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 People of the Internet: We like you.  And we like talking with you.  Somtimes on this blog we get to dialogue back and forth with our readers.  Sometimes, as with the Class on Fire, we decide the conversation is so good we want to move it to the public arena and make it a post of its very own.

Below is a comment from Person of the Internet: Jason.  His comment hit on one of the major topics of debate in the coffee world.  Does “aware” coffee taste as good as other coffees? Below is Jason’s question as well as a response from both Sara and Melanie – so three voices in all.  While the questions are posed in response to Jason – we really are asking you, the consumers and blog readers for your thoughts.

Jason – Thanks for your poignent question and for sparking this discussion. 

Jason Says:

 “Just wondering….. I’ve read about your adventures and the seemingly endless search for “eco-friendly” coffees and proprietors of such beverages, but…I was just wondering if anywhere in your journey you were actually going to do your tastebuds a favor and seek out some gooooood coffee and actually share that information with the world. This information would be just as valuable as know the recycling practices of said places. I myself am not interested in spending my hard earned dollars on an inferior product simply because the seller pushes hype and marketing over quality. I’m certain that there are plenty of places that place value on providing a great product along with being socially responsible. Maybe in the future you could also provide an evaluation of beverages consumed… I think you could.”

Sara Says:

“Hi Jay

Thanks for reading our blog!  We have been searching for eco-friendly coffees and businesses that think about the environment and the people impacted along the way, and we have had an amazing trip. 

Some of the coffee we have had has been amazingly delicious, while some of the coffee has been sub-par.  I  feel the exact same way you do about quality coffee…that is partially why we have dedicated all this time to seeking out coffee.   As well as tasting better, higher quality coffee can help people become more aware of what they are drinking. 

I would love to know more about your thoughts on marketing and hype in the eco-friendly coffee world.  We have seen a lot of instances where a business said one thing but did another, etc…
As for our blog, we decided to keep a positive spin in our writing.  We are not out there to criticize people or tell them how to run their own business.  The knowledge we want to share is about responsible consumerism.  We have also found that what tastes good to one might not taste good to another.  What do you think?”

Melanie Says:

“Hey Jason. You can see by the fact that we both are compelled to respond that you are asking an essential question. 

My thought is to challenge a different assumption (not saying that you have this belief, just that we encountered it a lot):
If coffee is eco/people friendly, does it necessarily mean that its not high quality?  In my opinion the two are not mutually exclusive.  On our trip we had some amazing coffees and some pretty not-so-amazing coffees in both the “aware” and “conventional” categories.

Three people we met on the trip offered what I find to be great perspectives on this matter: (who all supply delicious coffee)

1) From Global Village coffee (Chapel Hill, NC) –   You have two tomatoes: one grown on a large farm using pesticides, chemical fertilizers and mechanical planting process.  The other from a local farm, organically produced, sun ripened, hand picked – which do you choose? 

Many people would choose the one from the organic farm – the assumption being that its redder in color, smaller in size and will probably be juicer and taste better.  Why do we not use the same thought process when it comes to coffee? 

From what I understand of the coffee farming process (which is still small), it takes more effort and attention to grow the coffee plants organically or in an environmentally friendly way.  Wouldn’t that extra love enhance the taste of the coffee? Or to put it another way – how would producin organic or “aware” coffee hurt  the coffee? 

2) From Higher Grounds (Leeds, AL) and echoed by Cuvee Coffee (Spring, TX) – These folks said their ideal would be to have all coffee produced with social and environmental awareness and then let the quality of coffee be the factor that determines which companies succeed. 

I also want to second Sara’s question – is fairly traded, enviro/people friendly coffee hype, marketing, a personal purchasing philosophy, a trend, a way of life, or all of the above and more?  Why do you choose, or choose not, to buy products that have a certification or that you know were sourced responsibly?

Lastly,  in any community you have a choice about how to contribute;  we choose to contribute to the coffee community by highlighting the positive and good people and coffees that we come across.  Bad press is just not our style.  If we have a cup that’s bad, we simply don’t mention it.  If the cup is amazing, we usually say so.  (But, just because we don’t say something about the coffee at a particular place, it does not mean the coffee is bad.)  In our lives and on this blog we try to keep our attention on the good, the beautiful, and the hopeful.

 Thanks for reading – comment at will.

-Melanie and Sara Rose

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People of the Internet: I need you all to clap your hands and say “Yay Sara!” for on March 9th, 2008 Sara Rose mastered the art of bike riding and her life will be forever changed! But that comes later in the story, first come all the wake up, get dressed eat breakfast kind of things.

The two of us were sharing a bed when Kate came in and pounced us awake! We three lay around for a while chatting and laughing; basking in the glory of our trio united. We rolled out of bed and began breakfast preparations. Lightly sautéed vegetables laid on a bed of fresh baby spinach; half a sweet and juicy grapefruit; eggs-in-a-basket; with homemade cappuccinos. Close friends gathered around a sunshine soaked table on Sunday morning. Thank you world for this moment.

The Plate.Spring sun.

Chris and his roommate Matt live in a house with 10 bikes. 4 people, 10 bikes. Being cycle enthusiasts, She’s a natural!they proposed we bike into Ft. Collins to get our mid-morning cup o’joe, and we were all gung-hoe about it….well….almost all. Sara was psyched but she had her reservations, she had only been on a bike two times before in her life, each time involved a fearful fall. But she was confidant and ready to try again. Along the bike bath, under bridges, past puppies and strollers, hang a right on to the street, cruise in the bike lane (that means next to traffic), hop on to the side walk and lock up the bike. Sara was a rockstar! When we got to the Beancycle, a bicycle themed coffee shop, we were all so excited about Sara’s accomplishment that the barista treated her to coffee on the house! Thanks Beancycle! (I promise to cut back on the “!”s from now on)

The sun was still shining brightly so we decided to stroll the streets of Fort Collins.Nosey Bear! Once we had posed with statues and explored nature and toy stores for a while it was time to eat again! We moseyed on over to the Ft. Collins Food Coop for more fresh produce and other organic snacks. With our tummies sufficiently satiated we hopped back on the bikes and rolled home. A pleasant pedestrian called out to us, as our clan cycled by “Yeah! You go, get some spring!” Thank you stranger! (So I lied about the “!”, but hey, there fun!)

It was time for us three ladies to head to Boulder so we snapped a family photo, exchanged bear hugs and headed south.

Say “Cheese”

Seeing as we didn’t really eat lunch, low blood sugar hit us as we arrived in Boulder. Unable to make cooking decisions we headed down to a Tibetan restaurant where we were joined by a fellow Clark Alum, Brian.

A bright exciting day melted into a warm cozy night and we all drifted happily out of one dream world into the next.

-Melanie and Sara Rose

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Logs and Figures
10:06 am or 9:06 am (at some point we crossed a time zone) – Welcome to New Mexico :). We see snow 😦.
12:24 am – First view of the Rockies

 

Thank you Albuquerque for your sunshine; helpful men in hard hats; long-walks (but not on the beach) and interesting tourist attractions. We GPS-ed the city center and found a cozy spot for Suzie. The aforementioned hard hats pointed us in the direction of “Old-Town” and the bus to take us there. We decided to walk (according to Atlanta-ites, that’s because we are from New York). Seeing snow earlier in the day had made us so sad, but the sun helped us quickly warm up so we removed our jackets and sweaters.  Yay! We wandered the streets of the old city for a while, admiring turquoise, hot peppers and blankets – then we needed coffee. 

On our friend Kerry’s recommendation we headed over to R B Winning coffee next to the University of New Mexico. Our overextended former student selves felt a little bit at home around all those students. The mix of community: hippy to hipster, baby to professor, and student to professional, was welcoming and comforting. The barista’s knew almost everyone in the store and our travel mugs got us an automatic discount (good for our wallet AND good for the environment – sweet)!

Our last stop that evening was the Brubaker’s of Santa Fe. Lauren, Lida, and Kate live in the mountains. We spent the evening relaxing and chatting. We were even taken to the portal.

– Sara Rose and Melanie

 

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March 2nd, 2008.
Logs and Figures

Coffee/espresso drinks: 113
Bathroom stops: 104
12:41 pm: Suzie hits 3000 miles

Our time in Austin had to be short since we had a date with fire in Oklahoma City. Arriving around 2 pm, our goal was to hit up at least 3 coffee shops before night fall. Our first caffeination destination was Progress Coffee where clean white walls, a hip, modern feel and bright accents greet you as you walk in the door.

Tyler, the adorable and scruffy red-headed manager, told us about the environmentally friendly practices of Progress. They use bio-degradable to-go containers and utensils made from potato starch. We were both really impressed to hear that none of the products at Progress have corn syrup or hydrogenated oils and that all of the cleaning products are eco-friendly. Love it! Icing on the cake? The employees benefit from the socially responsible policies of the store; all staff is paid a minimum of $9.00 per hour, plus have an option for health insurance.

The owner, Josh Bingaman, was not around so Tyler handed us a copy of L Style/G Style magazine where Progress is featured in the March/April 2008 issue. G Style describes Josh as “Open-minded, enlightened and welcoming…” and highlights the environmental sustainability of his store and the way he welcomes all members of Austin’s community into the café. Progress pairs their fair trade organic coffee with the use organic food sourced from local farms. To extend that connection, Josh joined the board of the Sustainable Food Center and hosts fundraisers for a variety of charities in the Progress space, including an event for Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Progress’s progress was made clear in both the article and from our experience inside the café. As you cozy up to the counter to order your drink, you find yourself next to fire-engine red bike (its an awesome cruiser!) with a sign advertising the Hill Country Ride For Aids. According to G Style, this is the first bike out of 13 to advertise the event in Austin. Progress will sponsor several riders from the Progress Cycling Community Club in this year’s event. Community in Austin ran (er…wheeled) right into us!

On the way to our next fix we stopped to meet Trevor, our Couch Surfing host for the evening. Trevor needed a place to do some work and was intrigued by CoffeeInAction, so he came with us to our second caffeination. Meeting with Sharla Megilligan, the founder of Dominican Joe on the sun-soaked patio was a relishable experience. The bright rays warmed our cheeks while the espresso tingled our taste buds.

The concept of Dominican Joe’s captivated us, and we had lots of questions for Sharla. First, Sharla and her business parter Mehul Patel founded Makarios, “a non-profit organization dedicated to providing educational opportunities and vocational training for the impoverished in the Dominican Republic and Haiti”. A while later they decided they wanted to be able to have an even greater positive impact in the DR. They wanted employ another type of business model in order generate greater returns on the coffee the farmers produce. Their website explains that by “…Skipping the large corporate middle-man, Makarios works directly with farmers in the region and pays them higher wages and supports their communities in an effort to develop self-sustaining skills for the future.” The money earned though this trading system is used to support educational programs in the farming communities.

Sharla had to run, so we went back inside and took some pictures. Behind the counter stands a big sign that reads

sweet signage The t-shirts sport the motto “drink coffee, change the world”. We like that!

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Proudly displayed throughout the store are pieces of pottery and art from the Dominican Republic as well as many recycling bins.

 

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Kristin, one of the managers, sat with us and told us about her experience working at Dominican Joe’s while Sara sipped on fresh squeesed limeade (an incredibly refreshing comfort food after living on an island for a year). Kristin explained that employees are encouraged to learn more about the Dominican Republic through Sharla’s first hand accounts and are given opportunities to travel with Makarios to origin. We found out that Dominican Joe’s is involved with the Texas School for the Deaf: a high school student interns four days a week.

This interesting pairing of non-profit organization and for-profit coffee shop fosters the education of coffee consumers about the farming regions as well as education for farmers in their communities. Education for all, and we support it!

After picking up our travel mugs from Caffe Medici we met up with Emma, a Clark U friend and fellow Couch surfer, at Trevor’s house and drank wine, cooked yummy veggies and tofu, reminisced and rejuvenated our minds.

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Sara missed Majuro when the palm tree outside Trevor’s apartment swished in the wind during the night.

The next morning we needed some coffee on the way out so we stopped at Jo’s. Attached to a hotel on South Congress St, a hip commuting crowd patronizes the walk-up only window. Then we settled into Suzie the Saab for our long drive to Tulsa.

– Sara Rose and Melanie

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p2270261.jpgNew Orleans was a whirlwind of coffee, community, and collecting new knowledge. After a night of dorm-life (Melanie’s brother let us crash on the floor of his freshman room) we headed over to a coffee shop that takes supporting the local community, especially post-Katrina, deeply to heart.

Fair Grinds is located near the Fair Grounds race track. Before opening Robert removed 5 layers of wall covering until they found the original beaded board with paintings from the 1930’s.

 

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In 2002 Robert, the owner, opened the doors of a business he felt provided “a service that was applicable to, and gave back to, the local community.” He asked himself what the local community needed and wanted. He recounted a story for us which he said embodied what it meant to be part of the community.

The thing that happened in our 1st months that was so sweet…one Saturday night the only fridge in the shop went out. Word spread that the store was going to have to close until the problem could be fixed. All the customers brought the milk home and kept it in their fridges. They even brought it back the next day! That brought home the power of ownership for me.

Many of Robert’s business practices were inspired by customers and by his own experiences as a customer. Instead of opening the doors exactly at 6am, Robert lets in the few folks who arrive early. They can sit inside the warm coffee shop (especially when it is cold or raining, etc) instead of being left in the cold. He said taking ideas from the customers empowers them and helps them have a sense of ownership in their local coffee shop.

Robert has created a space where the community can come together to support one another after the storm. He also explained that time in New Orleans is separated into two periods: “before the storm” and “after the storm”. Above the busy and bustling space where coffee is prepared and served is a space used for community organized events. Two large rooms and a bathroom are filled with bookshelves, yoga mats, chairs designed by local artists and tables. The front room has two large windows that let in beautiful afternoon light.  

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While we were chatting with Robert a woman approached him about using the space for an art class. Robert explained that he charges no rent for the space. He only asks that his staff are able to attend the meetings and classes if they are interested.

Robert also facilitates connection between community members. He introduced us to a local activist and told us about the food map that developed post-Katrina to ensure access to safe, nutritious, and enjoyable food: NOFFN.ORG. During our meeting a friend of Robert’s pointed out a woman from a local apartment building who was struggling to remain in her home. Robert immediately called a lawyer who lived in the local area and a few minutes later they were sitting together just a few tables away.

Fair Grinds employs a number of environmentally friendly practices: the to-go cups for cold drinks are made from biodegradable corn starch and the baked items come from numerous local bakers, and coffee grounds are given to community gardens right near the store. When municipal recycling disappeared post-storm, Robert found a place that would recycle cardboard and newspapers.

The icing on the cake of Fair Grounds was chocolate. All the chocolate sold in the store comes from Ghana, through two different companies. Fair Grinds gets their chocolate syrups and powders from The Omanhene Cocoa Bean Company, which creates the finished chocolate product in-country (which is rare). We encourage you to read about the amazing work of this company by clicking on the link above; we were really impressed. Also, the chocolate bars sold in store come from Divine Chocolate: A Farmer-Owned Fair Trade Company.

Our morning at Fair Grinds was a stupendous introduction to New Orleans. We spent the afternoon with our friend Farhad talking about the struggles and successes of community building and local education post-Katrina.

– Sara Rose and Melanie

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Dear People of the Internet,

We have some other people we would like you to meet: The Class on Fire.  You may have noticed their comments already, but we felt it was time for a formal introduction.  These are some students from Ms. Brubaker’s class in Hong Kong.  We are able to connect with these dynamic and eloquent students because Ms. Brubaker (Heather) is also Melanie’s big sister. Their questions have encouraged us to focus our ideas and to sit-down and write about what we are learning.  We love getting their comments and being able to participate in cross-continental curiosity!

We  are proud to present some questions from the Class on Fire.  There are more wonderful questions in the comments sections on other pages.

CoF Qs:

Hi! I’m Joseph from Oh My Gosh! The totally cool supercalifragilistic expealicdocious dociousaliexpilistic fragicalisuper class! As you can see I’m quite a person that bursts into a million smiles. But even I get into fights with my family members (yup…especially my sister(although Now she’s really nice to me)) Just like I often get into fights with my friends and families I would just like to ask you if you get into fights with each other. And since I know you’re obviously going to say you do, I’ll also ask you what kind of fights you get into and how do you make up to each other ^^

Ok, now that I’ve given you my question…Please reply…or else I’m going to cry all alone in my lonely, lonley class while everyone else gets a reply from you guys…): and I bet Ms. Brubaker won’t be so happy about that.

BYE! I’ve got to go to my crazy special, weird, funny, cool and the best class I have so far! (no actually that’s music) hahahaha just joking I LOVE …ENGLISH!!!!!

From the…
totally weird energetic guy.

Joseph, I hope we have not left you crying alone in your room! 
The simple answer is Sara and I don’t really fight anymore.  After 10 years of friendship, during the tumultuous years of “teen-hood” and into our mid-twenties, we have had a long time to work out the kinks of our relationship. 

We are talkers. When something comes up that bothers or upsets us we talk about it.  We really enjoy analyzing our behaviors and trying to understand what causes our emotions.  Sometimes, when we are hungry or tired, we get a little bit grumpy.  Since we spend all day, every day with one another, we can get cranky with each other, but are able to acknowledge that we need food or sleep.  We have learned to recognize that we are not actually upset with the other person.  

Hi Melanie and Sara,
I am another student from Ms Brubaker’s class. I think that the blog is very impressive although I don’t share the interests with you( I do not like coffee at all!). I know that you guys are now going on the trip but what are you guys think going to do after the trip? Have you guys thought of it yet?
Keep up the good work!
Kristie

 

Both of us have jobs that were kind enough to give us the time off to take this trip.  Upon returning to NY and Vermont we will get right back to work and our lives at home.  We both have friends and family we are eager to see. As far as our newly acquired coffee knowledge we are not sure what will happen.  Our relationship with coffee and with each other will be different for the rest of our lives.  We both are really interested in doing more research on the coffee industry and continuing to be part of the coffee community.  Part of the fun of this adventure is not knowing what will happen next. We love learning for the sake of learning.

 

Hi! I’m Matthew the Shadowkid from Ms.Brubakers english class. During your journey, i’ve noticed that you guys taste and study the coffee. So i have a question: Is coffee addictive? Or do adults just drink it to keep them awake because their jobs are too boring?
From the Shadowkid,

Matthew.

Matthew?  I can’t see you!  Where did you go?  All I see is a shadow!

Yes.  Coffee is addictive and we are hooked. 

Some adults drink coffee for the caffeine, while others drink it for the enjoyment of the beverage.   A well made cup of coffee can be as delicious as chocolate or any other supper-yummy-incredibly-tasty food or drink.  Coffee can have hints of fruits and flowers, nuts and berries, citrus and spices and many, many other flavors.  For example, the espresso we just sipped at OZO Coffee left our mouths with the taste of sun-dried raisins.

We both need a cup of coffee within a few hours of waking up or we get cranky (see answer above).  Sara and I both LOVE our jobs and they are not boring at all, but we still need a cup of coffee.  Because yes, coffee is addictive and we are hooked.

 

Hi!
My name is Ashley Wong. I am a student from Ms Brubaker’s English class who sits at the back of the classroom with Alexandra (the hyper girl), Matthew (the shadow kid), Beatrice (the random girl), Christopher (the genius) and Kristie (the sweet girl). As for me, I’m am…Ms Giggles. I love smiling and laughing! Even if something really bad happens, you would still see a smile on my face, it’s just…ME!
Anyway, this blog is so cool, I’ve learned A LOT from reading it. I would like to ask you a question: Is coffee bad for our health?

Ashley

 

Ashley, you sound a lot like us when we are together.  Sometimes in the car we won’t say anything, just laugh for hours on end.  Melanie cries EVERYTIME she laughs, tears streaming down her checks.  Sara likes to egg her on making her laugh and cry even more.

There are many studies on the affects of coffee. Some say coffee increases heart attacks and risk of certain cancers. Others say coffee can reduce the risk of diabetes and certain cancers.  It makes a really interesting research activity to spend half an hour (or in our case up to 8 hours) finding articles that agree with and contradict each other on the matter. (Ms. Brubaker, this is us handing you a homework assignment. We’ll let you make the grading rubric on that one.)

 

Hello Sara and Melanie,
I am a student from Ms. Brubaker’s class.
I am not really interested in coffee but I would want to know if there are another way to make coffee? And what are the process of that method?

There are many wonderful, exciting, delicious ways to make coffee! On this trip we have had: french press, chemex, espresso, clover, auto-drip and percolator coffee.  These are all ways of extracting the coffee from the coffee grinds.  After extraction there are, again, many ways to prepare the coffee for drinking; some people drink it black, some with milk and sugar or flavored syrups. 

 

‘Ello gals,
I am the most privileged student in Ms. Blueberry’s class because  the only person who gets to call her Ms. Blueberry, ’tis I, but only as long as she gets to call me Bug.  I think your idea of broadening the use of environmentally friendly coffee is great, but i was wondering: why people would go for environmentally friendly coffee, when the good old non-environmental friendly coffee is cheaper?
Zai Jian

Hi Bug! (That makes Melanie want to call you “Bug-a-boo”).

This is a question we have been thinking and talking about a lot on this trip.   

As we became aware of the impact of purchasing coffee was came to understand the benefit and importance of paying the extra cents for fairly traded, great tasting coffee.  We hope that knowing that the coffee a person buys: preserves wildlife, helps families that work on coffee farms afford food, and can help provide educational opportunities for coffee farming communities will encourage that individual to go for environmentally friendly coffee.

* * * * * * * * * * * 

Now, we have some questions for you:  

How did you come up with all these names?  Did you name yourselves or did Ms Blueberry, oops, I mean, Heather, I mean Ms. Brubaker dub you with the pseudonyms?

How do most people prepare coffee in Hong Kong?  Is coffee drinking increasing in a country where tea is king?

We offer a challenge to the class on fire: to create the longest list you can of ways to prepare coffee, we have given you a good start.  Let us know what you come up with!

 

Thanks for your participation in our trip!

Melanie and Sara Rose

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Friday February 22, 2008

A phone interview with a local NY newspaper forced Melanie and I out of bed after dancing our booties off to bluegrass the night before. We hurried over to Izzy’s, a cozy and modern shop, patronized by Asheville hipsters of all ages for our morning coffee. The Baristas, Elizabeth and Susannah, were completely understanding of our traveling office. We found a quiet corner in the back and chatted with Dina from the newspaper for about an hour, answering questions about our friendship, our roadtrip, and our interest (or slight obsession) in coffee.

Coffee In Action Interviews

I learned that Asheville businesses who wish to recycle must bring their own to the recycling center. Izzy’s also reduces their own waste by composting their coffee grinds to the owners’ back yard. I ordered a soy cappuccino and scientifically geeked out with Elizabeth about air bubbles! The two lovely baristas recommended we make our last stop in Asheville a visit to Jay at The Dripolator.

Jay
Hi Jay!
At the Dripolator, a few aspects quickly caught my eye. Globe They purchase coffee from Larry’s Beans, a very aware roasting company in Raleigh (more about Larry’s soon). The globe and Jay’s coffee buying policies represent his awareness and commitment to a global community. He believes that coffee and espresso are “…a reflection of an amazing process…” starting at the farm.

Through our conversation I learned that Jay is equally committed to positively supporting his local community. There is a book exchange book exchange, stickers about and food from local farms Stickers - Dripolator, and locally made pottery in the store. Jay explained that he sees his “…coffeehouse as a community center for social change.” Groups, such as a cop-watch, meet every week in the cafe. To reduce the waste from the shop, The Dripolator sets out water and cups for customers to use, has metal utensils instead of plastic, and sends coffee grinds to local groups to use as compost. img_0922.jpgSpooning.img_0929.jpg

And as we set off for our next adventure, we re-established our office in the car.

The Office.

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