Journal du Thé – Contemporary Tea Culture is based on an idea by French artist Johanna Tagada Hoffbeck and designed by Tilmann Steffen Wendelstein. Both gather content and edit each chapter with occasional help from guest contributors. We poured ourselves a cuppa in their company.
What led to the development of Journal du Thé and can you tell us a little more about your respective backgrounds?
JTH: I spent the first eighteen years of my life in rural Alsace, a peculiar French region, which I adore. I learned languages and studied at a local Fine Art School before moving to Zürich and then Germany. This is where my interest in tea and its various cultural practices arose, ironically, whilst working in a cafe serving only ginger infusion. At the time, I had never been to Asia, and the teas I drunk were primarily organic green teas, others were true ’tisane,’ which are herbal teas. The concept of the magazine began to form in my mind, somewhere between 2012 and 2013, when I was attending workshops and tea tastings, reading all I could find on the topic. My flatmates at the time were two tea enthusiasts, who encouraged me. I thought there was a lack of a publication that explores tea in an intimate, fun, and open manner.
In Berlin, I also met Tilmann, thanks to a common friend of Japanese origin. I am unsure if I was a silent or a very outspoken fan of his work. What is certain is that I was a fan! We became friends. I could not imagine anyone else to give form to the project that was JdT than Tilmann. In 2015, I relocated to England. Before the pandemic, I would travel yearly to Japan and India, thanks to my artistic practice. Those countries are also where I had the chance to meet several of JdT‘s great collaborators. We released the first chapter of the series JdT in 2018 and never expected such a warm welcome! It is a project where we are learning with the readers, and that is wonderful.
TSW: I grew up in the southwest of Germany, kind of on the other side of the Rhine from Johanna. I spent six years in Japan working at a design studio in Tokyo before establishing my own practice. I am now based in Berlin but still spend (in normal times) quite a few months every year in Japan.
What influences your editorial decisions? What has been the most surreal story you have unearthed about tea culture to date?
JTH: Personal choice and values. What we create, commission, and publish has to be something that we enjoy in some form. By this, I mean something we would like to read, are curious about, something we did not know of before, subjects that we think are not talked about or not mentioned enough. At times, it is also simply a tea-related creative practice we adore! All of JdT‘s content is formed from past, present, and future projects within tea culture, which we like to put light on. As a result, I frequently explore various archives and collections.
The most surreal story for me, thus far, was perhaps the floating tearoom of Toshio Kojima, created by architect Terunobu Fujimori, which we featured in Chapter 1. I entered Toshio’s house, walked up to the living room, he then pulled to the side the paper screen on the wall, next to the TV, and here we entered a magnificent tearoom, humbly and with a smile!
TSW: I think we simply write the stories we would like to read ourselves. We try not to over-plan things and let our intuition guide us. The most surreal discovery for me was the abandoned tea plantation in Hong Kong that we covered in Chapter 2. Since then the city has had historic transformations again and it already seems like a different era when we visited just a couple of years ago.
‘Tea and sympathy’ is a phrase that is often used in Irish culture, can you relate to it? How has Journal du Thé led you to appreciate the broader impact of tea on society and culture?
TSW: This question makes me look forward to a potential story in Ireland! I think this phrase encapsulates perfectly how we think about tea. Beyond its obvious qualities as a beverage, tea seems to have a unique power to bring people together in a warm and calm and peaceful manner. There are so many cultures where tea is equal to hospitality and a friendly welcome. It seems to be a universal sentiment.
JTH: The start of your question would make for an excellent article in JdT! I relate to it. It never ceases to amaze me how tea can be found in all places of the world, in so many different forms and rituals.
Can you tell us a little bit more about what you have discovered about Japan and its relationship to tea?
TSW: Living in Japan has made tea an integral part of every day for me. Not just as a drink but also as a ritual that slows down time and encourages contemplation. As for Japan in general, I think the biggest discovery is that you will never stop discovering. The myriad ways that tea culture permeates every aspect of life – architecture, gardening, philosophy, art – always make us wonder where to begin documenting any of it.
JTH: In addition to contemplation and the aspects Tilmann mentioned, I feel there is also so much fun in Japan! I think Japan is sometimes perceived by Westerners, especially regarding tea, as being very rigid and codified. Yet, some of the experiences tea practitioners I met in Japan simply laughed when something ‘that should not have happened’ happened. And that made for the best human time. It is that fluidity and spontaneity that I cherish, making with what is, mending and not disregarding like Kintsugi.
What are you currently drinking? What tea trends are you observing?
TSW: I just received a new shipment of Tie Guan Yin which I enjoy very much in the morning.As for trends, I think we are not the closest observers of those. What’s for sure is that the interest in proper tea and the cultures around it is rising everywhere. I think it’s going to be a very exciting decade for tea.
JTH: There was frost in the garden this morning. As the days grow colder and winter approaches, I enjoy daily cups of hot Indian Masala Chai. I prepare it being quite generous with the portion of cardamon, and let it all brew with oat or soya milk.
What else is Poetic Pastel Press planning?
JTH: 2020 was a year of relative rest for Poetic Pastel and Poetic Pastel Press, partly due to the pandemic. We could not imagine attempting to convert the broad experiences of togetherness, which Poetic Pastel has conceptualised and brought to life since 2014, to online endeavours. As for Poetic Pastel Press, launching and celebrating a publication is a chance to offer cups of organic tea, chat, listen to a live musical performance sitting together.
In 2021, Poetic Pastel Press shall return with a publication on the practice of ceramic artist Sigrid Volders, Journal du Thé – Chapter 4, and musical works including new pieces by artist Jatinder Singh Durhailay, amongst others. We hope that it will be possible to organise events again, including concerts, plant-based dinners, and drawing workshops.
Have you heard about Mrs Doyle in Father Ted? No googling please!
TSW: Oh no, you’re going to expose our cultural ignorance now…
JTH: Never! Well we know what I am to google after this…
photo of Johanna & Stefan, credit: Kohei Yamamoto
Johanna, can you tell us your recent exhibitions in Taipei, Tokyo and Hiroshima?
Let’s start with Taipei! I am curious about Taiwan, its landscape, arts, and its tea scene too. I have never visited the island before and look forward to the day I may. I am sure there will be lots to share with Journal du Thé’s readers. On the invitation of Pon Ding, this was my first exhibition in Taipei. It was titled Meeting and introduced my practice with visual works created between 2015 and 2020.
In Hiroshima, it was a first, too. The gallery space of the bookshop Readan Deat presented my first all-photography based exhibition, titled From Brown to Pink, From Pink to Green. These images are part of a personal diary recording the time with my father in the garden during the first Covid-19 lockdown in France. The photographs have been taken with the 35mm I use for the pictures included in JdT. The magazine certainly has been a motor to keep my photography practice going and to feel more confident about it.
In Tokyo, Nidi Gallery presented The Things I made, an ensemble of paintings, works on paper, sculpture, photograph, film, and drawings made this year and filled with the desire to live while respecting all life forms. I am thankful that it was possible to have Tilmann designing the printed material created on this solo exhibition’s occasion. It was the first time that I was not at Nidi Gallery for an opening. I missed it and shared tea at home with my husband on occasion. We usually serve tea to visitors, with the support of collaborative, organic tea brands such as SaTerra Tea. It is a moment I enjoy immensely.
I am grateful for the chance to present my practice and amazed by the fantastic work the people in charge of these galleries have done. While I am in lockdown in England, I hope to present such works in art centres and galleries in Europe in the future too.
words: Michael McDermott
Journal du Thé – Chapter 3, £18