A gentle ringing gong resounds radiant and warm in the private dining room of the CORE: Club. Last month, as members entered through the heavy wooden doors, Tea Master Guitian Li greeted them for an exclusive preview of the Neoillusion Teaism ceremony. Using a bamboo ladle, she retrieved rose water from the iron vase to cleanse the hands of each guest—the signature opening for her unique tea ceremony. Neoillusion Teaism is a 21st-century platform that combines elements of traditional tea ceremony with sensibilities of contemporary life and modern classicism, marrying the art of tea with the art of living in performance and service. Neoillusion Teaism brings together East and West and explores the meaning of the moment as the art of tea itself.
Master Li was raised on a tea farm in the Hunan Province of Southern China and is certified by the People’s Republic of China in Tea Art and Tea Evaluation. She brings to New York a fresh take on an ancient practice and members of the CORE: Club were some of the first in the city to experience the service she will be providing from her own Tearoom opening early 2016 in Williamsburg.
As each of the 11 guests were seated, live music from the guqin (ancient Chinese instrument) and the shakuhachi (Japanese wooden flute) played, transporting the room to a scene of floating clouds above a quiet river, further cleansing the personal palate from the busy day outside. There was a pronounced silence as Master Li, assisted by tea performer Mariya Hristo, prepared the first serving of tea: Heaven Tip. She explained after a few lengthy minutes that it is called this because they gather the tea leaves from the high mountain, and the purity of the altitude creates a tea that is clear in taste, but potent in nature.
The second tea tasted was a 12-year aged Puer from an ancient tree. Puer was once used as currency in China because of its countless health benefits including improving circulation, being a great source of antioxidants that help fight cancer and promote cell growth. Puer aids in digestion and weight loss as well as acts as an anti-inflammatory amongst many other profits. Tasting as if you are deep in a wooden forest and the smell of moist soil is all around you, Puer invites your roots to furrow and your branches to grow and reach for the heavens.
The third tea tasted was one of Master Li’s own creation, Imamekashi Tea, or, Tea of the Moment. This tea is comprised of the guests drinking in the moment of music, company, flavor of the room, and taste of experience as though it were a liquid in a cup. A two minute meditation closed the ceremony whence the peace of the practice was sealed like red liquid wax and pressed with the crest of the emperor. Master Li then ended with this sentiment: “The taste of time is the taste of tea; the taste of tea is the taste of time. There is no separation between tea and situation; there is no separation between host and guest, there is no difference between consciousness and humanity, there is no difference between body and spirit. There is no distance between tradition and now. There is only one language—oneness.”
While coffee and wine have long held the mantle of western connoisseurship, tea is quickly becoming the new pursuit of tastemakers in the city; those opting for health clubs over nightclubs, those seeking to purify rather than clutter. The balance and harmony that tea and tea ceremony add to daily life is the new yet ancient luxury that is not of feigned or perceived material value, but an experience of time and presence, spirit and aesthetics that together create a luxury that cannot be mass produced.
As the guests departed with their gift bags of a tea sample and a piece of calligraphy written by Master Li, there was a visible transformation on all faces, as if a heavy burden had been lifted from them and they were now calm and serene to face the rest of their day. The tea ceremony of Neoillusion Teaism offers an escape from the fast-paced wiring of our contemporary world and brings each participant to a moment of peace and the luxury of the Art of Tea.