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maxmillan

Oolong Teas: a complex world between green & black

155 posts in this topic

I just made a pot of Pouchong yesterday for my afternoon tea, and was struck by how strongly it resembles the Taiwan Alishan High Mountain Oolong we're tasting over in another topic. The things I like best about both of them are the same--a warm, grassy, vegetal flavor without bitterness and a floral undertone to the aroma. I'd like to do a head to head comparison, but have to wait a couple of days for my Alishan to arrive in the mail from Norbu Tea, so I compared it to my Ti Kuan Yin.

gallery_16931_6727_8081.jpg

It looked quite different, twisted leaves instead of curled balls, with a color is nearly as dark as my Ti Kuan Yin

gallery_16931_6727_4861.jpg

But the tea is about the same shade as the Alishan Oolong, paler and less red than the Ti Kuan Yin

gallery_16931_6727_16603.jpg

and that brings up the question: what is the difference between pouchong and oolong, and is the similar taste a result of similar processing, or of different techniques being used to achieve a similar flavor profile?

And now I'm intensely curious about the green ti kuan yin that I also ordered from Norbu Tea.

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To respond to this question about Baozhong (I prefer to spell it Baozhong instead of Pouchong because Pinyin transliteration is what I am used to) vs. Oolong, very simply stated, Baozhong is generally considered to be a type of very lightly oxidized Oolong.

You noticed some flavor similarities between that and the High Mountain Oolong from Alishan. The main reason for this similarity is that they both are very lightly oxidized and they both came from Taiwan...just from different parts of the island. Time for a tea geography lesson. :rolleyes:

If you look at the map below, Baozhong primarily comes from the Wenshan area in the North of Taiwan, while the Ali Shan oolong you tried in the discussion came from Ali Shan further south-central on the island. In fact, if you look at the map for "Chiai" and go a bit east on the map, that's exactly where the tea from the discussion came from.

gallery_55229_6733_37662.jpg

(In the interest of full disclosure, I got this map off of a tea blog several years ago. I do not have any recollection of which one it was...sorry)

OK, now look at this map (I did this one, so I know where it came from).

gallery_55229_6733_3125.jpg

Tea processing came to Taiwan mainly from Fujian province in the mid 1800s. For some reason, people from the Wuyishan area in the far North-West of Fujian tended to settle in northern Taiwan with their Wuyi tea cultivars and processing methods. Naturally, then, the teas from Northern Taiwan physically resemble the long rolled leaves typical of Wuyi oolongs. The same thing happened with Anxi style oolongs. People from the area around Anxi moved right across the strait of Taiwan to central and Southern Taiwan. They were used to their unique tea cultivars and tightly rolled ball-shaped oolongs, so they ended up bringing their tea style with them to that part of Taiwan. Make sense?

That explains the shapes, but doesn't explain the other differences.

Baozhong is typically very lightly oxidized. 8-10% oxidation level is what I have been told, but these percentages seem pretty arbitrary and unquantifiable to me. Baozhong teas are usually not roasted like green teas, making their flavor profiles vegetal like green teas but with floral undertones found in other forms of oolong from the slight oxidation.

There was also a question about the color of the finished teas. Looking at the posted pictures, I am 99% positive your Tie Guan Yin has undergone a roasting process. Traditionally in Fujian, oolong teas from Wuyi and Anxi were almost always roasted at a fairly low temperature to better preserve them for storage and transport. The happy coincidence was that the roasty toasty flavors created during roasting really complement the sweet & fruity flavors that remained in the teas after the roasting process was done. The degree of the roast has a lot to do with the darker color of the finished teas, too.

Once more modern food preservation and storage techniques became available, tea processors started offering lesser or non-roasted versions of their oolongs more widely. Roasting no longer has to serve its original primary purpose of preserving the teas. It is now used more by tea masters to control the flavors of the finished tea...enhancing certain aspects and de-emphasizing others. The very strong and aromatic floral notes of freshly oxidized and processed tea leaves dissipate fairly quickly when exposed to air, so the development of air tight packaging along with more efficient forms of transportation is what made this style of tea popular outside of the tea growing regions...these fresher tasting teas can now physically make it halfway across the world and still taste like they are fresh from the mountain.

This was a long reply, but I hope I answered at least some of your questions.

Greg


Greg

www.norbutea.com

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That's a great start on answering my questions.

So....the next step would be to consider my anxi ti guan yin vs the very green appearing ti guan yin on your site--both are ti guan yin, but given how different they look, I have to assume they will taste very different.

How far away can the tea get from the original style and still be called ti guan yin? As long as it is from the same plant? Same county? and still more oolong than green tea?

And are the newer lighter roasted styles taking over now? Is there much grumbling about the loss of traditional darker roasted teas if so?

(obviously, these are questions best discussed over a few pots of the teas in questions, in a tea house in a pleasant garden....)

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That's a great start on answering my questions.

So....the next step would be to consider my anxi ti guan yin vs the very green appearing ti guan yin on your site--both are ti guan yin, but given how different they look, I have to assume they will taste very different. 

How far away can the tea get from the original style and still be called ti guan yin?  As long as it is from the same plant?  Same county?  and still more oolong than green tea?

And are the newer lighter roasted styles taking over now?  Is there much grumbling about the loss of traditional darker roasted teas if so?

(obviously, these are questions best discussed over a few pots of the teas in questions, in a tea house in a pleasant garden....)

Tie Guan Yin is the varietal or cultivar of tea plant. It's a Camellia Sinensis varietal native to Anxi county. As far as I know, the western botanical names aren't commonly known or used for Chinese/Taiwanese tea cultivars.

Acording to the research that I have been able to find, Western tea literature describes only two types of tea plant: Camellia Sinensis Sinensis, the varietal that the British only successfully got to grow well in Darjeeling, and Camellia Sinensis Assamica, the varietal that the British "found" in Assam and commercially cultivated all over the subcontinent. CS Assamica is basically Yunnan varietal tea, which is why a lot of Assam teas taste like Dian Hong. What I am saying in a round about way is that I haven't been able to find any studies or botanical classifications of the different tea cultivars like Tie Guan Yin in any language but Chinese. Suffice it to say that Tie Guan Yin is a unique tea varietal, and any processed tea made from it could be called Tie Guan Yin.

The new style or green Tie Guan Yin you are referring to is definitely an oolong tea. You could pick two leaves from the same plant and make green tea out of one and oolong tea out of another, but that simply wouldn't happen these days because the different varietals have been found over time to be better suited to different styles. Again, kind of like apples, some are better for baking than for eating out of hand, and some Camellia plants are better suited for green tea than they are for oolong or whatever. The main difference between oolong tea and green tea is in the processing. Green teas are picked, withered, pan fired or steamed to keep them from oxidizing, then dried. Oolongs are picked, withered, bruised to allow for oxidation, pan fired or heat treated to stop the oxidation, shaped, and dried. I have much better processing descriptions already written here if you want more detail: About Tea Page

There are still some traditional fully roasted Tie Guan Yin teas made, but they aren't as popular as the green ones. Because of this popularity, the producers in Anxi can get a little higher price for their products if they are the new style, so a lot of them are producing the green style teas mostly these days. I personally love both the roasted style and the newer green style, but I am worried that the older generation will not teach the younger generation how to roast Anxi oolongs traditionally. This is really an art that is best learned by apprenticeship, so I hope some younger people will stay in that business. Fortunately, a lot of the tea masters in Taiwan are fanatical about traditional roasting, so the art should survive there even if the people in Anxi let it slip away.


Greg

www.norbutea.com

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I am worried that the older generation will not teach the younger generation how to roast Anxi oolongs traditionally.  This is really an art that is best learned by apprenticeship... 

That is exactly my fear--that my first love in tea would vanish completely. Already it is not so easy to find, and the random tins and samples I've bought from various sources when I could not get my hands on it were not the same. And when I did find it again this time, the same tin of the same brand was cheaper than I expected, which makes me worry that it might indeed be getting less popular and less profitable, which would put its future at risk. This is one of the reasons I am trying to educate myself more about tea--so I'm less dependent on the one brand from one place.

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Greg and WmC - I have heard rumors that after several years of the light tgy being dominant, that there is renewed interest and some increased demand for the traditionally roasted tgy.

I started out preferring the roasted tgys, but have come to enjoy the lighter ones on their own terms a great deal.

And aged tgys are also worth exploring. Harder to find, but really worth exploring.

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Greg and WmC - I have heard rumors that after several years of the light tgy being dominant, that there is renewed interest and some increased demand for the traditionally roasted tgy.

I started out preferring the roasted tgys, but have come to enjoy the lighter ones on their own terms a great deal.

And aged tgys are also worth exploring. Harder to find, but really worth exploring.

I've contacted my friends in Anxi to get an answer about the local demand/supply of traditionally roasted TGY. Will report back when I hear from them.

I think Richard is correct, these two styles need to be viewed as separate but related products and enjoyed for what they are on their own terms.

I also agree that aged Tie Guan Yin can be amazing, but I think Richard and I will agree from personal experience that they can be a little finicky. :biggrin:


Greg

www.norbutea.com

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Enjoying my first brewing of "Diamond grade Tie Guan Yin" from norbutea.com and loving it. It is an interesting tea that is between my usual dark roasted & earthy Anxi Ti Kuan Yin and the Taiwan Alishan Oolong we were just tasting. It is less floral and a little more roasted than the latter, not nearly as dark and earthy as my usual tea, but still has a delightful sweet undertone. Loving it.

I will continue to explore these green Ti Guan Yins with more interest and confidence, while hoping that my traditional dark roast Ti Kuan Yin won't ever vanish.

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What Oolong teas have you explored and enjoyed? Any tea vendors that have great Oolongs or good-deal everyday Oolongs you can rcommend to us?

Check out this relatively new tea shop in Palos Verdes, CA. When you get to the site read the LA Times article that recently appeared. www.TeaHabitat.com

She specializes in "Feng-Huang Dan Cong - Phoenix Single Bush Oolong Teas." I bought a 1998 Honey Orchid Oolong which went easily through six infusions.

Regards,

Hank


'A person's integrity is never more tested than when he has power over a voiceless creature.' A C Grayling.

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That sounds amazing.

I am in process of signing up for a tea brewing and tasting session next month at this shop.

Thanks so much for the pointer.


Edited by Wholemeal Crank (log)

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after a little more browsing on the site, I think this might be the right sort of thing to dedicate the tiny 60mL yixing pot towards--at an average of $30/ounce, or $480/lb, I wouldn't be drinking this stuff in bulk....

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Those appear to be serious Dan Congs. I have not gotten any from her, but perhaps they are similar to the ones at jingteashop.com.

I use a 50 ml gaiwan for such precious leaves. A small Yixing is a good idea, but also check out her pots that are about $39. She is sold out of the smaller ones, but I assume will be getting more in. 100 ml or smaller.

It will be interesting to see how your 60 ml Yixing does. It is certainly a low quality clay at that price, so check to see if you can smell any dirt, clay, mud, chemical or other off odors in it. It may be okay, but if it smells of anything but hot rocks when you pour hot water in it, let us know. There are ways to try to clear that.

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The 60mL yixing doesn't have any off odors; I used it for a little TiKuanYin today (a greener one, not the darker roasts), starting with a hot water rinse, and it was fine. I must admit I bought it half because it was cute, but also thinking that it would be good for gong fu style with some fancier teas: a small quantity of leaves could fill it right up, and not generate too much tea to drink at one setting, even with many infusions.

Of course, after I go to her store, who knows what I may come home with!

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Enjoying my first brewing of "Diamond grade Tie Guan Yin" from norbutea.com and loving it.  It is an interesting tea that is between my usual dark roasted & earthy Anxi Ti Kuan Yin and the Taiwan Alishan Oolong we were just tasting.  It is less floral and a little more roasted than the latter, not nearly as dark and earthy as my usual tea, but still has a delightful sweet undertone.  Loving it.

I will continue to explore these green Ti Guan Yins with more interest and confidence, while hoping that my traditional dark roast Ti Kuan Yin won't ever vanish.

I had the Spring 2009 Diamond Grade (AAA) Tie Guan Yin from norbutea.com today.

6.5 g leaf in a 110 ml Yixing at 195 for all infusions.

Rinse: 20; 1: 20; 2: 20; 3: 30; 4: 45; 5: 75; 6: 105; 7: 135; 8: 195

This leaf is not nearly washed out at this point and has at least 3 - 5 more infusions left in it.

The floral aroma is not as strong in the dry leaf, the wet leaf or the tea liquor as it was when I first opened the bag a few weeks ago, but it's still quite present and pleasant and well balanced with the floral, almost creamy taste. The lingering mildly bitter-sweet after taste is still here, too.

I like this tea fine at this point, but if the overwhelming floral aroma is important to anyone drinking this TGY, I suggest drinking it sooner after opening the vacuum sealed bag.

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Still working on tea vocabulary....today I am drinking two pints of tea prepared this morning and in thermoses all day, not the perfect conditions for a fine head-to-head, but enough to give a good start.

One was 'Fanciest formosa oolong' from Harney & Sons, and the other 'Champagne Ti Kuan Yin S-365' from Chado.

Off this 'bulk' brewing I can say that the Champagne Ti Kuan Yin is similar in character to the diamond grade tie guan yin from norbutea.com and their alishan high mountain oolong--warm, floral, aromatic, fruity, really no hint of bitter, a gracious tea start to finish.

The formosa oolong is a different and interesting critter, and I am only sad to say that the sample was so small--5 grams--that I don't have any more left for a more formal brewing and tasting. But it was a lovely tea something between the fruitiest golden yunnan black teas and these lighter greener new style ti kuan yins and taiwanese oolongs. The leaves were darker and slender, but despite the darker color, it did not have the smoky or roasted notes I expect from the darker traditional roast of my red-tin ti kuan yin. It did taste like 'tea'--a hint of something lipton-like but I mean that in the best sense, not bitter, not strongly astringent, and not really vegetal like green teas or green vegetables either.

Because of my problems with bitter flavors, I suspect I will continue to spend most of my time with the oolongs and puerhs, with side trips to the most delicate black teas, and now that I have discovered the incredible floral essences of the greener oolongs, will drink less of the jasmines that, being mostly based on green teas, are a bit more problematic to brew.

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Did a more formal tasting of some high-quality green oolongs this weekend, comparing 3 Ti Kuan Yins with the Alishan Oolong we tasted here recently. All were brewed in gaiwans with 2.5g tea to 2 oz water at about 195 degrees, with preheated gaiwans and leaves rinsed once before brewing. I started out with infusions at about 1 minute, and gradually increased to 2, 3 and even 4 for the one that I kept on with the longest, but didn't keep detailed enough notes to know at which infusion the times changed. I also worked with an interesting aged version from norbutea.com, which was entirely unlike the others.

Harney & Sons Spring Floral Ti Quan Yin

after rinse, leave smell like a green tea--vegetal, a bit astringent

1-flavor like the scent--not very rich, very green, barely oolong-ish

2-less flavor 2nd time around....set leaves aside and continued with some others

came back to this 30 min or more later, reinfused, and oh wow, sweetness and floral restored and better than at first, so different, now really showing itself as a lovely floral oolong tea.

Chado Champagne Ti Kuan Yin

not a strongly scented leaf after rinse

delicious mild liquor, softly floral

still good at 2nd but not nearly as good at this point as those from norbuteas

came back to this also 30 min or more later, reinfused, and was amazed at how much it had opened up and become an interesting tea

several more infusions were also very nice

Norbu Diamond Tie Guan Yin, spring 2009 harvest

leaves--most floral of all, strongly scented, sweet, I'm in love

sweet, rich body,

same for several more infusions, gradually less floral, still delicious

(just ordered more)

still sweet 6 infusions

how can it be so sweet after 8 infusions? unbelievable

kept on to a 4 or 5 minute 11th infusion, at which point it was pretty much done.

Norbu Alishan High Mountain Oolong spring 2009 harvest

leaves--sweet, hay, floral

closer to the Diamond Tie Guan Yin in flavor than in scent--the scent is less overwhelming

a bit fruity in later infusions

amazing stuff, ditto vs the diamond tie guan yin--losing scent a bit, but still huge flavor

somewhere around 6th insfusion in--still fruitier than the tie guan yin

stopped infusing at 8th or so

And the aged stuff:

Norbutea 1990s aged tie guan yin 1g/1 oz water, in smallest yixing pot:

1st infusion is sweet, fruity, winey, something else I can't define.

similar 2nd infusion; tastes a bit like brandy, maybe? As I don't drink much alcohol, can't define it better than that, but it's a bit of a fermented taste, and not really a selling point for me.

4 or 5 infusions in--still hint of brandy, but now starting to show fruity, floral more; and a little earthiness opening up.

Interesting stuff.

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Well, I've just tried my first Tie Guan Yin; while visiting a local shop (I'm in China) I asked for an oolong because I like drinks with roasted/toasty flavours. Imagine my surprise when, after purchasing a small bag, I brewed it up to discover a delicate, floral tea that outstrips my favourite jasmine tea in light flavours. I love it, but I still crave a roasty tea, for when I want a more intense taste. I can see from the extremely detailed information in this topic that region or name alone may not be enough to distinguish a tea's flavour; what should I be looking for in the tea itself that will help me find a more roasted tea? I assume a darker leaf? A toasty smell? Or is this enough? And is there a producer that does produce a more roasted TGY?

Additionally, if a more roasted TGY is difficult to find, what other sorts of oolongs should I be looking for to find this flavour?

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what should I be looking for in the tea itself that will help me find a more roasted tea? I assume a darker leaf? A toasty smell? Or is this enough? And is there a producer that does produce a more roasted TGY?

Additionally, if a more roasted TGY is difficult to find, what other sorts of oolongs should I be looking for to find this flavour?

This is a bit tricky--I would have said that the color of leaves is an excellent guide to the flavor of the finished tea, but I first started playing with these different oolongs in the form of Pouchong, a lightly oxidized oolong from Taiwan that looks, and one of the versions I have is rather dark, but that is full of rich green leaf when brewed up, and has little odor.

But it is still entirely possible to find the darker toasted oolongs. Right now I am drinking some Big Red Robe Wuyi from Chado; I got a lovely Wuyi Oolong from Rishi Teas at the grocery store; and my favorite Ti Kuan Yin is still available in chinese markets, but sometimes is a bit tricky to find. It's the red tin in this image:

gallery_16931_6727_8081.jpg

I think the smell of the tea leaves should be reliable--if they smell toasty, it will be the old style; if bright and floral, the new style; but if they don't have a lot of odor, trickier to tell.

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Nakji-

Physically, most of the fully roasted teas will look darkish in color and sometimes have a toasted aroma depending on how recently they were roasted. A lot of the more roasted teas in China will be stored for a few months to "let out some of the fire" from the roasting, so the aroma of the teas in the shops isn't usually as strong as a newly roasted Houji Cha in Japan.

Looks can be deceiving though, so my best advice would be to find a tea market and ask for a Wu Yi Oolong. Da Hong Pao, Rou Gui, Tie Luo Han, Shui Jin Gui, and a few other tea cultivars from Wu Yi are all traditionally done in a roasted style, although they are starting to trend towards lighter roasting. When you are asking for these teas (or a roasted Tie Guan Yin), ask for a traditional style, not a light roast and be sure to taste them in the shop. If they won't let you taste, just leave the shop and find another one. Any dedicated tea shop worth anything should let you try their tea. I highly recommend Rou Gui and Shui Jin Gui, but the only problem with Wu Yi oolongs is that they can be very expensive for the real deal. There is Da Hong Pao grown outside of the Wu Yi national scenic area (sometimes called Xiao Hong Pao or Little Red Robe) that can be excellent tasting and quite affordable. I'd start there and work your way up to the other cultivars.

My two cents.

I wish I was there too!

Greg


Greg

www.norbutea.com

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Erin,

My understanding is that many if not most teashops in China will let you try a tea before buying. Cool! Because buying sight unseen is not what works out well most of the time. If you'll let me know what part of China you are in it may help in several ways.

For the toastier Oolongs, I think you would like not only the more oxidized TGYs, but also the Wu Yi Rock or Cliff Oolongs from Fujian Province such as Big Red Robe (Da Hong Pao) or Bai Ji Guan. That said, many Oolongs have versions that are more and less roasted. The roastier versions are usually considered traditional. You may also want to try some Feng Huang Dancongs from Guang Dong province. To complicate things and make them more interesting, there are many versions of all these teas and also aged versions of teas from Anxi, Guang Dong and Fujian.

So drink samples at your local shops and then buy a little of what you like - 25 g - 50 g each. There are a couple thousand Chinese teas and you can sample many that never or rarely get to the West. You lucky person.

Hope this helps a little. Maybe someone [pssst, Greg] who has traveled in China could expand upon this.

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Hope this helps a little. Maybe someone [pssst, Greg] who has traveled in China could expand upon this.

Richard, I must have pressed post just a few seconds before you! Ha!


Greg

www.norbutea.com

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Wu Yi Oolong. Da Hong Pao, Rou Gui, Tie Luo Han, Shui Jin Gui, and a few other tea cultivars from Wu Yi are all traditionally done in a roasted style, although they are starting to trend towards lighter roasting.

Excellent. Is it possible to ask you to supply me the tones for those names, since I'll have to ask for them orally? I'm not sure my local tea shop speaks enough English to ask specific questions, but I'll give it a go. And for the record, freshly roasting houjicha is one of my top-ten favourite smells in Japan!

If you'll let me know what part of China you are in it may help in several ways.

I'm living in Suzhou, with fairly regular access to Shanghai. I'm going to assume the availability of fine tea is quite good where I am, since I'm in a fairly rich province. More of a problem in Suzhou will be my ability to communicate what I'm looking for. My husband, who speaks more Chinese than I do, was in charge of the buying yesterday and almost bought me a whole jin of the TGY! When I gasped, he said he didn't think 500g of tea was that much. :biggrin: It's nice to know I can ask for a taste - that really is the best way to know for sure.

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Try these:

1. Da Hong Pao: dà hóng pào

2. Rou Gui: ròu guì

3. Tie Luo Han: tiě luó hàn

4. Shui Jin Gui: shuǐ jīn guī

5. Bai Ji Guan: bái jī guān

6. Xiao Hong Pao: xiǎo hóng pào

Exploring tea shops is one of the most fun things I can think of doing...ask around and see where the nearest tea market is. You'll do much better there in terms of price and quality than in a shop that sells pre-packaged goods.

Have fun!!! I'm having a serious urge to get on a plane right now...

Greg


Greg

www.norbutea.com

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Thanks! Those tones will help my communication efforts. Most of the tea shops on my road sell bulk tea available by weight - the one I visited had five or six bulk oolongs, plus a variety of other greens and floral teas. I'm looking forward to experimenting.

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