Pages of an unopened book, the smell of undiscovered stories. In these brusque ‘pandemic’ times where digital-face is the front, we slip back to thoughts of more palpable joys. Like a weighted bound of pressed pages on tea culture - Eighty Degrees Magazine grants us this precise feeling.
An independent magazine in their third publication, Eighty Degrees is with a collection of contributions from writers, illustrators and photographers inside every issue, interpreting the vast culture of tea. Behind it is Founder & Editor in Chief, Martin Boháčik, with whom we got in touch with recently to ask a few questions about his passion-project and the journey he has made through tea.
The magazine's namesake is quite symbolic in tea, can you tell us what Eighty Degrees means to you and your ideology behind it?
It was very difficult to come up with a name. It is a magazine about the culture of tea, but I didn’t want the topic to be too obvious just by looking at the title. And while the aim of the publication is to bring great stories to tea lovers, I also wanted to reach out to those less familiar with it. After all, tea is very widespread, but people’s experiences have often not been great or only very superficial.
The title ‘eighty degrees’ is meant to be intriguing, a conversation starter. For seasoned tea drinkers this is not news, but a lot of readers have come to me saying they didn’t know tea should be brewed at (various) lower temperatures, rather than at the boiling point. They have been making their green teas much too hot and they concluded that green teas are not for them. This is also very common among my friends who say they have tried green tea, but they didn’t like it. Well, I am not sure they “actually” tried it! Just by understanding this simple brewing step, their world of tea instantly opens up. My mission to improve people’s experience is often accomplished simply by their reading the title!
How did you come across the idea of a tea publication?
The idea came about two years ago when I was moving countries and was deciding what to do next. My professional background was in languages and advertising, but I wanted to create something from scratch, something that one could hold in their hands and appreciate from different aspects. It was also at that time that I noticed a lot of new indie magazines popping up on a very wide range of topics. The medium of small, independent magazines is great for addressing niche themes. They are usually very well made, they care about design and strong visuals, and often deliver well-crafted long stories. The kind of stories that invite you to slow down and properly delve into a topic. And slowing down is crucial for tea. But as hard as I searched, I could not find anything that would tick all these boxes for me in tea. I knew nothing about publishing, but the challenge enticed me and I went for it.
Have you always had a strong connection with tea culture?
My tea habits started when I was a teenager, but I only drank what was available to me with my non-existent knowledge. I would have my Earl Grey from a tea bag, but that was that. Only when I moved to London did I notice there were actual tea shops that sold loose leaf teas. So, I upgraded my Earl Grey and added a jasmine tea. These were my two staples for a decade.
About three years ago I got to know certain people, especially from China, who introduced me to other teas and everything changed. Now, I always want to try new ones. My friends and family would find it curious that one could care as much about tea. For them it was just something they buy very cheaply and drink when ill or when they don’t want coffee.
Can you give us a runthrough the development stages in preparing an issue for print?
It all starts with a vision of what the new issue should be about. It may sound simple to settle at first, but it inevitably changes throughout the process. I do have a structure which I need to follow to maintain a certain degree of consistency between issues, but the time I can dedicate to any individual stage of development is very limited, as on a daily basis I am a team of one.
Of course, the longer the magazine exists, the more ideas I can collect and the easier it is to visualise what could be put together. Making decisions about what articles go in and what kind of visuals will accompany them is very difficult. But in the end it tends to work out well.
The printing process is very exciting, but it is also the one where I feel the least in control. Once I commit to printing a huge number of magazines, there is no turning back. In the best case scenario, all goes well and everything is perfect. That hasn’t happened yet though! In the more common less-than-perfect cases, I can only hope to learn from mistakes.
Your magazine seems to also be a bonding point for cultural exchange, who represents your readership?
Of course the most obvious readers are tea drinkers. They have been the biggest and loudest fans saying that this is the publication the industry has been waiting for. However, ever since the launch of the magazine, I have also been receiving feedback from people who discovered it not necessarily because they were looking for tea. Some were attracted to its design and visuals, others to the variety of articles. Each issue includes articles about history and various cultural aspects that are interesting in their own right and not just in the context of tea. There is always a little bit of travel there too, which is what I like a lot. I love reading travel experiences of others and daydreaming.
Have your travels shed light on a global tea trend you would like to share with us?
Absolutely. I had been a tea drinker before the magazine, but since I started working on issue one, I have become completely immersed in the culture. I would never claim to be an expert or have enough knowledge, but travelling with the intention to source content for the magazine has given me a very different outlook.
In early 2019, in the preparation for issue two, I went to Japan where I met a lot of producers and experts. Japan is a very traditional country, but also one that doesn’t shy away from innovation. It was very interesting to see how some parts of the culture stick to the ancient narrative and maintain centuries-long traditions and rituals. And not just as a niche curiosity for tourists, they genuinely care about the tea ceremony. For many people, and on many occasions, it remains a fundamental part of their lives.
On the other hand, with the advent of coffee and other western creations, many tea makers and traders are creating new tea experiences, taking it to a completely different level. New modern tea shops are becoming more and more common and they are very refreshing, indeed.
Having spoken with many tea experts all over the world it is clear that there is a consensus that tea is gaining more prominence. The popularity of most products is cyclical, interests peak and decline. Many believe that tea is on the way to become the new coffee as markets always demand novelty and the ‘next big thing’. Increased transparency, awareness, and access to information about the origins of teas and the people behind it fuel the development of the culture.
What can your readers expect for the future of Eighty Degrees?
The magazine is still quite young and evolving. I am hoping to strengthen its voice in the content structure and online presence, but ideally by growing the team too. Certain developments on the internal side will be more immediate, but they might not be so visible on the outside.
On the other hand, I do get a lot of feedback from readers, which I always encourage, that helps tailor and improve the magazine. I would like to involve them more in the creation process, be it in the form, content or visuals.
As the unlikely spread of the pandemic became the new order on the eve of P & T’s collaboration with Eighty Degrees in mid-March, we were left to postpone our event in hopes of a better time.
Find the magazine in our online shop:ISSUE #2 ISSUE #3
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