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Brewing Tea

Tea is becoming a popular beverage and new tea drinkers are asking for clear, easy instructions on how to brew. For those people who are new to tea or veterans of the fabulous beverage, there are a few simple steps to a perfect cup of tea. The first step to brewing the perfect cup of tea is to heat the teapot before adding tea. To do this, all one needs to do is add boiling water to the teapot and swirl it around to bring it up to temperature. Pour it out and select your favorite tea. Keep in mind that adding boiling water to a cool teapot will immediately cool the hot water and the concept is to maintain the proper steeping temperature.

PG Tips Tea Bag

The second step is selecting either loose leaf tea or tea bags. For those people who choose to use loose leaf tea, a large teapot with a tea strainer is a good place to start. A large teapot is ideal for this type of tea to allow the hot water to circulate and allow the leaves plenty of room to bloom during the steeping process. Tea bags are also suitable for making a perfect cup of tea, but they do not give the tea enough room to move about during the steeping process. Fortunately, many newer teabags are of a pyramid shape alleviating this problem. Regular tea bags routinely use fannings and tea dust to enhance flavor. Also, be sure to move the bag around a few times to circulate the water. Now that you have selected loose leaf tea or tea bags, it is time to mention measuring your tea. Measuring tea is very important to ensuring a pleasant flavor and aroma. The typical rule is to use 1 teaspoon of tea per cup (8 oz.) of water for a perfect cup of tea. If you are brewing a pot of tea then the ratio is 1 teaspoon per person plus one for the pot. Along the line of measuring water and tea, one needs to pay attention to the temperature of water used. Different teas achieve their best taste when using the optimal water temperature. For example, both green tea and white tea taste best when brewed with steaming water (150°-180°F).

Loose Tea

The final step in making the perfect cup of tea is proper steeping times. I will admit it is very easy to over steep tea and produce a cup that is less than pleasing. A general rule of thumb is the heavier the tea, the shorter steeping time. For example, black tea will steep for 2-5 minutes in water at a rolling boil, whereas green and white teas need to steep for 1-4 minutes in steaming water. Herbal teas are steeped for 5-7 minutes in water that is at a rolling boil. Do these ideas inspire you to brew a perfect cup of tea? I do not know about you, but I am ready to get my teapot, strainer, tea, and teacup and enjoy a delicious cup of tea. My favorite tea is Black currant tea manufactured by the English Tea Store. What is your favorite flavor of tea? Please, leave a comment and share. It is always exciting to hear from readers. Enjoy!

So often I get comments from folks saying that they are scared to try various teas. Or scared of tea altogether…it’s too complicated…it can turn out bitter…it can get oversteeped or have no taste at all… and so on. But don’t let tea scare you! It’s really quite simple. No need for witches’ cauldrons, strange ingredients like bats’ wings, and sorcerers’ apprentices making your brooms and buckets (or your teapots and cups) dance all by themselves. You just need to know a few conjurers’ (that is, steepers’) secrets.

A magic brew! (composite image by A.C. Cargill)

A magic brew! (composite image by A.C. Cargill)

Conjurers’ Secret #1

Make sure your water is free of ghosts and goblins and things that go “bump!” in the night. The better the water, the better start to that pot of tea. And the less likely you will be of getting frightened to the point of having your hair turn white (unless it already is white, in which case you will be shocked into it turning some other odd color such as fuchsia or even mauve). I use bottled spring water to be sure it is free of chlorine and chloramine, but you could use a filter on your kitchen faucet to reduce excess minerals in the water.

Conjurers’ Secret #2

Use a proper cauldron……uh, tea kettle. It needn’t be large enough for Hansel and Gretel to fit in though – just enough to hold the amount of water you’ll need to heat for your tea. They have quite a size range, so just select the one closest to the amount of tea you usually make at any one time. My tea kettle holds about 48 ounces (6 cups) of water, but others are larger or smaller. And no need to start up a roaring wood fire in a forest clearing in the dead of night. There are stovetop kettles and electric kettles so you can heat water for that cuppa any time you feel the urge.

Conjurers’ Secret #3

Employ a proper teapot for steeping that tea. Which is proper will depend largely on the tea you are steeping.

  • Black tea – A ceramic teapot, a Brown Betty (earthenware teapot), a glass teapot, or even a silver teapot.
  • Green tea – Lots of options from a glass (yes, a glass!) to a gaiwan to a Yixing teapot to even a porcelain or ceramic teapot.
  • White tea – same as for green tea.
  • Oolong – gaiwan, Yixing teapot, ceramic/porcelain teapot, even a glass.
  • Pu-erh – gaiwan, Yixing teapot.

Conjurers’ Secret #4

Let the tea dance with the water. You needn’t play any music, though. The dance of the tea seems to go with it’s own music, and it’s not “Night on Bald Mountain,” “Thriller,” the theme from “Ghostbusters,” or even “Monster Mash.” The leaves will float and sink and rise back up. They will become bloated as the cells refill with water that was evaporated out of them during processing. But unlike corpses in a swamp, these leaves become quite lovely as they swell up in that water.

Conjurers’ Secret #5

Watch out for the time. Remember that just as Cinderella’s dress turned back into rags, the coach turned back into a pumpkin, and the horses, coachman, and footmen turned back into little critters when that clock finished striking the hour of midnight, so will your tea turn into something rather unpleasant or even downright monstrous…like those gremlins getting water splashed on them or Swamp Thing becoming a deformed (but still gentle hearted) creature saving Adrienne Barbeau from disaster…if you oversteep. How long you can let your tea steep will be a matter of your own personal taste as well as a matter of the tea you are steeping. Black tea usually goes 3 to 5 minutes while you chant “Don’t be bitter. Don’t be bitter.” (Works every time.) Green teas are generally steeped only 1 to 3 minutes. Don’t forget to chant. However, some pu-erhs can be steeped as short as 30 seconds and as long as 10 minutes and you usually don’t need to chant to avoid bitterness, especially if it’s a pu-erh that has been aged at least 10 years.

Bonus: Your Special Spell for a Perfect Tea Time

Round about the cauldron go;
In the lovely tea leaves throw.
Leaves that on a mount’n did grow
Slept in winter under snow.
Pluck’d and processed while it’s hot
Ready now to steep in pot.
Toss in whole the black Typhoo
Box and all into the brew;
Add in pouch of some Earl Grey
Steep up quick ’fore light of day!
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.
Drink it when the time is right
Drink to make a perfect night!

(My thanks to Shakespeare for the inspiration.)

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.

Perfect? For me, but maybe not for you. (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Perfect? For me, but maybe not for you. (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Hundreds and maybe even thousands of articles are written on how to steep tea. Plus a ton of videos. Even so, new information always seems to pop up in discussions with tea-loving friends online. A recent incident prompted me to put down some thoughts on tea steeping instructions, and I hope you will excuse any that are repeats from past articles I’ve written. It can be tough to keep track.

First Things First

People who are new to tea or who want to explore tea beyond their normal morning or afternoon cuppa need a starting point. A general guide will be a good first try with any tea. Use boiling water for black tea and infuse for 3-5 minutes, for example. Use water heated to about 180-195°F for oolongs and infuse for 2-3 minutes, for another example. But after a few times, you will naturally find yourself trying other water temperatures and infusion times. You will leave this first guidance behind.

Moving on to Your Own Preferences

Tea invigorates, and so you will find your brain stimulated to try new things with it. The more you try, the more you will experiment. You will find that oolongs are quite varied, that you can steep them anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. You will notice a difference in your black tea when you use water that is slightly below boiling (about 200°F) and infused for 2 or 3 minutes instead of the usual 5 minutes. You may find that a whole teaspoon of dry tea per cup of water is too much – or too little!

What It All Means

We all need that start, that first instruction in how to do something. Our parents held our hands as we took our first steps and soom we were running. Our teachers started us with the alphabet and soon we knew how to read whole words and sentences and paragraphs. The first flute lesson is about how to hold it properly, where to place your fingers, how to blow across (not into) the opening, and then you can begin learning to play. So it is with tea. Steeping instructions hold your hand, teach you basics, and help you prepare for the experience. Then, you can follow your own way. Life is like that, too. Gee, no wonder tea is so popular!

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.

Iced tea with lemon (stock photo)

Iced tea with lemon (stock photo)

Lemon and tea. They go together like, well, like birthday cake and mustard. But that’s just my opinion. Yours may vary and for a lot of people lemon is an essential part of the tea-drinking experience. But how did this come to be? It might be a task for a mightier historian than yours truly but I figured I’d try to sort it out anyway.

As it turns out, finding a definitive answer was not as easy as I anticipated. But one point that came to mind while researching the topic was the term “limey,” formerly (and perhaps still?) used to refer to British sailors. The term is derived from the practice of giving limes to these sailors to help prevent a dreadful malaise known as scurvy. In truth lemon juice would do just as well as lime and was often – perhaps more so than lime – given to sailors and frequently mixed into their grog (watered down rum).

For my money the combination of tea and lemon doesn’t seem like a particularly intuitive one. But given the fact that the British were rather fond of tea by this time, it’s probably not a big leap to speculate that lemon juice managed to make its way into tea as well. In 1794, a British sailor named William Hutchinson even theorized that it was his consumption of tea that help drive away the scourge of scurvy, though he did not mention lemon or other citrus. Which might not be totally farfetched, given that some types of tea are rather high in vitamin C.

But that’s kind of beside the point for the purposes of this article and doesn’t quite sort out how lemon came to tea. Fortunately, a recent book called Modern Tea: A Fresh Look at an Ancient Beverage, by Lisa Boalt Richardson, gives a few more clues. It suggests that the concept of punch – supposedly from the Hindi word paunch – was picked up by British sailors in India. It was composed of water, sugar, lemon, arrack (distilled palm syrup) and tea. Later versions of punch might or might not have contained lemon and tea but in the end it’s likely that lemon might have made its way to tea through one of these paths.

Which ultimately led to what some feel is the greatest combination of tea and lemon. I think you know the one.

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.

According to his Wikipedia summary, James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784 –1859), better known as just Leigh Hunt, was “an English critic, essayist, poet and writer.” His own work was overshadowed by that of his more famous friends, such as the poets John Keats and Percy Shelley, but he published a number of books in his lifetime. Including The Seer: Or, Common-places Refreshed, which came out in 1840.

It’s a book of Hunt’s essays on such varied topics as pebbles, spring, windows and rainy days, just to name a few. More of interest for purposes of this site is an essay called “Tea-Drinking at Breakfast.” It opens with a rather flowery tribute to the joys of the breakfast table, “a cheerful object” and one that, of course, is “glittering with the tea-pot.”

Which goes on for a bit and then the author inquires of the readers, “do you know how to make good tea?” Fortunately, for those who might not possess this particular skill, he goes on to provide a few tips. If you’re wondering how this works here’s the condensed version – a metal tea-pot, thoroughly boiling water, soft water, and warming the pot before steeping, to name a few.

The perfect cuppa! (ETS image)

The perfect cuppa! (ETS image)

Then there’s that age-old question about what to do with the milk. Hunt recommends putting it in the cup along with sugar before pouring in the tea. All of which – and more – can be boiled down to the following, “boiling, proportion and attention, are the three magic words of tea-making.”

From there Hunt goes on at fairly great length on various tea-related topics, including a discussion of its origins in China and some not so flattering thoughts about the Chinese. And more, all of it delivered in Hunt’s oftentimes rambling, verbose and florid prose. One might also note that the subject of tea and breakfast is not all that extensively treated. But while it might be a little tough to get through it’s yet another document in the long history of tea and thus is still worth a look.

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 wanted to make a few cautious generalizations about the future of tea – as I’m about to do – you could start by taking a look at the past. At its most basic, tea is a relatively simple thing, at least in comparison to something like a computer or an iPhone. Which is to say much of it has not changed over the years and will likely not do so in the future.

On the production end of things it’s probably safe to say that tea growing and harvesting is not that much different than it ever was, except for the fact that some of the key steps have been mechanized. But while some aspects of tea harvesting, for example, have been mechanized in certain regions, the delicate nature of tea leaves and the precision required to select just the right ones means that we often still see good old-fashioned non-mechanized humans plucking them. Perhaps we’ll see slightly more sophisticated machines processing and harvesting tea in the future but will it look that much different than it does now? It’s not for me say.

Then there’s that critical portion of the tea equation – making it ready to drink. Which also hasn’t changed that much over the centuries – except when it has. While we see more fancy automated gadgets as the years pass and we’ll undoubtedly see more in the future, for many people the process of heating water and pouring it over tea leaves or a bag is not that much different than it ever was.

But what about the business of conducting the business of tea? Look to the past again. The flurry of tea houses that opened in the United States and elsewhere in the last decade or so would not have seemed all that unfamiliar to Thomas Twining, who went into business in the early days of a coffee/teahouse craze that was sweeping through London in the seventeenth century.

Of course Twining and his contemporaries didn’t have Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and so on to help them get the good word out, nor could his customers make use of online commerce to order tea and have it shipped to their front door. When it comes to figuring out what types of these technological wonders the future might hold maybe you could try looking toward science fiction.

One thing is fairly certain, no matter how far into the future you go. People will still drink tea in their homes and workplaces (which may look a bit more Jetsonish), and they will probably still gather in public places devoted to the fine arts of tea selling and consuming.

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.

Keemun Panda (ETS image)

Keemun Panda (ETS image)

Sometimes a tea will surprise you. Not that this is necessarily a good thing. For me, at least, there have been good tea surprises and there have been bad ones. Obviously, I’d prefer the former but sometimes in this life we have to take the hand (or tea) we’re dealt.

I’ve learned to like Keemun over the years, a type of tea I didn’t care that much for at first. It’s a black tea from China that often has a hint of smokiness, something that I don’t normally like much in tea. But over time I’ve learned to like the more subtly smoky examples of this tea.

So I was mildly interested when a bunch of samples I was sent recently contained something that was described as a “superfine” Keemun. I was even more interested – in fact, quite intrigued – when I opened the package and was assaulted by the overwhelming aroma. And I mean that in a good way. I hastened to move this tea to the head of the stack of samples I’d been sent and steeped some right away.

And what a surprise it was. I wouldn’t say that it didn’t have any taste at all, but I’d venture to say that it came very close. I was less than impressed. I intend to give it another try just to make sure that I didn’t make a mistake while I was preparing it. But for now I’ll check this up to the “not very good surprise” category.

But there are also some good surprises when it comes to tea. As I’ve already suggested, one of my first steps in judging a tea is to simply open the package and evaluate the aroma of the dry leaves. There is generally a correlation between the smell of the leaves and the taste of the tea, except in such cases as noted above. The flip side of this are those rare good surprises when a bland smelling tea turns out to be a winner. It doesn’t happen often but that only serves to make it more surprising.

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.

Tea Bag Squeezer (ETS image)

Tea Bag Squeezer (ETS image)

To dunk or not to dunk? To squeeze or not to squeeze?

I suspect that for many people who use a teabag to prepare tea it’s probably quite common to dunk the bag repeatedly and to squeeze it when you’re finished. There are even specially constructed tongs that are designed to assist with the latter action. But should you be inflicting all of this on your teabag? What exactly is the proper way to handle your teabag? Our very own esteemed editor tackled that topic a little while back and came down on the side of not squeezing, but I thought I’d look around to see if any research had been done on the topic.

Lo and behold. It turns out that there has been some research. With regard to the dunking question, here’s an article that recently appeared in the Irish press that weighed in on the matter, courtesy of a chap identified as a tea chemist. Read it all, if you’re so inclined, but here’s the conclusion, “I cannot find a difference between dunking and not dunking under controlled circumstances – so do it how you want.” Here’s a more detailed version of the same article that even includes some math that supposedly helps explain it all.

But what about squeezing? There’s no research cited, but some of the great names of British tea selling have weighed in on this very matter. At the Twinings web site they offer a primer called “How To Taste Tea” which suggests that squeezing your tea bag is not necessarily a bad thing, but “Its best not to overly squeeze your tea bag because this could release deep rooted tannins and they taste very bitter.”

At the web site for yet another British tea maker, Yorkshire Tea (part of Taylors of Harrogate), they offer some tips on how to make a proper brew and also suggest that squeezing in moderation is probably the best course of action, “Remove the teabag with a spoon giving it just one gentle squeeze.”

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.

Gyokuro Japanese Green Tea (ETS image)

Gyokuro Japanese Green Tea (ETS image)

There many ways to prepare tea. You can do it the old school way with a tea kettle and a teapot. You can do it in a more newfangled way (guilty) with water heated in a microwave and a gravity type infuser. Or the even more newfangled method of using a fancy gadget that does much of the work for you.

But when you boil it down, preparing tea is about applying hot water to tea leaves. The details of it are up to the individual, but that’s how it’s done – except when it’s not. I’m no scientist and this is a layperson’s description of the process, but what’s important about preparing tea is to transfer the essence of the tea leaves to the water. Hot water will accelerate the process, but if you have a little more time on your hands cold brewing might work just as well.

Some of the benefits of doing things this way are fairly obvious. If you’re preparing tea in warm weather, it’s a plus not to have to use the stove to heat the teakettle – and the surrounding environment. One of the other main benefits of this method is simplicity. All that’s needed is a container and something to hold or strain the leaves. You can spend money for a fancy “cold infusion set” and whatnot, if that’s what grabs you. But a simple glass container should work just fine. Finally, there are those who claim that tea prepared this way has a better flavor.

As for that question of when steeping is complete, it’s kind of up for grabs. Overnight is a term that gets tossed around a lot when discussing this sort of thing, but it can vary according to the type of tea and whom you’re asking. The consensus seems to be that lighter teas such as green should be steeped for a shorter time, perhaps as little as four hours. One primer I read recommended steeping the Japanese green tea known as Gyokuro in ice and serving it when the ice had fully melted. More robust teas such as black are likely to call for a longer steep times, though I might question the wisdom of the four-day steep recommended in one how-to article.

Like so many other things that have to do with tea, the best course of action when it comes to cold infusing is to experiment and see what works best for you.

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.

The tips just keep coming. It seems that everyone who has ever steeped tea has the perfect method (even author George Orwell). And I’m here to present even more tips on steeping that perfect pot of tea.

Perfection is up to you! (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

Perfection is up to you! (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

I’m going to begin by defining the goal here a bit better. Let’s think about a few things. What is “perfect”? What is “tea”? What is “steeping” (or infusing or brewing)? [A bit of a side note here: technically, you infuse tea, but culturally folks are used to saying steeping or brewing, so whatever works for you is fine here.]

A Perfect Pot of Tea Defined

For each type of tea this will be different. For flavored teas where fruits, flower petals, spices, and other items have been added to the tea leaves, again this will be different for each. Generally, perfect will be the exact right combination of tea, water, temperature, steeping time, and steeping vessel. Each will work in tandem to bring the full flavors out of the tea leaves and any additives.

Okay, Now How to Achieve This

The options are infinitesimal. A quick online search for “how to steep perfect tea” can pop up thousands of hits. Some are definitely better than others. The general advice is to use certain water temperatures and steeping times depending on the type of tea (white, green, yellow, oolong, black, or pu-erh). But there is also the school of thought that divides general tea steeping methods into Western (non-Asian) and Asian. There are lots of variations within each, but generally, Western uses larger pot sizes (2-, 4-, and 6-cup being the most common) and larger cups (4 to 16 ounces) while Asian teapots and cups are much, much smaller and measured in milliliters (ml) or cubic centimeters (cc).

Focusing on the Western approach, it is good to use a glass, ceramic, or bone china teapot for steeping, determine the proper temperature for the water and the steeping time, warm the teapot with a little hot water, add the tea (loose is best, but I understand that it can be a bit too much fuss, so an infuser or even teabags are good here).

Temperatures & Time Recommendations (for hot tea):

Tea Type Tsp per Cup Temp Time
White 1 to 1.5 80-85°C (175-185°F) 4 to 9 mins
Yellow 1 90°C (195°F) 3 mins
Green 1 65-80°C (150-175°F) 45 secs to 4 mins
Oolong 0.5 to 1 90°C (195°F) 3-6 mins
Black 0.5 to 1 90-96°C (195-205°F) 2-5 mins
Pu-erh 0.5 96°C (205°F) 15 secs to 7 mins
Blooming* 1 ball 83°C (180°F) 3-4 mins or until open

*Blooming teas are in tight balls (or other shapes) and take longer to open and the water works its way in.

Bottom Line

The best way to steep the perfect pot of tea is to do a bit of research first and then apply that knowledge. Enjoy!

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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© 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 blog’s author and/or 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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