All in this Tea: A Movie

December 23, 2008


Above: A journal sketch of mine made while watching the documentary listed in this post. I consider it practice if I ever get to visit China! How could I resist such a lovely rooster? Pentel Pocket Brush Pen (my old worn one), on Nideggen paper with gouache.

I want to go to China. I have been to Hong Kong and that’s a wonderful experience, but I want to go to China. I’ve been interviewing people who have gone there to teach English. If it weren’t for bird flu I’d probably have left already. OK, then there was my summer of biking, but you get the idea, if I were focused I’d be in China right now.

Since I’m not focused when it comes to China (where in China do I want to go, what specifically do I want to see, when should I aim to do all this?) the next best thing is watching a marvelous documentary called “All in this Tea.”

This documentary follows David Lee Hoffman, an American in China, seeking out teas to import.

Now I don’t drink tea: I don’t like the taste. And I don’t even care much for the smell, but like Harrison Ford’s character in “Working Girl,” I think it is wonderful when people offer it to you, especially on a cold day. The idea of tea seems so comforting; tea exudes the appearance of comfort with the steam rising out of the cup. Everyone is always telling me how comforting it is.

I’m pretty cynical, though, and hard to convince. This movie did a lot to convince me, simply because Hoffman’s dedication to artisan teas (teas grown without pesticides and chemicals, and then processed in small batches by tea-making masters) is intriguing to watch. Here is someone who uses his nose as much as I do as a means for knowing something, for judging characteristics. To anyone who cooks and bakes his method will be familiar.

This short film will show you how tea is made, how factories are killing tea, how the farmer-to-market path is still not clearly set out in China, as well as a host of other things. Concepts of organic farming and fair trade are touched on in this film. It makes it clear to the viewer that every choice we make has repercussions.

Most of what is in the film is not comforting (loss of land, loss of tea plants, loss of skilled craftsmen, loss of marketing abilities, and the struggle of people getting a living wage for quality work), but the overall effect of the film is comforting at least in the way that it holds out hope. When there are people who are passionate about something, in this case Hoffman’s passion for tea, the way things exist in the world can change over time.

Ultimately there is something comforting in watching this man follow his passion with patience and determination, and good humor. I still want to visit China, but now I think I’ll also try a little tea.

  1. Darn! I just cancelled my Netflix membership ….. will have to re-think that, but meanwhile, I just read about a shop here in town run by a Chinese immigrant who grows the tea himself in China! I am running, not walking, there tomorrow!!!

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