All in This Tea

What is the price of tea in China? You’ll learn that and a good deal more from this gentle, highly engaging new feature — the first in 12 years — from veteran documentarian Les Blank, who here turns his camera on American tea importer David Lee Hoffman as he traverses the wilds of the Orient in search of new varieties of the famous seeped beverage. A Conradian adventurer in khaki suit and panama hat, Hoffman cuts a compelling figure whether tussling with Chinese bureaucrats about the advantages of organic farming over mass production, impulsively proposing a 12-hour trek to a local grower’s farm or meeting up with German filmmaker Werner Herzog (subject of Blank’s classic Burden of Dreams), who compares the flavor of one particular brew to walking through a forest just after a rainstorm. Along the way, Blank and co-director Gina Leibrecht offer a compact history of tea consumption throughout the centuries (including a discussion of 19th-century British “tea espionage” — who knew?), so that even those who can’t tell their green from their oolong won’t be lost. All told, it’s a lovely work in a minor key — no Ratatouille or Mondovino to be sure, but a valuable addition to the growing canon of slow-food films for our fast-food nation. (NR) SCOTT FOUNDAS

Wed., April 23, 7:30 p.m.; Thu., April 24, 7:30 p.m., 2008

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