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Where EAST meets the Northwest

BAGS TO RICHES. All In This Tea is a new documentary that follows world-renowned American tea importer David Lee Hoffman to some of the most remote regions of China in search of the finest handmade teas in the world. (Photo courtesy of Flower Films)

From The Asian Reporter, V18, #8 (February 19, 2008), page 9 & 10.

Out of the bag: Rediscovering the art of Chinese tea

All In This Tea

Directed and produced by Les Blank and Gina Leibrecht

Presented by Flower Films

By Pamela Ellgen

For most Americans, enjoying a cup of tea begins with a microwave and a bag of stems, leaves, and herbs, loosely referred to as "tea." David Lee Hoffman, featured in the new documentary All In This Tea, considers this an affront to the beauty, art, and tradition of tea. The film follows Hoffman through remote regions of China in search of the best loose-leaf tea available.

Factory vs. farm

In recent years, quality tea has given way to high production, Hoffman says. Consequently, the only source for tea has become the factory. Throughout the film, viewers watch Hoffman struggle to reverse this phenomenon.

The farmer, he argues, has better teas than the factories. "We should know the farmer," he says, "the person behind the tea."

In the opening scene, he smells bags of tea leaves presented to him by a crowd of farmers.

"This is some of the best tea Iíve seen here," he says. "This Iíll drink myself.

He sniffs another bag, "No, chemical."

In addition to his commitment to discovering quality teas from the source, Chinaís tea farmers, Hoffman is an unwavering advocate of organic farming. Until 80 years ago, all tea was produced organically. However, after the cultural revolution, farmers relied on the government for direction, and that led them to fertilizers and finally the factory.

This is where Hoffman finds his biggest challenge. The film chronicles Hoffmanís lengthy negotiations with Chinese farmers and factory owners to purchase tea as he finds it on the farms, not similar but cheaper versions from factories.

After decades of government enterprises dominating the tea market, the film reports, much of Chinaís tea production is now done organically and in boutique markets, where buyers can purchase directly from farmers.

The art of tea

Hoffman developed his love for tea while living in Asia for nearly a decade. He lived in monasteries throughout the region and says he developed a relationship with the Dalai Lama. While His Excellence practiced his English, Hoffman drank tea.

"There is a certain communion that happens when you offer tea to someone and you offer yourself to that person and you share a moment connected through tea," said Hoffman.

In the film, James Norwood Pratt, author of The Tea Loverís Treasury, notes that tea resurrects the flavors and experiences of generations before us. "Your tongue can share the same taste that a Chinese emperor would have loved. This is a kind of living archaeology."

Tea in America

Also featured in the film is Winnie W. Yu of Teance Fine Teas, located in Berkeley, California. "People are finding that it is a very different experience from coffee," she says. "Theyíre drinking this incredibly aromatic, layered, profound cup of tea and they canít describe it, but they know they wonít go back to drinking tea bags again."

Since Hoffman began importing teas from China in 1990, tea consumption in the West has gone up 300 percent, the film reports.

All In This Tea

The film packs a lot of information into its relatively short run time of 70 minutes. However, as a true-to-form documentary ó complete with "talking heads" ó it isnít particularly entertaining. Nevertheless, it has been showcased at film festivals around the world, including the Berlin and San Francisco International film festivals in 2007, where it received high praise.

The film screens at Portlandís Hollywood Theatre, located at 4122 N.E. Sandy Blvd., on Saturday, February 23. To learn more about the film, visit <www.allinthistea.com>. For more information, including show time, call (503) 281-4215 or visit <www.hollywoodtheatre.org>.