David Lee Hoffman

David Lee Hoffman

Most people who know the name David Lee Hoffman probably know that he was the subject of a documentary film called All in This Tea. The movie premiered in 2007, and I caught up with it a few years later, when I reviewed it here at The English Tea Store Blog.

Based solely on his appearance in that film, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to imagine that Hoffman is perhaps slightly eccentric and maybe even a bit obsessive about tea, a beverage he’s been involved with one way or another for about forty years. Obsessive and eccentric enough to build a cave to house his collection of rare varieties of puerh tea, although there are probably many connoisseurs of fine wines and other luxuries of life who wouldn’t find this all that unusual.

Like Robert Fortune, a tea pioneer of yesteryear, Hoffman has occasionally been saddled with the moniker, “the Indiana Jones of tea.” Which makes for a so-so sound bite, but in reality the comparison with Fortune, a Westerner who traveled extensively in Asia, is not so far off the mark. As he notes at his web site, Hoffman has been traveling “the remote backcounty of Asia for more than forty years seeking out the world’s finest rare, organic, and wild pure leaf teas.” He sells some of these at his site and not surprisingly the product list is heavily weighted in favor of rare varieties of puerh tea.

Though it has little to do with his tea life, it’s probably worth mentioning a tiff between Hoffman and officials in his home base of Marin County, California, a spat that spawned a recent article in the New York Times. To summarize briefly, the trouble arose over Hoffman’s offbeat compound, with its tea cave and much more. He calls it “a model environment that incorporated sustainable methods” though for the Times reporter it was more like, “part Himalayan kingdom, part Dogpatch rife with construction debris.” Details at Hoffman’s site and the New York Times article for those who are interested.

Which is obviously a fairly minor chapter in the life of someone who’s been an important figure in the world of tea for four decades. Perhaps the best introduction to Hoffman, the tea pioneer, is the film All in This Tea. For even more of his thoughts on tea, try this archived (PDF) copy of a Fresh Cup magazine interview from a while back.

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