September Newsletter

September, 2016

Dear Friends,

We’re still here! And, at least for the time being, it’s business as usual. The new tea harvests are all in and Jeannie is ready to take your order.

Just as in everything else in life, there’s good news and bad news. Since our last newsletter was over three years ago, there’s a lot to report.

Many of you have heard about my travails with the County of Marin ( Forty-three years ago I began a project to create a living model of sustainability. In that I have been wildly successful.

With a big help from earthworms and vermicomposting, I can grow my own food, enjoy wonderfully healthy and delicious meals and have tasty fruit throughout the year (and still have plenty to share with friends and neighbors!). It is fertilized exclusively from local inputs and watered by stored rainwater and greywater. My use of municipal water from MMWD is a fraction of county averages. Food is cooked from current sunlight, both direct and stored. I live in comfort, create almost zero waste, and have successfully demonstrated viable alternatives to archaic and obsolete septic tanks. My unique vermicomposting, grey- and -black water systems have been inspected and evaluated by two prestigious environmental engineering firms, ENGEO and Questa Engineering. They both wrote up favorable reports.

I’ve turned trees into timber, built with stone, earth, and metal by the labor and sweat of my own hands. The byproduct of all my work has been a magical transformation, regeneration, and proliferation of life in the environment around me. Frogs, snakes, lizards, birds, bats, even Great Blue Herons, have all become frequent visitors. It’s always a pleasure to observe the ever-changing sights, sounds, and fragrances. And to enjoy a nice cup of tea…

The Good News

We have opened a showroom and soon to be The Tea Museum right here in downtown Lagunitas.  Our first exhibit will be,

Tea & Bamboo:

Rare Collection of Bamboo Fragrance Pu-erhs & Ceramic Bamboo Teapots.

The collecting of Bamboo Fragrance Pu-erhs has been a personal interest of mine for more than a quarter of a century and I think I’ve amassed a very exciting selection. The bamboo Yixing teapots complement the tea and are stunning by themselves. They show the creative mastery from many treasured artists. The best part is you will have the opportunity to taste each one of the twenty-five Bamboo Fragrance Pu-erhs, some dating back to the 1980’s, and have a chance to take some home. Stay tuned for the opening date.

In the meantime, please drop by our show and tasting room and try some of our rare, collectable, and Original Lagunitas Cave-aged Tea. Taste before you buy is always the best way to purchase tea. Currently we’re open only on Saturdays between 10:00 am – 2:00 pm. All other times are by appointment. In case we still don’t have signage up by the time you receive this newsletter, we’re easy to find. We’re right between the Lagunitas grocery store and Arti’s Indian restaurant, both nice places to have good food. You can order some up and sit at our outdoor table to enjoy.  Our address: 7282 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Suite 1, Lagunitas, California, 94938.

This is a good time to purchase one of our Preparation Tables. Choose from more than 30 styles in bamboo, wood, and stone. You can see some of them on our website. If you enjoy Gongfu style of tea preparation (method of using lots of leaf in a gaiwan or small tea pot with short, multiple infusions) or simply want to expand your tea experience, come and check out our selection. We’re downsizing our warehousing in San Rafael and reducing our inventory. We’re offering a half-off, 50% discount, on our entire inventory of Preparation Tables if picked up in Lagunitas. This is all old stock merchandise and we will not be importing them again. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. If we have to pack and mail to you we can only offer a 20% discount but our $10 flat rate shipping will save you on shipping costs. If you purchase a Preparation Table, we can also give you a 20% discount on any tea accessory with your order: scales, cups, gaiwans, serving pitchers, strainers, etc. Everything you would need to prepare and serve tea like a pro!

But what good is having nice tea gear without some special tea leaves to brew? We can definitely help with that.

Pu-erh drinkers will be pleased to hear about some of the recent teas I’ve been pulling out of the cave. Two of them have become a couple of my favorites and I’m drinking a lot of them these days. The first is No. 5420 Menghai Shou Brick from the Langhe Tea Factory. It weighs 250 grams and the date of production was May 11, 1999, pressed from leaves picked in 1996 from Nannuo Mountain. This factory has a reputation for some of the best ripe/cooked pu-erhs in Yunnan and this brick is an excellent example of such. The price is $80 per brick. This tea has become rare and collectable in China. The last I heard was these bricks were selling for ¥999 (about US$150) in Guangzhou which is almost double from our price. If you want it packed in an attractive hinged and latched hardwood box (No. 8506) we’ll include one for an additional $25.

My other pu-erh recommendation is for our raw (sheng) cake, No. 5122 Yiwu Mountain Old Tree Wild Beencha. This tea is now selling for $126 in China. Our price is $100 / cake. We can include a hinged hardwood box (No. 8505) for an additional $30. This is a full-size 357-gram cake from the Xinghai Tea Factory and was produced in 2002. Located next to the Langhe Tea Factory in Menghai Town, the Xinghai Tea Factory was started by a group of engineers and technicians who left the state-run CNNP Menghai Tea Factory to start their own business. This was their first year of production. They had collected tea leaves from several mountains. I choose Yiwu after tasting their choices. It was good back then. It’s now been cave-aged to perfection here in Lagunitas for thirteen years! But don’t just trust my palate – you can purchase a sample of either one to try yourself for five dollars (after meeting our minimum order of fifty dollars).

The Not-so-good News

My life’s work of 43 years was all constructed without any building permits. Now the County wants to punish me. Their position has been for me to get a demolition permit, level the property, pay the $350,000 in fines, penalties, court costs, and County hours and then I can apply for a building permit. I declined their offer.  In spite of documented testimony from three historic experts and contrary to what other California communities have done with historic properties, the County decided to require an impossible 100% code compliance.

The Judge has now turned my property over to a “Receiver” who has the power and authority to bring the property into compliance by whatever means necessary. This includes demolition as an option for structures that can’t be made to conform (all?).

I’m always eager for good news that might give cause for optimism. So it was, when after touring my property, all five members of Marin County’s own Architectural Commission voted unanimously to “approve a designation of architectural significance for the site in its totality, including all 36 structures, to preserve its intrinsic artistic value as a site of local importance to the history and culture of unincorporated Marin County”. This would invoke the State Historic Building Code, give weight to the State Historic Landmark Application under way and would keep the County’s bulldozers at bay. But the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing. When the Receiver caught wind of this, he invalidated the application (as he is now in control of the property) as this had proceeded without his authorization.

Wouldn’t this be a good time for another cup of tea?

We are presently charcoal firing some very special Phoenix Mountain Oolongs using traditional bamboo ovens.  These teas will be sold under No. 3205 Phoenix Mountain Oolong, Private Reserve.  Please call for price and availability.

Or how about a nice fresh green? No. 2201 Dragon Well, the traditional pan-fired by hand green tea is very good this year and the price is lowered to just $20 / .25 lb bag. If you prefer a green tea in an oven-roasted, more “bakey” style, try No. 2802 Meizhan Green for $25 / .25lb bag.

Feel free to give us a call if you have any tea questions or just want to say hello.

Our office hours are: Monday – Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tel: 415 488-9017

The Bad News

All this action the County has taken against me has cost a lot of money in which I’m expected to pay. I recently received another bill from the Receiver that was more than $100,000. This amount requested is just an advance for the Receiver to begin his work. He went to the Judge, got his signature, and proceeded with a lien on the property with Bank of America so he can get paid now and later for work done in the future.

Eventually, the bank will have to sell the property to recoup their money. My attorney says the bank won’t care about the 36 structures, which will be seen as a liability. “It’s in the bank’s interest, with land prices what they are today, to simply level the property and sell the land to a developer”. I’m reminded of the words by Woody Guthrie,

“some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen”.

Enough with the bad news. There are still a few more good things to report.

The black tea harvests were very, very good this year. We’re offering three special ones grouped together as the Triple Gem Black, Cat. No. 9400. This will consist of a quarter-pound each of No. 4503 Qi Lan Black @ $30, No. 4507 Zheng Shan Xiao Zhong @ $30, & No. 4804 Jin Jun Mei @ $40. Ask for the Triple Gem Black and we’ll give you a 20% discount on all three teas. This selection is best consumed straight. If you’re a milk tea drinker, I suggest you go with No. 4105 Guizhou Black @ $20, No. 4301 Yunnan Gold @ $20, No. 4601 Golden Monkey @ $20, or (Jeannie’s favorite) No. 4401 Golden Bi Luo @ $30.

The future of The Phoenix Collection, The Last Resort, and my pu-erh tea repository remains uncertain, as it seems apparent my time here will be limited.

The County has only recently discovered the existence of my pu-erh cave. I wouldn’t allow them inside without a court order (but now they have one). It doesn’t matter that this may be the only pu-erh cave in North America (the Fort Knox of the pu-erh world?). Nevertheless, the cave was constructed without a permit, as was everything else here, and therefore must be torn down! If you’re interested in a quantity purchase of some pu-erh tea for investment, aging, or just to insure a supply for your future, please give me a call and we can talk.

A very big thank you to everyone who signed the petition and wrote letters of support. Over 1800 signatures and letters from the community and friends were passed on to our Supervisor Steve Kinsey, including an application for Historic Landmark Status submitted by City Planner John Torrey and his team.

The hopes for a compromise were high especially for the Historic Landmark Status which would preserve the unique historical structures which are a piece of Marin’s living history and which need to be preserved for future generations to enjoy and find inspiration. Marin County aspires to be the greenest in the country and they have a property that is a living testament to this goal. The county’s actions will speak to their legacy.

Our planet is in crisis, and the problems will not be resolved through anger, fear, and outdated methods. To that end, I’ve tried to do my part and dedicated my life to help envision and create positive solutions. We can’t change the past nor predict the future, but we do have the present to live the changes we want to see in the world. We can all do our part, as best as we can, and live with the hope that the sum of all our efforts will tilt the scales to benefit future generations.

At the end, life is short, come friend – let us drink some tea and just be.

David Lee Hoffman, CDO

More Letters of Support

A letter in support of David Lee Hoffman's 'Last Resort' efforts.

A preview of the letters inside this PDF.

Click here to open the PDF containing these Letters of Support.

David and his grandson Theo.

“Theo reads about his grandfather’s ordeal with the County in the Saturday edition of the Marin Independent Journal, October 3, 2015″

David Lee Hoffman and his grandson.

David Lee Hoffman and his grandson, Theo.

Update October 2, 2015

Update October 2, 2015

It was a slam dunk for the County of Marin. Over in ten minutes. I wasn’t questioned nor allowed to speak or even able to present an additional 700 new signatures from the online petition just received this past week calling for a cooperative plan.


The County appointed Receiver was approved by the Judge and has officially taken over the control of my property. What that specifically means, we will have to see. My attorney, Paul Smith, did get some of the original language of the court order changed to soften the likelihood of the receiver taking my house keys and throwing me off my property.

So for now, I’m still here. We’ll keep you posted as events unfold…

In any case, I am so touched and appreciative of the overwhelming response in support of The Last Resort. Thank you thank you thank you! This in itself gives me hope for the future. Many of you have taken the time and energy to write such beautiful letters. We will begin putting some of these up on the website (after first receiving the author’s permission) sometime next week.

With deep gratitude,

P.S. I only learned yesterday that it was our Supervisor Steve Kinsey who was pushing for a County appointed receiver to take over my property. He said the “receiver being proposed will help, not hurt, David”. Hmmmm.

If you want to express your views to Kinsey, here’s his email address:

County of Marin vs. David Lee Hoffman

County of Marin vs. David Lee Hoffman
County legal documents have now exceeded 12 inches in height and are rapidly increasing. Our county tax dollars hard at work!

David Lee Hoffman with assistant June McCrory. Photo by A.J. Marson.

David Lee Hoffman with assistant June McCrory. Photo by A.J. Marson.

In just two days, Friday, October 2nd, I will go in front of Honorable Judge Paul M. Haakenson to hear how I will be punished for building 42 years without a permit. If you care about my life’s work, and have not already signed our online petition, your signature will be greatly appreciated.

Several of you have asked about attending the hearing. While it probably won’t help my case, it will certainly boost my spirit to see you there. Here is the official court case name and number:


Friday, October 2nd at 9am, Department E at the Superior Court of California County of Marin.

We will do another mailing shortly after the judge has made his decision.

Thank you all so much for your letters of support, donations, good thoughts and for signing our petition.




To my dear and valued customers:

My effort to create a working model of eco-sustainability is now facing demolition (including the pu-erh caves). As many of you already know, the control of my home and property is about to be taken over by a court appointed receiver.

The court hearing is in San Rafael on Friday, October 2, 2015. The judge will determine a course of action to punish me for building forty-two years without a permit. Current fines are in excess of $350,000. 00, the majority which have already been added to my property tax bill. Thus, the future of The Phoenix Collection is very much uncertain.

Please take a moment to kindly sign the petition as soon as possible. If you’re inspired and have the time, please write a letter to Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey (and send a copy to me, please). The petition and letters of support will be submitted to the court on October 2, 2015.

If you would like to receive future updates about this issue, please sign up for the mailing list.

Your support is much appreciated!

Thanks as always,
David Lee Hoffman


This issue is much larger than me losing my home: Update – 9.10.15

County poised to assign receiver to take control of The Last Resort

The County has filed a lawsuit to appoint a receiver to take control of The Last Resort. The hearing will be on Friday, October 2, 2015 at 9:00am, in front of Hon. Judge Paul M. Haakenson, Marin County Superior Court.

We are so grateful that many of you have already signed the petition and written letters of support. Certainly if you are inspired to write another letter, this would be a good time.

Send letters ℅:
David Lee Hoffman
P.O. Box 10, Lagunitas,CA

or by email to

Our attorney, Paul Smith, will be submitting your letters along with the previous petition signed by 1,000 supporters to the judge.

Additionally, Paul will present Adam Posard, an expert architect and builder as my choice for an alternative to the court-appointed receiver. The county’s receiver will likely work to bring the property up to code as quickly as possible, by destruction and removal of all that does not comply to all codes [the entire property?].

Adam, on the other hand, will not be so trigger-happy; he will focus on health and safety, working alongside expert engineers to preserve the artistic integrity of the entire site and its fully functioning zero-waste systems.

Paul Smith will continue to work with the county to find a resolution to reduce their fines and penalties, which now exceed $350,000, back to the original offer of $60,000, which I have already accepted.

This issue is much larger than me losing my home.

At its heart, the solution to the county’s problem is the recognition of the view held by historic experts: that The Last Resort Lagunitas is an important folk art environment. The sanctioning of new, environmentally friendly water recycling systems is also much needed.

Supporting The Last Resort Lagunitas is a small and important step in the direction of a sustainable future.

David Lee Hoffman

Lagunitas local John Torrey’s LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Point Reyes Light, August 27, 2015
Hoffman’s site is historic

Regarding the “Tea Purveyor” article, the piece makes no mention of the legal framework behind historic documentation which is to protect the property from demolition acknowledging the site’s historic status protection from CEQA. A report documenting the property’s potential as County historic landmark was provided to Supervisor Kinsey almost 3 years ago.

I put it together. Kinsey simply sat on it.

The County needs a demolition permit in order to proceed with any destruction of the property. Even if the county waives the need for a demolition permit they are still liable to a CEQA challenge if there is any threat to potential historic structures on the property.

The property in its entirety is, like Watts Tower, a folk art environment and is, according to three historic experts, protected by two criteria of the California Register of Historical Resources. It should be noted that if the property is not listed but nevertheless meets the criteria specified in California Public Resources Code section 5024.1 (defining eligibility for listing in the California Register of Historical Resources), then it is presumed to be “historically significant.”

Nor did the article make any mention of perhaps the most egregious example of local political betrayal. A 1,000 person petition was provided to Kinsey along with the historic report. Speaking for the petitioners, I can state unequivocally that the petition makes clear that San Geronimo Valley residents want a cooperative plan developed to save the property. Kinsey never even acknowledged the petition. Again, he just sat on it. He doesn’t get it. We don’t work for him. He works for us. We’re the boss, not him. Obviously, ignoring petitions sets a very dangerous precedent for the entire county.

Kinsey has said many times to me and others that “he has always wanted to save Hoffman’s property.” Yet like a lot of politicians he has no intention of saving the property at all. He simply says things like that to make himself feel good. It’s a pure giveaway line. David, his attorney Paul Smith and I have worked tirelessly to come up with the basics of a cooperative plan to be developed in conjunction with the County to save the property based on the following:

Removal of tea from the site. Presentation to the County of an independent hydrology report documenting the site’s grey- water, blackwater, and drainage systems. A revision to the financial obligations of the property that will provide for necessary future maintenance of the property and payment of fines while not at the same time creating unsustainable debt. A third party professional agreeable to the County to act as an alternate to the receiver for the property designated by the County. This person would have the ability to evaluate and execute necessary health and safety upgrades on the property. Recognition of the property as an historic resource in accordance with criteria of the California Register of Historical Resources.

Will the County meet with us or will they simply ignore Valley residents and the state’s environmental law? Hopefully the Point Reyes Light will pursue this issue head on in the true spirit of investigative journalism and its Pulitzer Prize reputation.

John Torrey

Richard Lang and Judith Selby Lang’s LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Point Reyes Light, August 20, 2015
Support Hoffman

Thanks to Samantha Kimmey for her report (Aug. 13, 2015) about David Hoff- man, tea purveyor par excellence, sustainability maven and artist of the first order. We were heartened to read that the county is considering special designations for some of the buildings at Hoffman’s architectural wonder, the Last Resort, in Lagunitas. We support this decision however it is important to recognize that every stitch of the Last Resort is important to the whole. Being there one feels the uplift of being inside a great vision, coherent and, above all, useful. It’s not a far stretch to feel the embodiment of great structures that were both useful and stunning to the psyche. What Hoffman has realized in stone and wood is nothing short of the wonder of Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers in Los Angeles or the standing stones of Stonehenge—beautiful in their own right and functional as an agricultural time piece.

We’ve known Hoffman some 40 years, since his arrival in the San Geronimo Val- ley, and have marveled at his energy for building and designing supreme useful- ness into the very structures crucial to our survival on planet earth. Hoffman has fashioned water systems, food systems, and waste systems that are self-sustaining. In our drought times his exemplary water works, that use grey water for his worms and garden, should be adopted as true alternatives to ameliorate our water crisis.

Everything at Hoffman’s home is beautiful and beautifully useful. The Last Re- sort is a work of art. Our vote is for the county receiver to re-shape the entirety of the Last Resort into a teaching center for the beauty of sustainability—as a precious resource for now and for the future.

We encourage everyone to sign the petition of support at http://thelastresortla- and write to Supervisor Steve Kinsey (

A.J. Marson has created a short film, a testimony to David’s fine work…

Richard Lang and Judith Selby Lang
Forest Knolls


August 13, 2015
Anticipating takeover, tea purveyor promotes worm systems

By Samantha Kimmey
A grand Japanese farm- style roof, a boat amidst a pool of rainwater, and lush green plants growing atop an outside restroom are some of the most eye- catching features of famed tea importer David Lee Hoffman’s ornate Lagunitas home. For Mr. Hoffman, how- ever, it is sustainable living systems that he has installed and invented on his two adjacent proper- ties—which he calls the Last Resort—that are paramount. “For me, this place is about the systems, not the structures,” he said at an open house he held on Saturday.

Mr. Hoffman orga-nized the event, which drew perhaps 200 friends and supporters over the course of the day, because he fears that his compound is in immediate jeopardy: Three years after a court judgment in the county’s favor, his lawyer said the county wants to place his property under a court-appointed authority to tackle the dozen or so unpermitted buildings and code violations.

The county’s code enforcement specialist, Cristy Stanley, confirmed on Wednesday that this is indeed the case. “Citing health and safety concerns, the County has elected to seek the appointment of a receiver to remediate a long list of significant code violations on David Lee Hoffman’s residential properties,” she wrote in an email.

Mr. Hoffman will be allowed to remain at his home when a receiver evaluates the property, a lawyer for the county in charge of receivership proceedings, Charisse Smith, said in the same email. Ms. Smith also said the receiver must “seek specific instructions from the court before taking any action that hasn’t been previously authorized by court order.”

In 2012, Mr. Hoffman was fined over $200,000 by a judge, after the county charged that he had built a vast array of structures without permits and that his water recycling systems could contaminate the watershed. (Those fees, with interest now roughly $300,000, have been tacked on to his property tax bill, Mr. Hoffman’s lawyer said.) Mr. Hoffman freely admits to building without permits for decades, but stresses that his system for recycling human waste is “completely closed.” Advocates have hoped to secure historic status for the place—as representative of the environmental movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and as an “artistic environment”— but so far that effort has not borne fruit.

Mr. Hoffman, widely credited as one of the first to bring high quality teas from China to the United States, is now in the process of winding down his tea import business, the Phoenix Collection, which he started in 2009 after selling his previous tea business in 2004. He made his final trip to China just a few weeks ago, and he will cease operations when he sells the remainder of the tea, likely within a year. The county says he cannot operate the business out of his home; after a recent rental opportunity fell through, Mr. Hoffman, who is in his 70s, decided that he is too exhausted to keep going.

Fearing his days of owning the Last Resort are also numbered, he hosted this weekend’s event to educate people about living sustainably and, in particular, the power of earthworm-based composting, or vermiculture. He also wanted to celebrate: it was both Mr. Hoffman’s birthday and the anniversary of the day he moved to the property. Between and after lectures, guests sipped on oolongs and pu-erhs out of thimble-sized white cups, munched on roasted eggplant and falafel in pita bread, and ate forkfuls of moist chocolate birthday cake.

Mr. Hoffman, in a brown linen shirt with a Nehru collar, said he has been working with earthworms—“one of the most important creatures on the planet”— for 44 years. The worms that today turn left over food scraps and human waste into compost all descend from his original cohort.

In his “Worm Palace,” a six-foot long container, the annelids create compost from a mix of food scraps, kitchen grey- water, and calcium from cooked bones and oyster shells. The worms turn this mixture into worm castings, a nutrient-rich fertilizer, which he uses to grow vegetables. To him, this epitomizes the crucial cycle of ecological living. On Saturday, he scooped a handful of crawling worms out to show a small group listening to his presentation. “Smells like good, healthy earth,” he said, offering his audience a whiff.

Then there is his more contentious system, which he calls the Grand Pissoir. It’s a toilet that sends human waste—along with scoops of carbonaceous material to provide the right balance of nutrients— to another group of earthworms. Once the worms eat it, it’s “not poop.” Then he corrected himself. “Well, it’s worm poop,” or fertilizer akin to that created from kitchen scraps. He got the system fully functioning just last year, he told the crowd. The water that flushes the toilet is filtered, he says, then pumped to the roof where it is “bio-filtered” through plants and soil, and then it goes back to the toilet. Rainwater replenishes the system as water evaporates.

“This system is easily scalable,” he said, and can work with just six hours of sunlight a day and at least 20 inches of rain a year. But, he conceded, the politics of operating a system that recycles human waste is complicated. “The laws of nature and the laws that we create don’t match up,” he said.
Mr. Hoffman’s attorney, Paul Smith, worries that a receiver would wipe out his client’s work. That’s because the point of a receiver, Mr. Smith said, “is to bring property into compliance as quickly as possible. Well, guess how that is? You tear everything down.”

Mr. Hoffman has paid for a hydrologic study of the property, a final draft of which is due this week, to prove that those systems are safe. Mr. Smith said he hopes to find a way to convince the county not to appoint a receiver but instead bring in a construction expert to evaluate the buildings and try to bring what was deemed unsafe into compliance.
 Ms. Stanley said that the receiver, Eric Beatty, would attempt to save some structures. “[He] will study the possibility of legalizing some structures on the properties that have unique alternative building design characteristics,” she wrote. “The County adopted an alternative building design ordinance in 2014 that may provide flexibility in code standards to facilitate the legalization process for some structures on the properties.”
To friends at the open house, the prospect of losing all or pieces of Last Resort was painful to consider. Marilyn Milos, who lives in the valley, called it “heart- breaking” and said the property should be “appreciated, not destroyed.”

Mr. Hoffman is doubtful of convincing the county to save all his structures, though he is willing to let his property fall out of his hands to an organization or nonprofit that will care for it. Now that he has finished designing the systems, he said at the open house, “I feel like my work is done.”