March 2020: Snippets, Vignettes, & Mini-rants

Life, Liberty, & The Pursuit of Happiness


To My Dear Tea Drinking Friends & Supporters of The Last Resort,

It’s hard to believe it’s been 2½ years since my last newsletter. There is much to report. As my life, my home, my business are all co-mingled and linked together it’s not possible to isolate and separate one from the other. You will read about my travails with the County, you’ll hear about changes with the tea business, and you’ll have an opportunity to enjoy some wonderful tea offerings. I may also include a mini-rant or two about the lack of government action addressing the real problems facing our planet.

All good things must come to pass. Or not? This year commemorates the thirtieth year since I began travelling to China in search of fine and rare teas. The best rewards from this venture were the gifts of meeting so many wonderful people along the way. These memories will continue until I die. But life is change and change can be scary and stressful. But this is where tea can make its entrance bringing solace, comfort, and friends together in a simple ceremony of celebration for the moment. We know we can’t change the past nor predict the future but we can sure give thanks and show gratitude for what we have in the present. Isn’t this a good time to honor family and friends with a nice cup of tea?

Sometimes the smallest things in life make for the biggest and unexpected change. I never would have imagined that the bite of a tick could have such a devastating effect to my health. The reality is unless a cure is found for Lyme Disease, and County issues get resolved, I may have to shut down the tea business…

Recently I made my routine trip to the docks in West Oakland to pick up a tea shipment. Lost in the past and reflecting on the memories from 30 years in the life of tea, I was having a bittersweet moment. Distracted in thought, I missed the freeway onramp and became hopelessly lost in the city in which I was born and raised.  I was in unrecognizable territory. Was I seeing an apocalyptic vision of the future?  Block after block were homeless encampments. Who were these people? What was their story? How is it possible the richest country in the world could allow such a thing to happen to its citizens? We turn a blind eye and blame them for their own predicament. We criminalize poverty. Shameful. Yet next week I could be one of them…


For years, I followed advice that I needed a lawyer in order to make a deal with the County to save my home. After nine lawyers and spending more than half a million dollars on legal fees, I’m still no closer to a settlement.

The judge is losing patience and wants to see significant progress at the next court hearing on Thursday, March 12th, or he’s sending in the bulldozers and I’m out on the streets. I still find it hard to believe that someone could sign a piece of paper and all of a sudden my home of 47 years is no longer my home. My last two attorneys implored me to remove everything of value off the premises. (Maybe if I was 40 years younger and in good health). The Receiver, who the judge appointed to have control of my property, could show up any time with the Sheriff and an empty van and start hauling off my possessions. The risk is real. Furthermore, my attorneys informed me, if I don’t follow the judge’s directives, I could be held in contempt of court and put in jail. All because I built without a permit, something not that uncommon here in West Marin!

“You’re guilty as sin. You didn’t have a permit”, the legendary lawyer Carl Shapiro told me. He defended me as best he could at the age of 96, which put him into the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest practicing attorney to go to court.


I’m not counting years in terms of time but by the change in the value of the US dollar.  When I first left the US in 1963 to travel abroad on a sabbatical from college and arrived in Europe, the popular book at the time for travel was Europe on 5 Dollars a Day.  I did it on $1 a day.  Youth hostels in Germany were 25 cents a night, breakfast included, anywhere in the country. A brand new BMW motorcycle from the factory was $560.  Three years down the road after slowly working my way through Africa and across Asia, I arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal. There I rented two rooms in a traditional house with earthen floors (warm in winter, cool in summer). My rent was $2 per month!

After 10 years of living and traveling abroad in more than 110 countries, I chose to return to the states. I fell in love with the San Geronimo Valley. I felt so at home here with the free-spirited, creative, and slower-paced lifestyle of the Valley and being surrounded with a thriving abundance of nature.  I especially appreciated the longstanding West Marin tradition of owner-built home construction without the bother of County permits.

I loved the 3-bedroom home on the creek in Woodacre I was renting and wanted to buy it. The owner came down to $18,000. I offered $16,000. (This is how old I am!) My offer was refused, and shortly after, my current property came on the market. I purchased it walking up the driveway. I knew this was the place to create The Last Resort where I could demonstrate a working model of a waste-free, integrated ecological and sustainable environment.  It had to be functional, beautiful, practical, durable, and welcoming to visitors. But how could I afford a $38,000 property that was more than twice my budget? I took a chance and bought my first home. I collected my few belongings at the Woodacre rental, along with tens of thousands of my composting worms, and moved down the road to my new place in Lagunitas.

The descendants of those original worms are still thriving here today!


Tea Break Number One

There are five main categories of tea: white, green, oolong, black and pu-erh. We’ll begin with a white. White tea is the least processed of all the types of tea. It is the only one that the leaf is not rolled during processing so the cell structure remains intact. This allows the tea to age well and makes it very forgiving to brew as it can also benefit from a long steep. We offer a blend of Aged White Peony “Bai Mudan” Cat. No. 1103, $25 ¼ lb. purchased between 2004-2006 from select lots in northern Fujian Province. Recently we added to the mix my last great find of the Zhenghe varietal Bai Mudan, which has made for a delightful and balanced taste.

This segues perfectly to a shipment of lead-free pewter tea caddies from Malaysia that was purchased in northern Fujian in 2004.  My shipper was stopped as he didn’t have the proper license to export them but the problem was resolved by filling each caddy with some White Peony “Bai Mudan”. Don’t be surprised when you open the lid and find tea inside!

Tea Caddy, Lead-free Pewter, 5” x 3”, Cat. No. 8708, 680 grams, $100.

Tea Caddy, Lead-free Pewter, 6 ¼” x 3”, Cat. No. 8709, 760 grams, $125.


While traveling the world, I mastered the art of living simply with very little money that was easily sustained by the occasional odd job. I was happy to continue this lifestyle in my new home.  I was able to build with minimal funds, using salvaged and recycled materials, and with the helping hands of good friends and neighbors. Life was simple and affordable back then. I managed to pay my mortgage and live on the $300 a month income from my small publishing business. My electrical and utility bills were around $5.00/month though after a neighbor gave me their refrigerator (a 1950’s Westinghouse – made in America, never been serviced, and still working great today!) my bill went up to $10/month where it remained for many years.

County issues began in the early 1980’s with a red tag stop work order. For a while there were regular visits from County officials. They were always friendly and good-natured. In my attempt to resolve the situation, I discovered a clause in the building codebook that stated film sets did not require a permit. At the time, Les Blank, the internationally acclaimed filmmaker, was filming his second film about me and The Last Resort (his first, All In This Tea, portrayed my travels to China in pursuit of tea, had received many accolades). I posited this argument to the Marin County Building Department.  I was present when the department head and the Chief Enforcement Officer discussed whether there was a time limitation for this film set exemption. They concluded there was not, and for many years it certainly appeared they had given me their tacit approval to continue with the status quo. (This information was presented at one of the earlier court hearings. The film set code exemption has since been modified).

Sadly the older generation of county officials has retired and old agreements and understandings are no longer accepted. Even sadder was Les Blank passing in 2013.  AJ Marson has since taken up the reigns on the filming project.  You can check out a few of his short segments on The Last Resort and The Lagunitas Project websites.  There are also updates on the latest situation with the County.


Tea Break Number Two

The second tea break is an easy choice. Our best green tea, hands down, is David’s Green Private Reserve, Pre Qing Ming Green Mist, Cat. No. 2505, $50 ¼ lb. Grown at 1200 meters in Northern Fujian, close to the Zhejiang border.  It’s organic and I’ve been buying from this farm for about 20 years.


How I got my title “CDO”

I was so enjoying my life in Marin County. Nature was always close by and so deliciously intoxicating that I took frequent walks throughout the countryside to replenish and invigorate my spirit. Thus it came as an absolute shock to learn Marin County had the highest rate of breast cancer in the country! I didn’t get it. Everything appeared so green and healthy. There is no industry. No air pollution. I had been aware of the ominous steady decline in our beloved songbird population since the 1980’s and that gave me great cause for concern. We can understand why this is happening, but cancer? I contacted the Marin Breast Cancer Watch to learn more. The Biomonitoring Forum, sponsored by the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services, was the ideal venue and they included me in their activities. I learned lots of interesting things:

I learned there were 85,000 synthetic chemicals in use around us that weren’t on the planet a hundred and fifty years ago. Only 4½ percent of them have ever been tested for safety and some 2,000 new chemicals are added annually. The body burden in each and every person on the planet is at least 80-90 different chemicals.  No one knows the effects to our health with the combinations of these compounds. No studies have ever been done.


Ÿ Species extinction was over 100 per day. (That figure was from twenty years ago. Today these numbers have increased geometrically).

ŸCorporate profits to stockholders are more important than health risks of their products to the population.

When their 100-page report was published I was embarrassed to be the only person listed under Acknowledgements without any letters after their name. Henceforth, I added ”CDO”. Not many have asked what this stands for. In case you’re curious; College Drop Out…

Don’t let schooling get in the way of your education”.


Tea Break Number Three

This third break is for the Oolong drinkers – gongfu masters, contemplative thinkers, monks and meditators, poets and painters, all derive an altered state of awareness when imbibing these teas. This lot is from Wudong, at the top Phoenix Mountain in Guangdong Province, where this tea was picked from trees that were planted in the Song Dynasty 700 years ago.

This particular lot is Phoenix Mountain Oolong, Private Reserve, Wudong Old Tree, Da Wu Ye, Cat. No. 3205, $75 ¼ lb.


I lived the American dream. I worked hard and built two successful businesses. The first was textile conservation based on my invention of a sonic cleaning system that was eventually sold to Germany. After that I focused full time on my rapidly growing tea business. Hoping to have a more relaxed life, I sold my tea company, Silk Road Teas, in 2004 for a million dollars!  I was excited to reap the rewards of my years of hard work, but after purchasing a new truck and paying off all my bills, my accountant informed me that I also had to pay Uncle Sam $450,000 in taxes! There went my retirement! It was painful to write those checks to the government, but, oh well I thought, at least it made me a good citizen …


“Sometimes I wonder whether the world is being run by really smart people who are putting us on or by imbeciles who really mean it.”


Fast forward to the present. All my lawyers have now been dismissed. I’m now representing myself. “Only a fool has himself for a lawyer”. But what do you call someone who follows the same path again and again expecting to arrive at a different destination? County fines, penalties, Receiver fees, court costs, etc, have now exceeded $1 million dollars.  An additional $2.2 million is currently needed for so-called “code upgrades”.  One lawyer even suggested it might cost between five to ten million dollars to make the property “code compliant”! The judge, who seemed somewhat reasonable and sympathetic, is now impatient and wants to see this case resolved and taken out of the court system. Of course! We all want that, including tens of thousands of supporters. What a waste of so many people’s time, it’s all about the money now. The judge ordered me to negotiate with the County Counsel and come up with a settlement.

My first meeting with the County Counsel went reasonably well and left me somewhat hopeful. The second meeting was more interesting with County Counsel telling me how much the Receiver admired my work and how hard he’s been working on my behalf (sic!).

I should mention the degree of complexity that has overwhelmed my life and The Last Resort due to the actions of the Receiver. We’ve now had visitors from several state and federal agencies, including the Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Fish & Game, State Water Quality Board, as well as Architects, Engineers, Surveyors, Attorneys, even the Judge himself made an appearance.

The County Counsel tells me I should be grateful to the Receiver who is working hard to try and negotiate down the $700,000 fine for the fabricated claim regarding pollution I supposedly dumped into the creek. This violation has not been backed up by any evidence; no testing was ever done. But if I were to pay this amount for “off-site water mitigation”, I would be able to keep my buildings and avoid demolition! I told the County Counsel this is the classic definition of extortion! But in the next breath, I said though I wasn’t opposed to extortion, let’s get that figure to a reasonable amount. I also said that whatever payment I make must be for a global solution. Case dismissed. Period. Finito. Let me live my life in peace!

The third meeting lasted only minutes before I walked out after accusing the County Counsel of being disingenuous. You see, Jeannie, who also does my bookkeeping, showed me the latest bank statement from my maxed-out personal equity line at Bank of America. There was an entry that simply read “other charges” and it amounted to around a quarter million dollars! Believing the bank made an error, Jeannie called to enquire. Their response was vague but they said they would mail documentation. Weeks passed and nothing was received. After repeated phone calls I learned the withdrawal was for HOA (Home Owners Association!). We don’t have a Home Owners Association.  More calls to the bank and eventually two pieces of mail arrived, weeks apart, with sixteen pages of fine print. No mention was made of the money that was withdrawn. “Look. The County asked for money and we gave it to them”, was another response. “Would you put that in writing?”  I asked. “No, its confidential”. Another call to the bank suggested I might need to have a lawyer involved to get an answer to my two simple questions: who initiated the withdrawal and where did the money go? Unbelievable! I also cannot get any straight answer, in writing, from either the Receiver or the County Counsel. They both deny any knowledge. Was it a coincidence that this mysterious charge happened the same day as my second meeting with the County Counsel? After more calls and listening to so many different explanations from the bank I began to smell a rat (and it wasn’t coming from my new Chinese calendar!).


Some rob you with a Six gun
And some with a fountain pen.

                   -Woody Guthrie


Tea Break Number Four

Writing this previous section has put a bad taste in my mouth so I’m glad its time for another tea break. Black Tea is called Red Tea in China and what they call Black Tea is a type of tea we don’t have a name for in English so I use the Chinese name of Heicha and sell them under our pu-erh section. But that’s a topic for our next and final tea break. The black tea we’re offering is produced from a rare tea varietal in northern Fujian Province not so far from the Wuyi Mountains. This is one of the many tea varietals that can only be found in China. The tea has a wonderful rich and smooth taste with a subtle and distinctive floral aroma. Makes an excellent iced tea too. We think this tea has a good future for western tea drinkers so even if you don’t purchase this tea in your next order, ask us to include a free sample for you to enjoy.

Yao Qing Hua Xiang, “Fresh Fragrance”, Fujian Prov., Cat. No. 4510, $30 ¼ lb.


Our planet is in crisis and I tend to follow the laws of nature more than the laws of man, especially when the laws are detrimental to the health of our planet. In truth I’ve had to face the reality that I’ve probably been a scofflaw most of my life and have tried to follow the best intentions of my heart rather than the letter of the law. Like the artist who has to paint or the singer who must sing, I had to do what I did, believing there is a better way of living on the planet. Like the Conscientious Objector who refuses to go to war and kill, I could not live and contribute to the waste and destruction I saw around me. We are in the Sixth Mass Extinction but unlike the other five, we are the cause of this one. Shouldn’t we all be at least a little concerned? Does the science even matter?


I’m slightly ashamed to admit I’ve had to draw courage from a sixteen-year-old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg.  She’s not driven by desire for fame, trying to sell a book, or running for office. She’s a vote for the future and a voice for concern and action. She also has the rare gift of having immense intestinal fortitude. If you want the science behind her passion, please read Dahr Jamail’s book “The End of Ice”. The Smithsonian has called it one of the ten best science reads. Don’t expect hope, that is not what this book is about. Our beautiful planet has a terminal illness. We should all know and understand this, so we can choose to live our lives accordingly.


“Patriotism is loving your country all the time

and your government when it deserves it”

                                                      – Mark Twain.


I often ask people I meet the question of what gives them hope for the future. There’s usually a long pause. Some respond by just slowly shaking their heads in silence. But the answer I enjoy hearing the most is pointing to the new generation of young farmers who want to get their hands in the dirt and grow good food. They understand the importance of a vibrant living soil, nourished by regenerative and sustainable practices. I honor and respect these young farmers. Like schoolteachers who want to teach, nobody farms to get rich. Thus it’s a noble profession and a totally right livelihood to its core. We are fortunate to have great mentors like the Bob Cannards, Joel Salatins, and the Allan Savorys to inspire us in this journey. Their passion is a gift to us all. We can taste it on the palate and feel it in our bones. Tea is like that too…

Nobody grows and produces tea to get rich. The future of handcrafted teas in China is uncertain. For years the pay for picking leaves was around $50/month. Barely a living wage twenty years ago, it’s an impossibility in today’s China. Once soil fertility was the biggest problem for the farmer. Today it’s labor to help with the harvests. The average plot a family owned was around two mu – about one-third of an acre, a size once easily managed by a family household. Consolidation and factory expansion morphed into modern factories that have become reliant on cheap migrant labor from poorer provinces for their plucking. This practice is not sustainable. Its very rare, if not outright impossible, to find the youth in the tea districts that want to remain on the land and continue their family’s farming tradition. When I began my tea business in the 1990’s there were eight million tea farmers in China. Today that number is a fraction of that. The plight is easily seen in the flood of farmers who’ve abandoned their fields and gone off to the towns and cities in search of an education or a job. Even shining shoes could earn more money than tea farming. Like the impossibility of having a wonderful meal from an angry chef, a struggling and anxious family can’t make the best tea.

I had to stop selling Jade Spring Green tea, which was also from northern Fujian. This was one of my great signature teas from the past. After a Swiss company opened up a factory in a town to manufacture colorful wooden knick-knacks for children’s bedrooms in Europe, the town’s tea tradition came to an abrupt end. The opportunity for the local tea farmers to earn a salary throughout the year and be paid more than what could be earned farming tea, irrespective of the weather, was too great to pass up…

I’m nostalgic for the old days of wandering through the tea mountains and staying not in hotels but in the simple homes of the farmers. I could get away with that once I became known and “successful”. After being written up in newspapers and put on national television a half dozen times, my anonymity in the tea mountains disappeared and no longer was I followed, detained and questioned by the police for being in areas where foreigners weren’t allowed. I was welcomed and treated warmly wherever I went. Once a visiting American friend and I were walking down the street in town and he stops suddenly and exclaimed “that’s you” as we were passing a sidewalk television that happened to be showing me in the news!


My last successful foray into the Nannuo Shan tea mountains collecting Pu-erh Maocha,

Spring, 2006









Tea Break Number Five

I’ve saved the best till last.  This will be an interesting tea break.  Not only because the two pu-erh teas we’ve chosen are so diverse in taste and appearance, but they represent the least expensive and most costly tea from my entire collection. Pu-erh Mini Toucha, “Nuomi Xiang”, Cat. No. 5406  Aged raw pu-erh with sticky-rice scent, 2004.  This tea is a well-aged raw pu-erh from 2004 and scented with the herb Semnostachya menglaensis, a rare plant indigenous to the tropical rainforest of Mengla, Xishuangbanna, Yunnan Province.  Fourteen hundred pounds of this tea was originally purchased in 2004 for one of our wholesale accounts.  The company changed hands before they took possession of this tea, and we were left holding the inventory.  It’s reasonable at the original price of $15/.25 lb, but if you purchase a full pound, we’ll give it to you at $20. If you could use ten pounds, your price will be $10/lb.  If you want five hundred pounds, give us a call…

You can purchase a sample of this tea for $5.00 with your next order, or take a chance and order a full pound.  The tea is actually very good tasting and now has had sixteen years of aging. When brewing this tea, as with many raw pu-erhs, once the tea has opened up you need only 10-15 seconds of steeping time for each infusion.  Jeannie thinks this tea would be great as a flavoring for homemade ice cream!


The second tea could be our most valued find.

Tong Qing Hao, Raw pu-erh cake, Net weight: 400 grams, 1980’s, Cat. No.5127

5 gram sample @ $10.

25 grams @ $40.

100 grams @ $125.

Whole cake (400 grams +/-) plain paper wrapper, nei fei, no nei (tong) piao nor ribbon: $400.

Whole tong in original packing (7 cakes @ 400 grams +/- each, plain paper, 6 with nei fei only and 1 with nei fei and nei (tong) piao and ribbon): $ 2,400 .


We thank Paul Clisura for his passionate research and comprehensive provenance of this tea. We have included excerpts from an article that he wrote:

Liu Tian 田 劉 founded Tong Qing Hao 同 慶 號 in the1730’s. It became one of the most legendary teahouses. When it closed after over 200 years in business following the events of Nationalization/Cultural Revolution, a collective tear was shed by many as the tea house was taken over by, uh, “the collective” itself. Sadly, though “fortunately,” “closed” didn’t actually mean “closed,” but rather a “reshuffling” of ownership. We won’t get into the legal issues around the use of the name, as that’s an all-too prevalent problem in China and that isn’t the focus of this write-up. We’re all well aware, and most are in agreement, that Tong Qing Hao teas (frankly, just about every brand of tea such as Menghai, Song Pin Hao, Kunming, etc), during the period of approximately 1950 – 1990, weren’t made by the descendants of the various families/founders, but fell under the CNNP (China National Native Produce and Animal By-Products Import & Export Corporation) branding. However, the brand names were still in use, discoverable either out right, hinted at via CNNP, or by visual, smell, or taste reference. One thing that didn’t change much, though, was the quality of the tea used/produced. It wasn’t as if suddenly there was no one left with tea-making knowledge/ability.

David acquired this tea around 1994 at the Fangcun Tea Market in Guangzhou China 廣 州 芳 村 茶 叶市 場 中 國   from a merchant whom he’d done business with for many years and whose family was in the tea business for many decades.  The merchant said the tea was at least 10 years old. This would place the tea in the 1980 – 85 range. However, I believe it’s older than the merchant indicated. Continued reading will provide you with information behind such reasoning.


This tea is a Yi Wu Mountain 易 武 山  tea, considered by many in China since ancient times to be the best area for Pu-erh tea leaves in all of Yunnan 雲 南 . Formerly referred to as Mansa Mountain 曼 洒  山, the name was changed to Yi Wu Mountain in approximately 1958, since the main village in the area was Yi Wu. It’s surely one of the most important mountain areas in Mengla 勐 腊 縣  and, indeed, all of Xishuangbanna 西 雙 版 納 . This “Yi Wu Zheng Shan” 易 武 正 山  (Yi Wu Original Mountain) tea is from this large mountain area encompassing two divided portions: the “north and south” mountains. This tea refers to the south mountains region. One thing that needs to be understood about tea in China at that time is that it was not widely appreciated much at all for its true magnificence.  It was just considered the “common drink” of the people; much in the same way most Westerners at that time approached their “Cup of Joe.”  So while the tea factories were still producing high quality tea, it was rarely valued, or, frankly, understood, save for a scant few people.  Such a “non-interest” by the general public kept demand practically at nil and the prices of these wonderful teas, with the “help” of the government, artificially low.  It was not unusual at all during that time for many tea merchants to routinely downplay, or not even cop to the fact, that the teas were older, as it was hard enough to sell current stock they already possessed, let alone that which had built up over the years. These older teas took on an almost “leftovers” sort of feeling to them by the general public. Merchants would rarely divulge, in concrete terms, the age of the teas they had. This was either because the public was not appreciative of these older teas they deemed “too old” and therefore undesirable in the sense that, “If no one else is buying them, I’m not going to buy them,” or because the merchants themselves feared that revealing such would result in a lost sale, or they had actually forgotten how old they truly were. This ambiguousness was commonplace, as the vast majority of the tea drinking public wasn’t like the minuscule tea drinking cognoscenti of the day and wouldn’t be able, or willing, to accept/appreciate anything deemed “that old.” Oh, how times have changed!


When one visited these tea merchants in Guangzhou and Hong Kong and saw their storage (some as many as 5 floors of it), it was easy to understand how so many of these merchants were sitting on very old teas that they had little idea that they still even possessed.  There were so many phenomenal teas to behold at these merchants back then that upon entering each store it made one feel like Columbus laying eyes upon “the new world” for the first time. The next part of this story provides more clarity.  Prior to 1949 (tea’s “ancient” period), save for perhaps a few factories, cakes in tong were not wrapped as it wasn’t deemed a necessity. After the government nationalized the tea factories, changes to this would be implemented, but not fully adopted, for some time, evidenced by the many wrapperless cakes of the 1960’s and beyond. Indeed, now that the tea factories “belonged to the people,” there was little incentive to change anything that would increase the cost of producing these already-meagerly priced teas. It was the government that officially set such a low price for the teas to begin with, in so keeping with a quasi-communist mantra: tea for the proletariat, not for the elite. Then, in somewhat of a (governmental?) baby step, and perhaps as a way to help limit oxidation and to provide some information, factories, now under CNNP control, began wrapping them in paper. Some had simple, low cost, plain paper wrappers with all Chinese-printed characters. This would continue for some time, when the wrappers, as well as the nei fei 內 菲 , etc, then became even more informative, and “standardized” thanks to CNNP, including adding Pinyin, Chinese characters printed left to right, and many years later became more decorative. The Tong Qing Hao cakes offered here are all wrapped in plain paper.

The packaging for this tea is quite unique. In fact, I’ve never seen such before or since, and I think neither will you. But the real merit is its outstanding quality. What separates this tea’s packaging from the norm, besides the plain paper wrapping, is that the top cake in each tong 筒 has the large Tong Qing Hao Dragon Horse 龍 馬 nei (tong) piao 筒 票 affixed to the wrapper as well as colored, embroidered ribbon protruding from under the nei (tong) piao, “Dong-Nan-Bei-Xi” 东 南 西 北  (Chinese cardinal points of “East-South-North-West”), and wrapping slightly around the edge portions of the cake’s wrapper. At the time, I thought it was a nice touch and nothing but typical packaging for that brand. However, I’ve found out it’s anything but common. After examination by a fabric specialist, (thread examination, burn test, residue smudge test, smell test, etc) it’s believed to be about 70/30 Polyester/Rayon blend. Polyester was invented in the early 1940’s and wearable fabric was made in the late 40’s early 50’s. Its use in ribbon making became prevalent post WW2. China would import polyester and other man-made fibers beginning in the 60’s and have their own production in the early 70’s. Rayon production in China, on the other hand, began in the late 50’s. Come the early 70’s, Polyester and Rayon production in China was at full bore. This fits well into the timeframe of estimated production of the tea. The ribbon’s pattern is similar to ancient embroidery patterns that adorn many of the clothing worn by, mainly, the women of the ethnic minority tribes of the Yunnan 雲 南  area, such as the Yi 彝  and Dai . Even if this ribbon was imported to China prior to their ability and scale to manufacture such, the ribbon’s pattern has been dated to have been made/used from the late 50’s to mid 80’s. Being that this ribbon wouldn’t be worn as clothing, it would make sense that for this purpose it wasn’t made out of cotton or silk. Was this a limited, special production of Tong Qing Hao Dragon Horse tea, gathered from a very specific part of Yi Wu Mountain from very specific trees by a specific clan/tribe? And was this ribbon a nod, a form of commemoration, to that clan/tribe? After all, the Dai are not just “an ethnic minority.” No, there’s more to them than that. They are considered the original farmers of Pu-erh tea, going back over 2,000 years. Not only that, they make, by hand, some of the most outstanding paper you could find, most of which, certainly years ago, was used to wrap the teacakes. Or was this ribbon to delineate that it was from the south portion of the mountain range? Or was it accorded a special local award of sorts?


The final part to this story is the nei fei itself.  This is the ancient nei fei style: characters printed inside of a double red line printed oval, as opposed to characters printed inside a single red line printed rectangle.  It appears that sometime around the late 70’s to mid 80’s the single line red rectangle appeared and would become more prevalent. The double red line oval was most likely left over from already-printed stock as well as continued printing by the factory/estate (or its supplier) until that time when they ran out and/or things became a little more standardized toward the rectangle-printed nei fei. It is for all the above reasons that lead me to believe that these Tong Qing Hao teacakes are possibly from the mid 1970’s.  An extreme rarity.


The tea has been in storage inside David’s tea cave for the past quarter century.  Humidity levels fluctuate in the 60% – 75% range, and temperature range, depending on the season, varies between 60-70°F.  I believe his storage has greatly benefited the tea, allowing it to develop a panoply of flavors reminiscent of dried fruits, camphor, mineralization, wood, etc.

While I can provide you with all of this info, it comes down to the tea. That’s what makes this story what it is; from the tea maker and techniques employed, and to where it all begins – with great, raw source material, of course. Here are my perspectives and insights into this tea:


Teacake Appearance and Scent: Fine leaf quality and a few stems visible. Excellent color displayed at this stage of development. Firmly and evenly pressed. Not easily broken apart by hand. Beautiful, sweet tea-woody scents.

Wash color, Initial scents/taste: Deep yellowish color with a tinge of light brown. The washed (10 – 15  seconds) tea at first is quite nice.  Reveals light hints of melon, muted stewed cherries, wood, camphor, earth. The washed tea leaves’ vapor is absolutely amazingly aromatic. Surprising, though it turned out to be quite indicative of what was to come. It was like entering a country farmer’s market and getting that

first whiff, providing a preview of aromas and flavors. The liquor starts off beautifully with that typical yellow gold of great sheng. It moves into colors that show nice mahogany hues and then gets deeper and begins to reveal a lovely rosewood warmth to it on longer steeps. Crystal clear, like a chunk of jewel-quality amber.  The coloring maintains its strength well through the initial steepings and then varied steep times each subsequent steep. The depth of extract and coloring can increase/decrease based on your desired steep times and the intensity you wish to achieve. The remaining leaves have a dark brownish color with tinges of dark olive green.

Aromatics: The tea itself brings forth notes of sliced Fuyu persimmon, hints of sweet soil, lightly damp earth, dried rose petals and wild flowers, a deep, almost sweet raisin-like aroma, licorice root, violin bow rosin. Hints of a somewhat ginseng/frankincense-like quality and notes of camphor -yet another sign of its pre 1990’s origin. It exhibits that beautiful, distinct petrichor-like fragrance rising from the tea, wafting so regally over the room, followed by notes of wet clay. Reveals an

unmistakable aroma of finely hewn centuries old wood from an ancient temple.

Eucalyptus/Camphor abounds. Make sure to smell the gaiwan or teapot after you pour out the tea upon each steep and you’ll pick up notes of an amazing strawberry-marzipan like fragrance. The bouquet is quite intoxicating to say the least.

Mouthfeel: Not overly thick or cloying, yet concentrated.  Weight/feel of the liquor is a 7.5 – 8 out of 10.

Taste: A tea of exquisite refinement and balance but this tea really comes into its own at around the 5thsteep. Notes of dried plum/pear, wood, a wonderful, almost dark sweetness with notes of the dry bitterness of 85% cacao chocolate.  An almost Ku Gua 苦 瓜 (bitter melon) bitterness/astringency to it on the sides of the palate and a sweetness on the middle. Subsequent steeps reveal a combo of dried Chinese Red/Medjool dates, and rich notes of that amazing resinous character so indicative of high-quality Pu-erh. No doubt the constituent properties of camphor trees in the area influence such. Camphor is considered a benchmark of great Pu-erh tea. Freshly foraged mushrooms and beet/root vegetables. Mid palate to the finish shows incredible earthy, clay-like notes. Finishes with an amazingly complex hint of sweet earth, wood, resin, and ever-so-lightly honeyed yellow squash mixed with dried apricot. Can clearly taste the Chinese medicinal notes in this tea. The tea’s Qi 气  is understandable only via one’s willingness to accept that it exists, and your ability to feel it and to interpret its presence as it flows through your body.  I won’t be so presumptuous as to tell you that there is “x” level of it in this tea, I leave such ethereal properties up to you for your own discernment.


400g +/- grams per cake.

Each cake is individually wrapped in plain paper with no printing. Each cake has its own nei fei.


The top cake in each tong of 7 cakes has the large Dragon Horse nei (tong) piao along with commemorative/decorative ribbon affixed to the outer wrapper.


Appears to have a stem to leaf ratio of approximately 3.5% by weight.


The nei (tong) piao is translated (translations vary) as follows:

Yunnan Tong Qing Hao. This store established in Yunnan for over 100 years. The Pu-erh is chosen from original Yi Wu Mountain. Early spring tender white tip leaves. The tea leaves color is golden yellow and thick. The water flavor is dark red and fragrance is all-natural. And this is the nei piao to prove it. Tong Qing original factory/store. The nei fei (in non-simplified characters) says pretty much the same.

Each tong (in non-simplified characters) is stamped, translated as follows:


春 陽   Early Spring


尖   Early Spring Tender Pick


號   Tong Qing Zi Hao



正 Original Mountain

Tong Top View
« 1 of 5 »



In conclusion, The Last Resort has been successful in demonstrating a working model of sustainability. The water bill is just 20% of the County average. I grow and cook food, heat the house, water the garden and fruit trees, with a very small carbon footprint, powered by the sun and earthworms. Unfortunately, the current liability with the county diminishes any sustainability advantage.


It was always my plan when I purchased the property to turn the The Last Resort over to a non-profit, which would maintain and hold the property in perpetuity for the community and future generations.


From The Lagunitas Project website: (


THE LAGUNITAS PROJECT was formed in 2018 to be a source point for inspiring creativity and discovery of systems that recover bio-diversity, and grow environmental awareness as modeled in the sustainable village at The Last Resort —the nucleus of The Lagunitas Project.

We serve to:

  • Maintain and preserve The Last Resort through fiscal stewardship;
  • Establish the David L. Hoffman Center for Sustainable Living;
  • Present Arts, Architecture, Cultural and Environmental Programming for Children, Youth and Adults;
  • Support a Global Artist Residency and Lab for Discovering Scalable Solutions to Environmental Problems;
  • Grow Social Awareness for Clean Technology Through Diverse Individual, Group and Community Partnerships;
  • Work with Organizations to Promote and Integrate Eco-Restorative Systems in Construction Standards.


If not for the selfless support and dedication of three neighbors, John Torrey, Walter Scott, and Jean Berensmeier, I probably would have lost the property long ago.  I also bow to the herculean efforts put forth by Paul Seaton, Executive Director of The Lagunitas Project, and so many others who have believed and contributed to the survival of The Last Resort.


Next week I will appear before the judge unrepresented. I will do my best to get the case thrown out of court, as unlikely as this might be. Sixty thousand dollars was the original agreed amount for settlement by previous County Counsel Tom Lyons before he was replaced by Deputy County Counsel Brian Case, who took that offer off the table. The County has now received more than four times this amount. Can’t we just call it a day and be done with it?  Let me live my life in peace!!


In court, I’m up against four attorneys; for the County, the Receiver, and the bank. David vs. Goliath. The County is holding me hostage. Before I can even give my property away for free to a non-profit, I must first pay up front over one million dollars.


Our current Supervisor Dennis Rodoni inherited this quagmire from the previous administration under former Supervisor Steve Kinsey. I think Supervisor Rodoni is a solid guy and sincere in wanting a fair and equitable settlement. His influence is key for the future of The Last Resort. If you can, please make a point of contacting him either by phone or e-mail at (415) 473-7331 or Letters of support and making an appearance in the courtroom are always helpful.


I will need time to put together a payment plan for the fines and penalties mentioned above.  If the judge and the County are willing to negotiate a more reasonable settlement, I could make a down payment up front, and schedule payments over time utilizing tea revenues from The Phoenix Collection.


If you wish to show your support for tea, The Last Resort, or myself, please come to the court hearing on Thursday, March 12th at 9 am.  Marin County Civic Center, San Rafael, California: Courtroom F. 


Now, being that I’m in my 70’s, I don’t always get back to people with the quickness of a jack-rabbit youth, but whenever you do reach out to me, I’ll always make the effort to respond…just be patient, thank you.  And if we should be talking by phone, please speak up and take me off speakerphone, as my hearing isn’t what it used to be.


I can’t predict my future but I’m still sowing seeds in the garden and planting new fruit trees on the terraces…


May peace and sanity prevail in the world!



David Lee Hoffman, CDO


P.S.: If you’re in the Bay Area on a Saturday, please drop by our little Tea Museum, 7282 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Lagunitas, California. As long as we’re still here, we will remain open to the public, 10:00am- 2:00pm, every Saturday. Free tea tasting and many interesting teas for sale. Other days and times by appointment only. Call Jeannie for more info.


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