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

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