Siblings Lily and Max Raphael are the founders of Hearth, a project that creates community through tea and ancient ceremony. You can most often find them at Clear Conscious Movement in East Walnut Hills, where many healers and teachers share a space for their events and classes.
Soapbox sat down for a Q&A with the Raphaels to learn more about how they strengthen and heal Cincinnati through tea.
Why did you choose your location?
Lily: Hearth exists wherever we are. At this time, most of our activities take place at Clear Conscious Movement; however, we also take Hearth to the community, stewarding tea ceremonies at yoga studios, retreats, nature hikes, festivals, art installations and most recently, the Covington Farmers Market.
Max: Doing ceremony after ceremony at Clear, we’ve witnessed not only how tea can positively impact the space it’s in, but also all the people who share it. While we hope to expand beyond just tea with Hearth, I think the stillness and connection these ceremonies offer — on so many levels — really captures the overall spirit behind our project.
What services do you offer?
Lily: Inspired by our travels in Southeast Asia and Latin America, the goods we offer capture the beauty, culture and human connection we have found in the many places we have gone. These goods root back to all things cozy, providing a sense of home and respite while on the journey. Currently, we offer a selection of teas that Max came across while practicing tea ceremony in Asia. All our teas are clean, organic and in some cases, even wild, and sourced from personal connections to farms and tea merchants in Taiwan and Southern China.
Max: Our inspiration to share tea comes from connecting with it as a plant medicine, as I first did while studying in Taiwan. So rather than approach tea as a fancy or exotic beverage, we hope to facilitate a deeper, more personal connection to it, which we’ve found for ourselves.
What would surprise people about a tea ceremony? Why would someone want to try it?
Lily: During the ceremony, what I find time and again is that people are surprised by the level of stillness and connectedness they experience through a fairly simple practice. The mere act of sitting in silence and drinking tea allows us time and space to journey inward in a very accessible way that can easily be replicated at home. So much of our time is spent interacting with others, it is hard to find a moment to look inward. Even in just under two hours, it is amazing what one can discover about him/herself while silently sipping a bowl of tea.
Max: What’s most surprising is how close everyone feels with one another by the end of the ceremony, even though we’ve never met before, and just spent about an hour or more in silence, not conversation! The ceremony is its own sort of nonverbal conversation; with yourself, with nature and even with others.
Actually, the organic flow of it all, and the beautiful responses from people right after it, often catch me by surprise, too. Each ceremony is completely different, even when the same people are gathered. In the Japanese tea ceremony, there’s a saying that captures this: ichi go ichi e, "one chance, one encounter." One meaning of this is that any ceremony (or really any kind of gathering) has its own flavor and essence that could never be duplicated again. This exact assortment of people might never gather again. So tea can help us enjoy this unique time and space together. I usually like to start the gatherings by saying “this experience would not be the same if even one of us weren’t present."
How does this ceremony enhance the culture of Cincinnati?
Max: It’s a really special way to spend time with people, whether they’re new or old friends. We have many ways to connect and gather, but so few like this, if at all. To share silence with each other, without it being awkward or rigid, is both rare and meaningful. Most of us already drink tea, and this is just one way to find an even deeper connection with it, and through it, to something beyond tea itself. And the best part is, you don’t have a to be a certain way, or believe in any particular idea. You don’t need to know anything about tea or be a meditator, anything like that. You just sit and drink tea, and without any effort you begin to relax. Your senses gently awaken, and you feel you can set aside the usual masks or armor that some of us need just to get through the day.
We’re not sharing tea or the ceremonies to push any ideas, or even to make it into something exotic. We’re just creating a space each time for you to simply be as you are, and take away whatever meaning the experience has for you. To us, this is something so rare and needed not just here in Cincinnati, but everywhere.
What rewards you about this business?
Lily: There are so many rewarding aspects to Hearth. I love that it gives everyone an excuse to sit down and connect with each other, and that we have the opportunity to share these very special pieces of our journeys with people in our hometown. I am also grateful that it has brought so much purpose and continuity to what my brother and I love doing.