friend Charlie the story goes like this:

Bag + Cup

Cup tilted at alarming angle and inserted into oversized hot water dispenser unit (with undersized dispenser tray)

Note water temperature at a maximum of 83 degrees. Some say, sub optimal, I say you’ll be lucky

Push and hold water button

Assuming approximately 30ml per second flow rate, count to 10.

Realise flow rate is slightly higher today as water isn’t running uphill and Anglia Water have another pump on

Watch water pour over the top of cup and dribble down the counter top.

Mop up = Brewing Time

Prod mechanical cow to dispense anywhere from 5-50ml of milk

Spend approximately 1 minute fishing around with a half melted and weak stemmed plastic spoon attempting to extract tea bag.

Add sugar, x2 sachets of fair-trade brown sugar, realising that x1 sachet equates to one third to one half a tea spoon

Stir feverishly with the remnants of the melted spoon.

Decamp to the office and enjoy. Ahh.

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Tea-bagging? Yes! Drinking tea-bag water? Not so much!

My wife is German. When we were first together, I schooled her carefully in the correct procedure for making tea and she in turn showed me how to make drinkable filter coffee, something that one simply didn't get to learn in the UK in the 70's. It's a rich exchange it seems to me, it's a warm arrangement. (Anybody recognise that?)

In any case, the correct way to make tea is to use first flush Darjeeling* leaves, place them in a warmed china pot, add freshly-drawn, freshly-boiling water, cover the pot with a cosy or tea-towel and leave to brew for five minutes.

My wife's initial reaction when I showed her this was suspicion that I was pulling her leg. Only the quality of the final result convinced her that it was worth the effort.

Much like the Japanese, the British require a measure of ritual in the preparation of tea. Otherwise, well, it's not tea.

As for all those correspondents who admit to indulging in "tea-bagging", I aver that that is a practice best indulged in in private...

*Or your choice of suitable tea, bearing in mind that Darjeeling is the best...

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Paris Hilton

Porcelaine teapot and tea leaves

Oo-aa tea

Requires a porcelaine teapot, Twinings English Breakfast tea leaves.

Put a dollop of tea leaves into porcelain teapot, wait a while then pour into beaker.

Establish whether or not the tea was too strong/weak, too milky or not and adjust accordingly next time round.

Interesting asides

replace tea leaves by either a couple of sprigs of fresh thyme or a couple of stalks of fresh mint scrunched a la Jamie Oliver style. Dispense with milk and wonder why you never tried fresh herbs before

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Sage tea

Unexpectedly gorgeous.

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Anonymous Coward

The Canning Town cuppa

The researchers clearly haven't taken all tastes into account. My own 25 year investigation into variations in tea and fry up qualities across east London reveals substantial variations on "perfect" between areas only a few miles apart.

Canning town scores very well for supreme bacon sarnies but, for my own taste, very, very badly for tea. The requirements seem to be:

Brewing time: all day (all week in one case it would appear)

Tea bag strength: Weapons grade

Milk: enough to make it roughly the colour of dark mud

Sugar: around 25 percent of total volume

The resultant liquid is tested for deployment by pouring a small quantity on sheet steel. If it burns a hole in less than 3 minutes, it's ready.

Coffee, funnily enough is the exact opposite; off white water with lots of sugar.

Anyway, the perfect cuppa can only be had in north India's Haryana state in any small roadside chailwallah's. Essential ingredients include a dubious looking pan with 50 years worth of tea and milk welded to the side, some small glasses, fresh ginger, a rag that always looks remarkably like someones used t-shirt for straining, a top notch local cow and a bloke with rather less than a full set of teeth, but 20 odd years practice making chai. Cheap and best, as they say.

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I knew there was a reason for reason

+1 for the mug,

-1 for the council coffee next to it

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Pint

Quality of final result?

It's tea from a teabag. Whatever you do with it, whichever brand, it tastes like rat urine and pencil shavings. Add milk and it'll taste like milky rat urine and pencil shavings.

A Malaysian friend introduced me to jasmine tea. That's really good stuff if you want to spend half an hour sipping it whilst chilling out. Mint tea is also not bad. Anything else, just point me at the coffee instead, losers.

Or beer...

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It's the bag as is the problem, guv

The bloody teabag was the death of proper tea. The stuff you could tell your fortune in when you got to the bottom of the cup. It was a triumph for the tea industry in that they could now sell the 'dust' that they previously had to throw away. (They didn't throw it away, of course, they just sold it in a less discriminating market). Unfortunately, the demand for these bloody teabags dominated sales, so you no longer can get from the 'proper' loose tea unless you pay an enormous markup, and the loose tea now sold is simply the rubbish 'dust' but without the paper bag. I personally, still use loose tea, but instead of the traditional pot, now make it in a coffee filter machine, and get as near as possible to the proper 'cuppa'. It comes in a pot, but without the irritating dust carry over. Pity about the fortune telling bit, though

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Anonymous Coward

The Secret

After 36 years of teamaking and drinking, I can share the secret to the perfect cup of tea, as experienced and agreed by the c. 100 people I have ever made tea for:

1. Boil kettle

2. Immediately poor boiling water on to a standard PG Tips tea bag, only up to 1.5 inches from rim of cup

3. Fan the tea bag ten times against the inside of the cup so that the water pumps through the tea

4. Leave for 20 seconds while you fetch some whole milk

5. Fan the tea bag ten times against the inside of the cup again

6. Remove the tea bag, squeezing the last drops of teay goodness into the cup

7. Add sugar if desired and stir until dissolved

7. Top up to just below the rim with milk and stir

Perfect strong yet creamy nectar-like tea.

Job done!

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Tea

Warm the mug.

Make it as strong as possible (double bag if they are those shitty catering tea bags or an oversized vessel is employed)

Remove the bag(s) -- I can't stress this enough -- before adding plenty of milk until the correct shade of lighter orange is achieved.

Sod the sugar.

Get it down your neck.

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Bronze badge

American Tea

It may be due to the large number of British Ex-Pats in Florida, but we have a grocery chain called Publix which has (surprisingly) good, and strong tea bags. If you ever get a chance, check them out. Hell, I'll send you some if you give me an address even. American tea is on the whole extremely piss-poor though. And Twinnings American sold teas are nowhere near as good as the UK versions, or how they were prior to about 2002, though if you're in the US Armed Forces they do sell the real thing at the PX/BX.

I like my tea really strong though, so I dont think the University's equation would apply to me, and Milk in my tea is like Milk in my coffee, I simply cant drink it that way.

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Warm pot, boiling water.

If you make tea in a mug, you've already lost.

The key is keeping temperatures as high as possible; that means a teapot as hot as possible before the (furiously boiling) water goes in. And then slapping a good thick tea-cosy over the pot. Which should be made of good thick insulating china. Or clay, or whatever it is.

There is only one problem here - as you whip your cordless kettle out of its stand just before boiling point is reached, in order to pour very hot water into the pot, the contacts will arc and destroy themselves. You must turn the bugger off *before* removing it from its stand. I think I destroyed about three or four kettles before I finally figured this one out.

And a +1 to Yorkshire Tea bags.

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Trollface

Perfect cup of tea

1) Place loose leaf tea in cup or tea strainer

2) Boil fresh water (never reboil, as the oxygen content has been removed by previous boiling)

3) Pour boiling water over tea leaves

4) Allow to steep for 3-5 minutes

5) Pour in milk and sugar to taste

6) Throw the whole goddamn thing out and brew some goddamn coffee! What the fuck is wrong with you?

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Boffin

Perfect Tea

Caveat: $wife is of the opinion I make the worst tea in West Yorkshire. I fear she may be correct. Anyhoo...

Tea for her: In *her* mug (approximately the size of a dustbin), put 1 Tetley's tea bag. Add still-boiling water (bugger the kettle contacts, she needs tea *now*). Stir, wait, return, stir ... repeat until you cannot see the teaspoon handle thru the liguid to a depth of > 1mm. Squeeze and remove tea-bag. DO NOT add milk with tea bag still in: "I can taste the difference, I WILL know, and there will be trouble".

Add milk, volume approximately one sparrow-fart.

Give to $wife, and await verdict. Repeat about 8 times per day.

Tea for me: Normal mug, add bag of any old tea. Sling on boiling water. Give it a quick swiddle, slosh in plenty of milk, chuck teabag in direction of bin. Repeat once per week. Tea really only necessasy after fried breakfast, or fish and chips.

Coffee for me: Odd this, I prefer instant at the moment. One heaped as full as possible teaspoon (using biggest teaspoon in drawer) coffee. One spoon sugar. Off-boiling water. Stir, plenty of milk. Repeat ~12 times per day.

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art not science

I have to agree with Mhoulden's post about this. Cravendale are obviously looking for publicity, and the uni need funfing. Great. But the only way this is science is that it uses scientific method, maybe. The sample is small, so there are no great revelations. Interesting to see that the formula has a crucial ommission too; there is no figure for the amount of water to be used.

At the end of the day though, this only helps get us in the ball park for a 'good cup of tea'. Each one is a work of art that should be made to suit an individuals tastes. Some people like no milk, some may like 30ml, some may like it barely brewed, or over brewed. Who's to say what's right. Maybe we'll see manufacturers of oil paints sponsoring research into the perfect oil painting.

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Anonymous Coward

My approach

Fresh water, just that instant boiled, poured from a fair height (to get some air into the brew - you can see tea-tasters slurp the test brew to get the flavour) .

A white (or at least light colour on the inside) mug - otherwise you can't see the tea colour and when you add the milk (by eye) it comes out wrong.

I gave up sugar several years back, used to have 3 spoons but I can never understand those that have lots of sugar and loads of milk but next to no tea.

PG Tips are my preferred blend, but if you get the water right even Tetley decaff (it's what they buy from Makro for work) tastes reasonable.

I have a special mug at work - its a 500ml glass beaker with a handle - you can make very consistent brew but it's too much to drink before it goes cold.

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Anonymous Coward

Correction

According to my own research, the equation is in fact:

enjoyment = f (taste)

where:

anything < taste < everything else

Now how do I cash in my research grant?

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