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posted on Sunday, August 24, 2014 - 6:00pm by Michael Harwood

Color Chips

In coffee retailing, it's important to remember that we eat and drink first with our eyes. Imagine a beautifully poured cappuccino featuring a glossy sheen, tight microfoam, and high color contrast between the espresso and milk. Now match that against a bubbly, whited out, haphazardly poured cappuccino. It's clear which beverage wins in terms of visual appeal. Of course, this doesn't necessarily match up with the best taste, but you have to lead a horse to water to even get it to start thinking about taking a drink!

Nuova Point

There are many sensory indicators that alert us to our potential enjoyment or dismay with a food or drink. From the size, shape, and texture to the smells, tastes, and even the sound of the chew, our brains are constantly interpreting myriad stimuli. One of the leading attributes in flavor perception is color. How do we know which colors are appetizing? It largely depends on the context. We might expect a bright red tomato to taste delicious either because we understand fruit maturation or we've learned an association from a past experience. One might also argue that a bright red tomato intuitively looks tasty and inviting. In the case of coffee, we mostly expect our beverages to look brown or brown and white. Despite the apparent simplicity of color palette, there are gradations of red, brown, and black in brews, while the skillful mix of brown and white in a milk drink undoubtedly has the potential to enhance our experience.

Additionally, the color of the vessel seems to alter flavor perception. Attributable to the link below, brown cups are purported to heighten the perception of strength and aroma in coffee, while red cups reduce its perceived strength. Yellow or blue cups are observed to raise the perception of a smoother taste. It's not a stretch to imagine that these color perception-altering sensory inputs also extend to brand identity, labeling, and shop color motifs. If this is true, it is wise to consider the color palette your cafe is utilizing. Read more here: http://www.atyourpalate.com/blog/2013/01/eating-with-your-eyes-changes-w...

Retail bags at Ceremony

So there's how colors affect our flavor perception, but what about identifying flavors as colors? I used to love red Kool-Aid, blue Icy Pops, and orange M&Ms. I was so fascinated with color-flavors that I entered the 8th grade Science Fair with an experiment on M&M color favoritism and subliminal messaging. Being that the test subjects were my 8th grade peers, they all tried to guess what I was doing and purposely attempted to throw off my results. Adolescent behavior aside, I do seem to remember the brighter colors being more popular. These days, I still think about colored flavors, especially during contextual tastings like cuppings. This association behavior creates an echo when I find myself detailing a coffee to a customer in terms of its color(s). This habit could also be attributed to spending a good deal of time staring at the SCAA's Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel. Take a look and you'll quickly notice a pattern between the colors and aromas/tastes.

To note, making associations is not quite the same as the neurological phenomenon known as synesthesia. If you involuntarily experience a crossing of sensory information, you might be a synesthete. This condition is not considered to be harmful and may actually help affected folks memorize information (or they may simply get a kick out of it). For example, Synesthetes might perceive specific letters as specific colors or certain smells might bring on certain emotional states. We all experience a hint of synesthesia from time-to-time! It might even be possible to learn a specific synesthesia through repeated associative conditioning.

Cupping at Ceremony

For us, talking about coffees as colors is simply an evocative way to associate with what you might experience. At our last public cupping, we wanted to find out what colors our customers associated with or even tasted in our coffees, so we put them to a test. We lined up 16 different coffees - 13 peak/filter roasts and 3 espresso roasts. Our friends smelled the dry ground fragrance, the wet aroma at various points, and proceeded to sip and slurp. While they were smelling and tasting, we provided 8 different colors (via paint chips) to vote with (red, pink, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, and brown). We noted that you could vote with one or many colors for a given coffee, then we watched. At the end, we tallied up the votes and announced our results, which you may find below!

Taste by Color results

As you see, about half of our offerings are super vibrant! These coffees are mostly red, orange, yellow, and even green, displaying fruit, floral, and herbaceous aromas and flavors. The textures here feel quite electric, exciting, and so alive! As we move down the chart, we notice more and more brown. In juxtaposition to the brighter, livelier coffees, these browner brews showed more heat-applied/cooked flavors like toasted almonds, toffee, and baked granola. Though these browner coffees mostly are what they are, you'll note that there are splashes of brighter colors with each of them. Even Mass Appeal, which is designed to be as brown as they come, has a hint.

After seeing this, we'd be hard-pressed to label a coffee as one color. They are rather, collections of colors, each being uniquely observed at a different recipe, grind, time, temperature, or palate. This is what's so beautiful about coffee. It's not one color - it's many colors. If you don't like orange, try purple and red. If brown is more your thing, that's great too! The question with any coffee is, what color palette am I starting with and how am I going to mix these hues through extraction to create the most inspired work of art I can?

Until next time, happy brewing!

posted on Saturday, August 9, 2014 - 3:45pm by Michael Harwood

Coffee is full of mythologies, pseudo-science, and half-baked hypotheses. Correlations are observed and are presumed to be causation. Quite a bit of food science follows this pattern (see the recent gluten reversal as an example). In the case of coffee storage, customers are told to put their seeds in the fridge or freezer to extend its shelf-life. Between a mixed truth and how popular this idea has become, we often have folks asking if these chilling appliances are appropriate for their storage needs. Let's put that answer aside for just a moment and explore what happens to coffee as it ages.

Chiapas Drying Patio

When sacks of green coffee arrive at the roastery, their life-clocks have already been ticking two to four months. It might be helpful to know that well-processed coffee isn't simply picked and sent post-haste to our roastery. There is a beneficial stage called processing that may involve depulping, enzymatic breakdown, and quite importantly - steady drying until the green seeds fall to roughly 11% moisture content. These unroasted seeds are constantly exchanging moisture with the air and whatever else surrounds it. For green coffee to be stable during its long journey to our roastery, it must be dried in an intentional, even, Goldilocks style way (not too hot & fast, not too cool & slow). Thoughtful, dedicated farmer-producers and their teams are crucial to these steps! That said, the aging of the green coffee might be seen as trivial compared to the staling spell roasting puts the beans under.

When a coffee order is placed, our roasting team gets to work, utilizing years of knowledge, skill, and experience to guide that coffee's journey from green to brown. As this happens though, they are setting into motion thousands of chemical and physical changes that propel the coffee down a path to its imminent stale demise. Now, this is absolutely a necessary evil! Without roasting, your cup of coffee wouldn't taste very good at all (it might even make you nauseated). That's because roasting involves taking many compounds through a conversion process, giving us great sweetness, liveliness, aroma, and body in our brews. Due to these conversions, many compounds prone to oxidation and other forms of breakdown are created. It calls to mind Tennyson's writing -

'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all

We are definitely going to lose our coffee sooner once roasted, but oh is it worth it!

It is generally thought that a roasted coffee tastes good for two to four weeks. That's not a bad guideline to brew by, but as with most rules, it is a huge generality. So what are the factors that might skew this timeline? To find out, we dug deep into the internet and we put the same coffee (Kenya Gondo) through many different storage processes to see which preserved flavor and which ruined it.

Jin at the Loring

Roast is a big factor in freshness. The more a green coffee is developed through roasting, either for a longer amount of time and/or through higher temperatures, the more prone it becomes to staling. This is due to both physical and chemical changes. One of the main physical changes is the increasing volume and porosity of the seed. Increasing roast development opens up the seed's pores to a greater degree. The result is that volatile aromatics, lipids, and carbon dioxide all diffuse at an accelerated rate. A more developed roast has also produced more free radicals within itself, meaning that it will naturally oxidize more quickly. The bottom line is that a lighter (read: denser) roast is going to stay fresh longer. That is not to say that lighter roasts are better, period. Utilizing this knowledge with an application towards different roast profiles is the key - understanding that darker roasts will taste better earlier off-roast (typically 1-2 weeks), while lighter roasts may stay tasting pretty good for several weeks (1-4 weeks). This same porosity difference is why more developed roasts often smell more pungent in their "wholeseed" form than do less developed roasts.

Brew method matters! We find that the espresso machine (with its high pressure brewing) allows us to get more out of our coffees later in their age (after three weeks) than handbrewed methods do. This principle affects the first week off-roast as well. Due the high amount of carbon dioxide being released from the grounds, which is created by Strecker degradation during roasting, espresso shots that are pulled earlier than a week off often taste sour and exhibit a boatload of crema. You might see all of this crema and think, "That looks great!" Unfortunately, this rampant crema creates that sour taste we mentioned through carbonic acid and misleading us visually into underextraction (which is why scales are the jam; they don't lie!). Handbrewed methods seem to get along better with super fresh roasts (1-4 days off), which probably has a lot to do with the carbon dioxide having somewhere to go (namely, the air).

Speaking of air, oxygen may be coffee's number one threat in terms of medium to long-term staling. From the moment the roaster catalyzes new compounds, oxygen gets busy breaking them down. Shortly after roasting, the seeds are putting off enough carbon dioxide to blunt the intake of the invading oxygen. As this carbon dioxide dissipation wanes, oxygen creeps in. As if staling weren't bad enough, oxygen also has the gall to turn coffee oil rancid. Remember that the more open a coffee's pores are, the faster the lipids will diffuse to the surface, becoming oxidized and turning rancid much more quickly. The bottom line is that keeping oxygen away from your coffee is an imperative to maintaining freshness. An airtight bag with a one-way air valve helps tremendously! Airtight canisters where the lid can be compressed do a great job too.

Moisture takes its own toll on a coffee's flavor. Coffee is hygroscopic, meaning it exchanges water freely with its environment. Put your coffee in the fridge or even leave the bag open for a while on a super humid day, and you'll notice a loss of volatile aromatics due to increased water exchange. In layman's terms, your coffee won't have as much of a distinctive aroma, which is the biggest contributor to flavor. For this reason, we do not recommend the refrigerator for storage. The pantry seems to do the trick. In our cupping, the fridge sample wasn't terrible, but wasn't good either.

Heat also breaks your coffee down by speeding up chemical processes. We do use high heat to roast the coffee, but just as too much roasting can ruin a batch, so can leaving your roasted seeds exposed to heat thereafter. The two biggest culprits here are direct sunlight and leaving a bag in the car on a hot day. We can tell you from experience that these issues cause more immediate harm to flavor than just about anything else, as the worst tasting sample in our experiment was the bag left in my car. The remedy is simple - don't leave your seeds exposed to sunlight or trapped in a hot car! Again, a cool, dry pantry is probably your best bet.

Ceremony bag in the freezer

Now we come to freezing. The devil is in the details here. We cannot recommend that you put your bag into the freezer if you're going to take them out and put them back in several times. However, if you have a nice, airtight bag of coffee that you won't be able to drink for a while (maybe you're going on vacation or you just have too much coffee around), putting it into the freezer and thawing it once will preserve it quite well (although it does seem to fade rather quickly thereafter)! When we tasted these results, we were a little shocked, but the proof was in the cup! A clever trick for freezing might be to break a single bag down into ziplock baggies of individual portions. Freeze all of the little baggies, then remove only the baggie you need for that day. This will keep all the others nice and frozen until you are ready to use them. Even with this advantage, most of our guests in the cupping agreed that fresh, unfrozen was still the best.

The packaging also seems to have an effect. Our previously unopened and opened white Ceremony tie down bags showed quite well in the cupping. This is probably due to their well-sealed lining and its one-way air valve, which lets gas out, but not in. For occasional in-house use, we also have some thin metal composite bags. These do not have an air-valve, seemed to leak from various points, and did not show as well in the cupping. It's good to know that our elegant white retail bags are doing a good job! If you and we wanted to take our storage to the next level, we could do an inert gas flush (like nitrogen or argon) to the bag. We'll keep you all posted if this becomes a reality for us! I've heard that a gas flush into a freshly roasted coffee can easily extend shelf life of that unopened bag to five weeks. Here's to progress against staling!

Ceremony coffee bags

In the end, the best storage practices are to look for a recent roast date, buy enough fresh coffee to get you through a week or two, place that coffee into a cool, dry pantry or cupboard, don't open the bag until the first day you're actually going to drink it, reseal it well/push the air out, and keep an eye on that roast date!

If you have any useful tips or tricks for storing your coffee, please let us know at michael@ceremonycoffee.com.

Until next time, happy brewing!

posted on Sunday, June 15, 2014 - 9:45am by Michael Harwood

Where Test I: Bolivia Apolo was focused on light brown sweetness and Test II: Rwanda Gitesi was a sweet-tart candy of complex fruit, Test III: Sumatra Tano Batak is many of our favorite sweet green flavors ensconced in the arms of a big, comforting body. Sumatras are known for having fuller bodies than most coffees and that holds true here. This isn't your Dad's Sumatra though (Happy Father's Day, Dad!). Instead of earthy, dirty, mellow flavors, our Tano Batak is going to give you one of the most exciting Sumatran flavor profiles you've ever had. Imagine baked caramel apple, your favorite hops, and Green Chartreuse (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chartreuse_%28liqueur%29).

Test III

As this is our Rorschach Espresso Test, you'll be tasting a blend of the Sumatra Tano Batak that is one part filter profile and one part espresso profile. These two roast profiles have been aged for different amounts of time to get you the sweetest, most flavorful coffee possible. This coffee is intended for espresso extraction, so we have provided a starter recipe below. You'll notice we run more water for a longer period of time than with our Destroyer or Mass Appeal blends. This has a lot to do with the denser, brighter filter roast in the blend.

Sumatra Tano Batak Mélange
50% filter profile/50% espresso profile
Ideal Off-Roast Dates: Filter - 3 weeks off; Espresso - 1 week off
Recipe: A 1:2 to 1:2.2 weight ratio, about 2 - 2.2 fl. oz., we might call this Normale to Normale Plus
Dose: However much fits comfortably in your basket (fill it up and level it off without settling to find out), we use 20.5 grams
Beverage Weight: If a 20.5 gram dose at the 1:2 - 1:2.2 range of weight ratios, then extract 41 - 45g grams beverage weight
Extraction Time: 40 - 45 seconds total extraction time (if no soft infusion stage)
Brew Temperature: 201 F

Check it out and let us know what you taste!

posted on Wednesday, May 14, 2014 - 5:45pm by Michael Harwood

http://store.ceremonycoffee.com/coffees/rorschach.html

Rorschach Test II

We are thrilled by the response to the Rorschach Espresso Project thus far! Thank you to everyone who has shared this idea, given feedback, and tasted it! We take great satisfaction in seeing this idea spark curiosity in what espresso can taste like.

We hope you are having fun dialing-in and enjoying those big, sweet, exciting flavors found in Test I: Bolivia Apolo. Now hold onto your hat for Test II! Over the next two weeks, we're releasing Rwanda Gitesi as a 50% filter roast, 50% espresso roast blend, bringing together the best of both profiles. The lighter Gitesi is super sweet, juicy, and tea-like in flavor. The darker Gitesi is deeper, bittersweet, and a little spicy. Together, they are well-balanced, complex, and unbelievably delicious! Where the Bolivia Apolo shows sublime restraint, the Rwanda Gitesi brings the heat in the flavor department. We think you'll love it!

As with Test I, we are aging the roasted filter component of the blend in-house. This means that the coffee gets to you when it's ready to be extracted (about 3 weeks off-roast). This sort of aging is not the kind of thing we'd normally be into. Freshness in coffee is typically paramount. Our preferred off-roast dates are 2 days - 2 weeks off for non-espresso brewing (like pour over or press pot) and 6 days - 3 weeks off for espresso. These timelines have a lot to do with how different roast profiles age out. Darker roasts age/stale more quickly than lighter roasts (something to consider when ordering coffee), meaning that a blend of two different roast profiles may want different ages for an ideal extraction. The brewing method also plays a big role. Pressurized espresso extractions often aren't equipped to deal with fresh, gassy coffees as effectively as manual brewers are, unless they have a soft infusion stage. That said, aggressive espresso does extract flavor from older coffee more efficiently than the gentle extraction of a pour over or press pot. This connects with the reason we age the filter roast component of the blend, to allow a denser seed the time needed to degas and mature into a range of flavors that taste amazing. The less dense, espresso profile component on the other hand, only needs a week of aging before being subjected to espresso extraction. This is why you will see two roast dates on your bag of Rorschach. Both blend components are aged to their maximum deliciousness.

If you are curious about how we enjoyed Rorschach Test II: Rwanda Gitesi, check out our suggested starting point recipe below:

Rwanda Gitesi Mélange
50% filter profile/50% espresso profile
Ideal Off-Roast Dates: Filter - 3 weeks off; Espresso - 1 week off
Recipe: A 1:2.2 to 1:2.4 weight ratio, about 2.2 - 2.4 fl. oz., we might call this Normale Plus
Dose: However much fits comfortably in your basket (fill it up and level it off without settling to find out), we use 22 grams
Beverage Weight: If a 22 gram dose at the 1:2.2 - 1:2.4 range of weight ratios, then extract 48 - 53g grams beverage weight
Extraction Time: 40 - 45 seconds total extraction time (no soft infusion stage)
Brew Temperature: 201 F

Just like with Test I, you'll notice a larger shot weight/volume and a longer extraction time than we might consider normal (normal being ~2oz & 20-30sec). Of course, when we start playing with non-traditional roast profiles as espresso, "normal" ceases to be as relevant. It is exciting to think of the possibilities if we take that perspective!

Thanks again for experimenting with us. We hope (think) you'll love Rorschach Test II: Rwanda Gitesi as much as we do! Be on the look out for Test III in a couple weeks!

posted on Sunday, April 20, 2014 - 2:45pm by Michael Harwood

http://store.ceremonycoffee.com/coffees/rorschach.html

Rorschach Ink Blot Card V

What do you want to perceive when you taste espresso? "Big bodied, bittersweet, and rich" is an oft-heard refrain, but do many of us say that because those qualities are what we actually like best or are we simply conditioned by what has come before? What if I told you that espresso could be something different, even something more? There's nothing wrong with the aforementioned profile, but the current prevailing thought is that only a more developed roast is appropriate for pulling shots. With the popularity of milk-based coffee beverages, it comes as no surprise that we stick to roasts offering heavier bodies and deeper flavors. But what about those folks who don't drink milk-based coffee beverages or those who simply want a sweeter and livelier espresso? I believe it's just as important to satisfy those customers. So that raises some interesting thoughts. If we take more of an interest in our non-dairy customers and the flavor of the espresso on its own, should we roast the same for espresso extraction? Further, would we see the same sales breakdown of milk versus non-milk drinks? And importantly, would that increased focus on and sales of non-milk espresso beverages be a good thing for all parties involved?

With these questions in mind, we set about pulling shots of our filter roasts and were mostly delighted by what we found (not every coffee works). Imagine the sweetest, cleanest shot you've ever had, then crank it up. We love more developed roasts for what they offer, but you can't escape the bitter, roasty flavors they leave behind. This roast pungency hangs around in your cup (smell your used demitasse next time) and on your palate like a guest who has overstayed their welcome. In comparison, an empty demitasse from a filter profile espresso smells sweet, clean, and pleasantly aromatic. You'll find the aftertaste exhibits the same sweet, clean quality. The reason is fairly simple - high quality green coffee seeds (read: ripe harvest, meticulous sorting, very few or no defects) are packed with sucrose. The further we take our roasts, the more we convert those sweet sugars into bitter compounds. This is what makes lighter, filter roasts literally sweeter. If you like sweetness, lighter roast espressos may be for you.

Rorschach Espresso

During our espresso tests, our Bolivia Apolo stood out for its exceptional sweetness. As a pour-over, Apolo delivers a delightful profile of nougat, honey, Nutella, and pear (check it here: http://store.ceremonycoffee.com/coffees/bolivia_apolo.html). With the same filter roast profile, an espresso extraction brings out a sweet bouquet of nougat, pear, and tropical fruit. We were very excited about these flavors, but wanted to see what would happen if we mixed a bit of the filter profile with an equal part espresso profile. The results were pretty mind blowing. We got the best of both worlds - some of the body, moderate sugar browning, and flavor depth you might expect from espresso, mixed with the high sweetness, liveliness, and clarity you find with a filter profile. When we found it pairing well with milk, we knew we were onto something.

This is how our Rorschach Espresso Project came to be as a blend of Bolivia Apolo Filter & Espresso Roasts. We're excited to offer this exceptional coffee experience as a roast mélange, something you don't see everyday. A "mélange" in coffee vernacular is simply a blend of different roast levels of the same coffee. We use blending to find greater balance and complexity. In this case, we are interested in striking a balance between conventional expectations (an espresso should taste like...) and imagination (an espresso can taste like...). When blending these different profiles near 50:50, this balance is attained, making this espresso both familiar and exciting.

To read more about why we blend, here's a blog post flashback: http://goo.gl/lf7Y99

But isn't lighter roast coffee really sour as espresso? One of the main tricks to extracting pretty much any coffee of any roast level is to understand the ratio of how much coffee to how much water you should use. Upping your water dose generally equals more extraction. A good rule of thumb is that the lighter the roast, the more water you'll need to extract the right balance of flavors from the coffee. The darker the roast is, the less water you'll need. Let's put some numbers to it:

For a Dark Roast (like a French Roast) - 1:1 dose weight to beverage weight ratio, about 1 fluid ounce, called Ristretto
For a Medium Roast (like our Destroyer and Mass Appeal) - 1:2 dose weight to beverage weight ratio, about 2 fluid ounces, called Normale
For a Light Roast (like our filter roast coffees) - 1:3 dose weight to beverage weight ratio, about 3 fluid ounces, called Lungo

See our Espresso Recipes chart for more reference:
Espresso Recipes

Imagine you're dosing 20 grams into your portafilter basket. For that dark roast, you'd extract 20 grams of beverage weight, which gives us our 1:1 weight ratio. For a medium roast, it's 1:2, so that 20 gram dose should yield 40 grams of beverage weight. A light roast would need to yield 60 grams. Does this oversimplify things a bit, given variation in seed density and other factors? Absolutely, but it is useful to start with these roast-based ratios to help you get in the ballpark. For a relevant comparison, we extract Destroyer and Mass Appeal to a 1:1.8 - 1-1.65, depending on the age off-roast. This falls between Normale and Ristretto. We like to call that recipe our Golden Ratio.

The reason why we use different amounts of water for different roast levels comes down to a few factors. For one, darker roasts are more porous, due to the expansion of the seed matrix during roasting. Water has better access to the core of the grounds with a more porous coffee. Since water has better access, it takes less water to get the job done. Two, darker roasts have a low percentage of bright and sweet flavors and a high percentage of bitter flavors. Medium roasts are fairly balanced between bright, sweet, and bitter flavors. Lighter roasts have a high percentage of bright and sweet flavors and a low percentage of bitter flavors. If we go back to the aromatic semicircle on the Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel, we can see that bright flavors extract first, sweet flavors second, and bitter flavors third. If we understand the order of different compounds in extraction and we understand the flavor palette a given coffee has to offer (as dictated by terroir, process, and roast - lots of brightness? lots of bitter?) , then we can see that it is better to extract a lighter roast to higher yields and darker roasts to lower yields. This helps lighter roasts get out of the bright flavors and into the sweet. A lower yield helps darker roasts from running into bitter flavors too quickly. No matter if this all sounds confusing or like a lot of fun, we'd love to have you over for our Introduction to Espresso and Bar Flow class to work with this concept more. Sign up here: http://ceremonycoffee.com/events

SCAA Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel

Now that we have extraction covered, here's a recipe we found to work really well with our Rorschach espresso:

Bolivia Apolo Mélange
50% filter profile/50% espresso profile
Ideal Off-Roast Dates: Filter - 3 weeks off; Espresso - 1 week off
Recipe: A 1:2.2 to 1:2.4 weight ratio, about 2.2 - 2.4 fl. oz., we might call this Normale Plus
Dose: However much fits comfortably in your basket (fill it up and level it off without settling to find out), we use 21 grams
Beverage Weight: If a 21 gram dose at the 1:2.2 - 1:2.4 range of weight ratios, then extract 46 - 50g grams beverage weight
Extraction Time: 40 - 45 seconds total extraction time
Brew Temperature: 201 F

We're running this project with a brilliant coffee from Bolivia, but nothing is stopping you from throwing any of our filter profile coffees in your espresso hopper. Is that filter bag on the shelf getting old? Pop it in the espresso hopper around three weeks off roast. When you do, simply remember that you'll likely need more water than you've previously used, probably around the Lungo (1:3) ratio. Dial-in for the recipe (probably 40 - 45 second brew time), then use your grind adjustment to dial up and down in time. Higher time heads towards sharp, dry, and bitter flavors. Shorter time heads towards softer and brighter flavors. Shoot for sweetness and balance in the middle between the two poles. The most important thing to understand is that you don't need an espresso roast to brew a delicious espresso. All you need is an open mind and a receptive palate. Happy tasting!

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