All in This Tea
by Kendall Williams
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In this documentary by award-winning filmmakers Les Blank and Gina Leibrecht, a freewheeling tea connoisseur, David Lee Hoffman, traveled to far-reaching regions in China in pursuit of quality tea, and along the way he meets and interacts with local colorful characters. The documentary focuses on the finer things in life, at least according to its subject. Hoffman spent several years searching for an ideal, if not perfect, cup of organic tea. His search was exhaustive and fraught with political red tape and fear among the locals that centered on a non-Asian outsider with revolutionary ideas.
The documentary intercuts between Hoffman in China and other tea aficionados and experts back in American, who share his enthusiasm for tea. A dark side of the tea trade is vine, root and plant sabotage. No one likes a sore loser or to have the neighboring farmer earn money from his crop of tea leaves.
Try a cup of organic tea, and your life and palate might be enriched. Obsession led to a successful company steeped in tradition (no pun intended), which began hundreds of years ago with Tibetan monks. Everyone might not grasp the organic tea world, because most are accustomed to inferior and mass-produced tea bags, rather than painstakingly handmade teas picked at the height of flavor.
The film posits that a discerning tea drinker is able to taste the history of the tea through drinking, but is that why most people drink tea? There’s an inherent community aspect in consuming tea. Hoffman lived abroad for 10 years and intermittently brought back tea for friends, who grew to appreciate his time, effort and education. The ideal cup of tea is difficult to make, a point illustrated with local oolong tea competitions throughout China. It’s akin to a reality show, without a studio audience or commercial breaks.
Teas were once the province of kings and queens, but over time, they lost their allure and became commonplace. In later years, teas were used for medicinal purposes to detoxify body organs or to alleviate chronic pains, but Hoffman counters that teas are meant for enjoyment first, anything else secondary. Tea salons in San Francisco, New York or other metropolitan areas drive the point home that drinking tea is about the ambiance and the company of other devotees.
A great cup of tea can elude seekers even in a country like China. Tea makes one realize that it is best to slow down and take a break from the day. Tea can calm, beguile and mystify its drinker. David Hoffman’s insight and passion for tea is a great addition to the conversation and highly recommended for tea drinkers around the world. Do you know where your cup of tea originated? David Hoffman does simply by smelling the leaves!
Kendall Williams is a freelance writer and film critic in New York.
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