All In This Tea (2007)

All In This Tea (2007)

This infectiously passionate, eye-opening slow food documentary from verité master Les Blank goes down a treat

The Very Best



English, Mandarin
Documentary, Drama
Werner Herzog
70 min


If you've ever wondered what movie Colin Farrell’s tea-obsessed character was raving about in After Yang, you've found it.

What it's about

A deep dive into the surprising, wonderful world of artisanal tea.

The take

You don’t have to be a tea drinker to enjoy this warm film from documentary legend Les Blank. The passion and eloquence with which the tea connoisseurs interviewed here talk about the beverage is a delight in itself, a soul-nourishing reminder of what worlds of meaning and experience open up when you really love something. Though a few of these enthusiasts are featured — among them, filmmaker Werner Herzog —  it’s mainly centered around David Lee Hoffman, an American importer who swims against the tide of capitalism, mass production, and environmental damage to champion the hand-crafted teas he’s so passionate about. As the film chronicles, however, his insistence on buying directly from the boutique farmers — sometimes traveling hours into the remote Chinese countryside to do so — often puts him at odds with the economic interests of the big-time exporters he must work with.

Hoffman isn’t persistent in the face of all these hurdles for the sake of a buck, though: the film follows his linked efforts to encourage organic farming practices and a direct-from-the-source marketplace that will give the farmers a fair price for their hard work. That his love for the drink also encompasses the artisans who make it and the ground that grows it makes this an inspiring watch.

What stands out

Amongst the aficionados featured in the doc is James Norwood Pratt, whose eloquence and infectious passion for the drink could probably convert any tea-phobe. He describes a good cup of tea as “a kind of living archaeology” for the way it gives us access to the same experience that Queen Victoria or a Chinese emperor might have had, and talks wondrously about the flavor of the drink as being “a taste of the weather of the 10-day lifespan” that the leaves were exposed to before being plucked. Unless you’re a tea fanatic, you’ve probably never thought about the drink in as much detail as Pratt has, but that’s the beauty of this film: it lets us into other people’s passions and opens our eyes to the wonders we might never have seen otherwise.


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