Journal du Thé has its source in French artist Johanna Tagada’s love of tea, a passion shared by the publication’s designer, Tilmann S. Wendelstein. With its second chapter recently published by Poetic Pastel Press, the journal explores tea culture – from growing and farming it to pouring and drinking it – through a collection of photographs, stories, interviews, drawings and essays. In Johanna’s words: “We observe and approach tea as a contemporary medium that holds the possibility to offer a space for conversation, openness and honesty.” The aim, she says, is “to capture timeless aspects of contemporary culture and tradition alike, aiming for a publication that will stay meaningful, even when read in 25 years.”
The publication was initially conceived of in 2014, while Johanna and Tilmann were both living in Berlin. As Tilmann describes it: “One day, Johanna came to my home in Berlin to shoot photographs for a story in The Weekender. We started talking about design while drinking tea and she told me about her idea of creating a magazine on tea culture and asked if I was interested in getting involved. It didn’t take me one second to be absolutely taken by the idea. It was really a dream project falling into my lap out of the blue.” Tilmann’s design is delightfully minimalist and clean, in keeping with the subtle, simple beauty of the delicate receptacles for tea-serving encountered in homes like that of the photographer Takashi Homma, and the freshness of Japan’s tea plantations.
Having printed 500 copies of Journal du Thé: Chapter 1 in 2018 with the expectation that it would take over a year to sell 300 copies, Johanna and Tilmann were overwhelmed when, two months later, they had completely sold out. Johanna tells us: “While we personally believed in the project, we did not expect such a response and enthusiasm, especially from such a broad audience. We feel very grateful for that. We are not tea professionals, simply two friends who enjoy tea and, most of all, sharing it with others.” As such, the publication’s emphasis is on tea as a cultural and social phenomenon, rather than facts about brewing and varieties. In Tilmann’s words: “Journal du Thé is not concrete information about tea, it’s an exploration of the world that swirls around it.”
Beyond documenting an abandoned tea plantation in Hong Kong and the tea farms on the Japanese island of Kyushu, Journal du Thé functions as a space for conversation and creative exchange. As well as the photographer Takashi, we visit glass blower Jochen Holz; architect Yuy Tezuka; artist Cécile Daladier and her husband, architectural professor Nicolas Soulier; designer and 3D artist Seoyoon Kim; soap, tofu and wine maker Godai Sahara; and designer and art director Akihiro Kumagaya. Over a hot brew, the publication establishes dialogues among different personalities, disciplines and cultures – using tea as a conduit for intimate and open discussion.
With Chapter 3 on the horizon for spring 2020, Johanna and Tilmann are planning to focus on tea culture in India. Before that, Journal du Thé is playing host to a number of tea-focused events in Tokyo and Kyoto, including a group exhibition entitled Tea Today, on the contemporary world of tea. “Hopefully,” Tilmann says, “we can keep slowly growing Journal du Thé into a solid fixture within the tea world and beyond without having to compromise its spirit. I personally hope I can keep its appearance evolving and a little bit surprising each time. As long as it keeps giving back to us as much as it is now, I don’t see us ever growing tired of it!” As tea-addicts ourselves – we consume it by the bucketload at It’s Nice That – we can safely say that we’ll never get tired of it, either.