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I’ve lost track of how many old tea books I’ve written about by now. But it’s safe to say that, if you were so inclined, you could spend quite a bit of time reading these volumes, all of which I’ve accessed online for free. I was starting to think I was exhausting the supply of said tomes when I ran across an 1868 book by Edward Fisher Bamber. Who doesn’t get points for creativity when it came to naming his book – it’s simply called Tea.

But even though there wasn’t much thought put into the name and though it’s not a very long book, it’s always interesting to look at tea from the perspective of someone who lived a century and a half ago. Given that he seemed to write mostly on topics related to mechanics and engineering, it’s not completely clear what led Bamber to write about tea. But he suggests in the Preface that perhaps the “general” reader “may care to know more about the Tea he drinks than the price of it.”

It’s hard to find much biographical data about Bamber, but it appears that he was British and the book is written from the perspective of a British subject. He claims that at the time he and his countrymen consumed more than twice as much tea as the rest of the world. As he notes, “there is probably not a house in the United Kingdom in which Tea is not infused.”

He goes on to present a brief history of tea, noting that it made its way into Europe in 1610, into Holland, and then into Britain just over a half century later. Green tea supposedly came around in 1715, says Bamber, and by this time larger quantities of tea were being imported and the specter of adulteration was beginning to rear its ugly head more frequently.

Bamber proceeds to give a rather detailed breakdown of tea prices and tax rates and the like, which the casual reader might want to skim (or skip) over. Next up is a fairly in-depth – but more readable – chapter on tea cultivation and another on manufacture. He closes with a few brief travelogue type pieces about tea estates in India and that’s the extent of it. Take a look at it here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our line-up of Twinings Teas (ETS image)

Our line-up of Twinings Teas (ETS image)

If you wanted to discourse on the various members of the Twinings tea dynasty, you certainly wouldn’t be at a loss for material. The company moved into their fourth century of operations a few years ago and the latest of the Twinings line – Stephen Twining – is in the tenth generation of tea people from this august family.

If you wanted to read more about the Twinings family, you could try The House of Twining, 1706-1956: Being a Short History of the Firm of R. Twining & Co. Ltd, Tea and Coffee Merchants, 216 Strand London W.C.2. It’s a 115-page volume that was written by one of the Twinings nearly six decades ago. Used copies of this volume are apparently still floating around out there for a rather reasonable price.

If you’re up for instant gratification, however, you could go to various points around the Internet where free public domain books are offered and take a look at The Twinings in Three Centuries: The Annals of Great London Tea House, 1710-1910. Which might seem like a confusing title at first, but it references the fact that, at that time, the family had operated in three different centuries.

It’s a relatively slim volume that’s published by “R. Twining & Co., Ltd.” to celebrate the bicentennial of their entry into the tea business in 1710. It’s at that time that what the book calls “Tom’s Coffee House” was transformed into “an emporium for the sale and consumption of what was still timidly spoken of as ‘the new China herb.'” Tom, of course, referring to Thomas Twining, who kicked the whole thing off.

The move to tea was an opportune one for the family, given that it would eventually overtake coffee and become not only a national drink, of sorts, but an icon of British culture. The first half of the book focuses on the early days of the business, during which time it prospered greatly and ends with the death of Thomas Twining in 1741, at which point the reins were handed over to his son, Daniel.

The second half of the book deals with the generations of Twinings who followed and like the first half touches on various key incidents that took place in tea history during this time. Also worth noting, the numerous interesting illustrations that provide an excellent enhancement to the text.

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.

Observations on the Tea and Window Act and on the tea trade (screen capture from site)

Observations on the Tea and Window Act and on the tea trade (screen capture from site)

It should come as no surprise that the various family members of a prominent English tea company should come in for a mention here now and then, at a site that’s focused on English tea and tea culture. That family is, of course, the Twining family, whose firm started operating long before Americans had even formed themselves into a country.

Twinings was started by Thomas Twining in 1706 and family members have had a hand in running the business since them. They included Thomas Twining’s grandson, Richard Twining, who was profiled previously at this site. Richard Twining got into the business around 1765 and twenty years later published a volume called Observations on the Tea and Window Act: And on the Tea Trade.

Just a year earlier the British Parliament had enacted the Commutation Act, which had served to reduce the stiff tax on tea of 119% to 12.5%. As Twining wrote, in the introduction to this relatively brief (66 pages) volume, the act “does, at this moment, very much engage the public attention.” He also noted the impact of the previously high taxes on tea. He remarked that by some estimates tea importers the East India Company were responsible for about half of the tea trade while smugglers accounted for the other half. Although there were some estimates that suggested that smugglers might even have captured as much as two-thirds of the tea business.

Twinings even goes so far as to say that it was the “evils of Smuggling” which brought about the reduction in tea taxes in the first place. All of which is addressed in the first few pages of the work. From there Twining goes into a very detailed discussion of his thoughts on tea, taxation, smuggling and the like. Which is probably a lot more detail than the average reader needs – or even the avid tea enthusiast, for that matter. Which is to say you’re not likely to turn to this work for a page-turning reading experience anytime soon.

But if you skim past the dry bits there are actually some interesting insights into the how the tea trade was conducted nearly two and half centuries ago, including some short bits on tea processing the unsavory process of adulterating tea. And like so many of the old volumes that have been dug from the archives as the digitization of all known knowledge proceeds it’s readily available and the price is right.

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

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

It’s probably safe to say by now that tea production in South Carolina has progressed beyond being an experiment or that the experiment has succeeded or what have you. Of all of the many states that currently produce tea – most on a very modest scale – South Carolina is the most significant. It’s home to the Charleston Tea Plantation and is a state that’s been a host to tea production for about two centuries.

"Tea Culture: The Experiment in South Carolina" by Charles Upham Shepard (Screen capture from site)

“Tea Culture: The Experiment in South Carolina” by Charles Upham Shepard (Screen capture from site)

Writing in the latter part of the nineteenth century, however, Charles Upham Shepard apparently felt that tea growing there was still in the experimental stage. Hence the title of his 1899 book, Tea Culture: The Experiment in South Carolina. Although, to be perfectly accurate about it, Shepard’s work is actually a 27-page USDA Report, rather than a book. But it’s an interesting volume, nonetheless, and one that starts by informing us that Dr. Charles U. Shepard was a “Special Agent in Charge Tea Investigations.” Which sounds like nice work if you can get it.

Not surprisingly, given the fact that it was a USDA publication, Shepard’s report is a rather nuts and bolts affair. Though some sources suggest that tea growing was attempted in this area as far back as the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, Shepard only references experiments as early as 1848. He notes that tea can be grown in home gardens or on plantations in warm areas in the United States, but Shepard’s report focuses primarily on the established Pinehurst estate in Summerville, South Carolina.

Among the topics covered in this practical report include sections on irrigation, cost of labor, buildings and machinery and so on. Some of the more interesting sections include one on curing and quality of green tea, and A Plea for American Tea, which was an article the author penned for a Florida newspaper. Perhaps the most interesting feature of the report – and one that’s not always found in these old volumes – is a rather extensive selection of drawings and photos.

As with most of those works, thanks to the miracle of digitization, you can read it for free online.

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 books are pure delight and range from very technical and specific to a particular type of tea to more broad or just plain fun. Many tea books have been showcased on this blog, both in actual reviews but also in fellow blogger Bill Lengeman’s monthly roundup of recent and upcoming tea books. This is the review of a self-published book by a tea fellow from “Down Under.” The Infusiast was quite an experience.

“The Infusiast” — a not-so-serious yet informative tea book! (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

“The Infusiast” — a not-so-serious yet informative tea book! (Photo by A.C. Cargill, all rights reserved)

When have you read a tea book where you learned new things about tea, laughed until your sides hurt, and gained insights into the life of a tea vendor? If you said “just recently,” then you must have read this newly published book. I just read it and did all three of these things.

First, the tea lessons. Some are things I have come across in my own voyage of discovery about tea. The legend of Shen Nong, for example, is one that has made its way onto many, many, many Web sites that have even a smidgeon of tea info on them. The more realistic Lu Yu also popped up in the tome. Then there’s the tale of Catherine de Braganza who brought tea to England via her marriage. While I have by now seen dozens of tellings of these tales, each presented with only slight variations in wording, the author Robert Godden managed to present them in a fresh way. Very fresh. Face-slapping fresh. Well, not that fresh. Just nicely fresh and funny!

The chapters are set up to be sufficient to enjoy each while sipping on a freshly steeped pot of tea. Each is short enough yet long enough. And the chapter titles reflect this, starting with the preliminary chapter called “Warming the Pot.” The seven subsequent chapters (“pots”) address these topics: teas, sources, pioneers, moments, blogs revisited, cooking, and odds and ends. The writing is such that you can also skip around if you want, jumping to the cooking “pot” and then cruising back to sources or moments, etc.

As with most self-published books, this one could have used another proofreading. But then, even classic novels and new ones generated by major publishers are the same way, so who cares? Besides, there weren’t any typos so egregious that I needed to contact the author to have him tell me what the heck he was talking about. And the content was a whole lot better than that bilge spewing from those major publishers. That’s the beauty of self-publishing. Plus you can dedicate the book to your “betterer” half — in this case, Robert’s wife Anne aka Lady Devotea who partners with him in their tea business The Devotea.

Good reading with your next cuppa or two!

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.

Harney Guide to Tea (screen capture from site)

Harney Guide to Tea (screen capture from site)

Though the focus here is (obviously) on recent and upcoming tea books every once in a while I like to mention one that’s been around for a while. I mentioned this one here about four years ago but I thought I’d throw it out there again. You may have read reviews of Harney & Sons tea in these pages or the profile of “Harney” located here. A few years back, one of the sons – Michael – wrote The Harney & Sons Guide to Tea, a worthwhile entry in a rather crowded field of Tea 101 type books.

I have to admit that I’ve never attended an afternoon tea, so books on the topic aren’t usually at the top of my reading list. But I’m aware that there are many tea fans who feel differently and thus who might be interested in the recently released Maw Broon’s Afternoon Tea Book (Scots Edition), by none other than Maw Broon. Who, as I did not know before now, got her start as a member of a fictional comic strip family featured in Scottish newspapers.

Also recently released, A Cathedrals, Coffee and Tea Tour: The Guide That Refreshes Both Your Soul and Your Palate, by Simon Duffin. Who has already written a pair of guides to tea and coffee houses in the UK and the United States. This volume promises to take you “on a whistle-stop tour of 110 of the UK’s cathedrals and suggests the best place to go for a tea, coffee and cake afterwards.”

The 240th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party is approaching and it seems that there’s a never-ending flow of books on the topic, many of which are geared toward younger audiences. One of the latest is We Were There at the Boston Tea Party, by Robert N. Webb, which looks to be aimed at young adults. In this volume, says the publisher, “a brother and sister carry secret messages to Sam Adams, Paul Revere, and other patriots.”

Last up for this report, a look at the Irish love affair with tea – and they are among the world’s greatest tea lovers, mind you. All of which is commemorated in Put on the Kettle: Ireland’s Love Affair With Tea, by Juanita Browne. Among those contributing to the volume, a number of public figures who are probably better known to an Irish readership than to yours truly.

© 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 Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura (screen capture from site)

The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura (screen capture from site)

What’s the most influential book ever written about tea? Ancient Chinese scholar Lu Yu wrote one that’s said to be one of the first ever written about tea, but it’s not very easy to get your hands on an English copy nowadays. In much more modern times, the blue ribbon might arguably go to the Tea Lover’s Treasury, by James Norwood Pratt.

But you’d also have to mention The Book of Tea, by Kakuzo Okakura, a slim tome that’s apparently been in print since it was first published more than a century ago, in 1906. Check out the overview I wrote last year or read the entire book for free online at Project Gutenberg.

Or you could read it half a hundred (thousand? zillion?) other places around the Internet or pick up one of who knows how many editions elsewhere. Which brings up an interesting question – which version of The Book of Tea should you read? Correct me if I’m wrong, but for a casual reader who doesn’t require a printed copy the aforementioned edition should do just fine.

Beyond that it gets a little bit tricky. At the popular book site, Goodreads, they list more than one hundred editions of the book, while Amazon boasts a total of 200 formats and editions. Which can be a bit overwhelming. I’ve hardly got the time and space to make a comprehensive survey of the field but that won’t stop me from throwing in my two cents.

I’d start by saying that it’s very easy for just about anyone to put out an ebook or a print on demand edition nowadays, especially if they’re publishing an old book that’s not protected by copyright. Which is to say that the buyer should beware of what they’re buying and realize that what looks to be a bargain might not actually be one.

Whether you’re springing for a paper or electronic edition it probably can’t hurt to go with a reputable name and over the years such well-known publishers as Tuttle Publishing, Dover Publications and Penguin have all come out with editions of this work. But if the truth be told if the publishers have managed to get all of Okakura’s words in there and have them in the correct order there doesn’t seem to be that much to differentiate these editions from each other, aside from perhaps some illustrations and an introduction and/or commentary from some august personage.

Among those versions that seem worth mentioning, a 2011 edition from Benjamin Press that features an introduction from noted tea guy Bruce Richardson, and more. There’s also an edition from Shambhala Classics, who are well known for their books on various Asian topics. Or you could get it as part of a Zen Tea Ceremony (Mega Mini Kit), which features “a gorgeous square cloth, incense and holder, tea bowl, metal steeper, and an 88-page Book of Tea.”

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.

Green Tea (stock image)

Green Tea (stock image)

You could probably make a vocation out of studying those many and varied old texts about tea that are now available for free, in digital editions, if you were so inclined. Which would be great work if you could get it and I’ve written about quite a few of them at this site. Some are a bit dry and academic, some are rather more entertaining and a few veer toward the offbeat end of the spectrum.

Such as an 1870 book by one Alexander Teetgen, titled A Mistress and her Servant. – Dialogues on Trade in Tea and Sugar, Etc. Though to call it a book would be something of a stretch, given that it only weighs in at about 21 pages. There’s not much information that I was able to locate about the author, but you can also access a book of his poetry online, if you’re interested, as well as his critique of Beethoven’s symphonies and a few other volumes.

Things kick off with the duo named in the title who are in the “Parlour,” where they are “preparing several Articles for the Dyer.” The conversation soon turns, as it so often must have done in such situations, to a rather in-depth conversation about various aspects of the tea trade. Among the topics discussed – with numerous passages highlighted in all capitals for emphasis – is the “spurious” quality of much of the tea on the market at the time and the responsibilities of a “proper” tea dealer.

And so it goes, with each of the participants alternating sessions in which they hold forth at great length on some aspect or another of tea commerce. If it all sounds a bit forced and unnatural, that’s because it is. Unless you consider it perfectly natural that a cultured English lady and her servant should be trading such passages as the following, “it is a great mistake to suppose that any one can rush into the tea trade at a moment’s notice and conduct it properly. The article requires considerable experience and attention. So much so, that he believes that the best brokers in the trade charge as much as…”

Just to shake things up a bit, about half way into the proceedings, the author introduces the appropriately named Mr. Love-a-cup, who is involved in the tea trade in some way and who has dropped by for a visit. The servant drops out of the conversation for the most part at this point. The topic strays a bit into such subjects as women’s suffrage and others, before circling around to the promised discourse on the sugar trade that closes this peculiar work.

It’s a curious volume indeed and one can’t help wonder why the author chose such an odd means of delivery to get his message across. But if you’d like to experience it for yourself take a look at a free digital copy, here.

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

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

The Tea Trade (screen capture from site)

The Tea Trade (screen capture from site)

An American merchant who spent much of his life living in China, Gideon Nye wrote a number of books on various aspects of Chinese studies, many of which are available in your favorite free digital archive. For purposes of this article, the most noteworthy of these tomes was the 1850 volume (the third edition) he penned that was titled, Tea and the Tea Trade: Parts First and Second.

Parts of the text first appeared in a periodical known as Hunt’s Merchants Magazine and were later collected into book form. It’s a brief volume but Nye kicks it off with no small amount of praise for tea (“the article of Tea takes the first rank in the history of Commerce”). At the time tea production was an industry that was still almost exclusively limited to China. But changes were on the way, since this was around the time that the fledgling tea industry in India was just getting underway.

By this time the British had acquired quite a raging thirst for tea and, as Nye points out, the annual duties on tea imported into Great Britain was about 25 million dollars, which was no small potatoes, especially considering the value of a dollar nearly two centuries ago. Of course, when talking about the Chinese, British and tea, one can hardly ignore the opium trade that also flourished around this time – and Nye doesn’t, remarking that the British government was making 23 million dollars a year on this trade just five years earlier.

After which it’s on to a fairly in-depth discussion of what the author perceived as the heavy taxes on tea. It’s a section of the narrative that might scare off all but the most intrepid tea historians but then Nye goes on to discuss the trade with the United States. The trade there had been exempt from taxation since 1832 but Nye points out that inhabitants of the new nation were drinking quite a bit less tea than their former colonial overlords. He attributes this to the poor quality of the tea available there, as well as a lack of knowledge about how to prepare it properly (an observation that some Brits still make about us to this very day).

Nye also includes a section which offers some Testimonials of the Value of Tea, as well as Chinese Directions for the Preparation of Tea as a Beverage. The more modern counterpart to the latter is simply titled How to Make a Good Cup of Tea. From here it’s on to part two of the book, which includes a brief history of the tea industry and more facts and figures on the current British and U.S. trade, as well as a discussion of pricing. Though not mentioned in the title, part three is essentially more of the same. All of which can be a bit dry in spots, but the price is certainly right. Get you free digital copy here.

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

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

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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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