Tee Salon. Photo by Riku Vejander
Utter the word 'tasting' and wine automatically springs to mind. Yet Berlin offers myriad opportunities to sample other luxuriant liquids - take a sip, enjoy the mouthfeel, and then spit it back out!
House of leaves
You don't have to be a Brit to be a fanatic about tea. Bavarian Kristine Mager is such a passionate tea-lover that, since 2006, she's been holding monthly tastings at her Mitte shop, introducing Berliners to the many subtleties of a culture that spans continents, hundreds of varieties, and a nuanced sense of etiquette.
On arrival you're greeted by tables topped with delicate teacups and ceramic teapots, plates of fruit and biscuits and blankets in case you get cold (the shop is lined with ceramic tiles which don't retain the heat). Silver tea caddies holding distinct fragrant tea leaves line the wooden shelves, and bright oriental carpets cover the floor.
Before starting the tasting, Mager goes into detail about the teas she's chosen and the utensils she's using (usually a tea table, wooden tweezers, an array of cups, teapots and spatulas). Then the actual tasting starts: first, the smelling of the dry tea leaves, before the pouring of the hot water (a more complex art than one might imagine) and finally the tasting and discussing of each new brew.
When Mager pours hot water into a glass teapot to display "the dance of the leaves", a feeling of awe fills the air (or was that just a draft from between the tiles?). Not only is Mager a tea expert, she's a storyteller and a wordsmith, weaving wonderful stories of far-away lands.
Filled with rituals, traditions, and fun facts, the tastings are special occasions that offer insight into a wide range of different teas. Two hours and 13 teas later you'll feel refreshed, vibrant and infected by Mager's enthusiasm, ready to seize the day. AS
Tee Salon, Invalidenstr. 160, Mitte, U-Bhf Rosenthaler Platz
Bier me, baby
Rainer Wallisser, owner of Bier Berlin in Moabit, is a German fed up with German beer, particularly the purity law that limits the brewing of beer to a mere four ingredients. He says that beer here is based on consistency, which vastly limits its possibilities and makes it quite simply boring. So Wallisser started monthly tastings – for Berliners thirsting for more playful foreign imports – in his cosy two-room shop, suitably decorated with a myriad of crates and wooden barrels.
The tasting proceeds like most: Wallisser introduces the beer, explains what brewery and country it comes from and adds special details, often accompanied by a personal story. Ten beers from Belgium, England, Scotland and Czech Republic are sampled over a three-hour period, which includes a hearty dinner such as a stew or ragout, with a vegetarian option available.
Around 30 people attend the tastings, which begin with beers that are crisp and refreshing, like a Samuel Smith Organic Raspberry or an Orval from Belgium. The tasting later moves to darker and oakier beers – the Boon L’Ancienne Oude Geuze and the Rodenbach Grand Cru. Most are from microbrewers and some are even brewed by Trappist monks, like the heftily titled De Molen Hemel & Aarde Smoked Imperial Stout.
Their alcohol content ranges from five percent to a staggering 18.2 percent, the prices from €1.90 to €15 (the most expensive in the store is the €25 Brew Dog). For beer drinkers on a budget, Rainer says that if he had to buy at the Späti, he’d go for Reissdorf Kölsch. Well then, bottoms up! AS
Bier Berlin, Kirchstr. 23, Moabit, SBhf Bellevue, Tasting with dinner €30. Monthly tastings are announced two weeks prior via their blog, www.berlinbiershop.com and email. Many are conducted in English.
Tastes like Satan
Billing itself as the “world’s first whisky tasting accompanied by doom, drone and sludge metal”, the bimonthly event held in the back room of Neukölln haunt Das Gift has quickly become the neighbourhood’s hottest ticket, thirstily snatched up by ageing bobo-cores eager to combine their love for loud, soul-crushing music with a burgeoning taste for delightfully peaty, perfectly balanced, 50-bucks-a-bottle single-malt Scotch.
The event, dubbed “Taste the Doom” in what one fears is only a tangential sense of irony, is hosted by Lars Lundehave Hansen and Peter Voltava aka Pure. The €23 tickets come in the form of elegantly scripted invitations, and the crowd is capped at 30 people – things must remain civilised, after all – who each get seven drams of whiskey, mostly rare and small-batch, paired with tracks by pessimistically named bands like Corrupted, Buried at Sea, Sunn O))) and Sink.
Not all the hooch hails from the Highlands: standouts from last edition were peated single-malts from Ireland (Connemara) and India (Amrut). Between snifters, Hansen makes cute little introductory speeches, saying things like, “It’s so smoky – you’re going to fucking love it!” (about the exceptional Kilchoman Vintage 2006) to the group of variably tattooed, almost entirely black-clad would-be connoisseurs. And Hansen is right: they do fucking love it. After all, why should yuppies, with their woefully doom-free champagne tastings and educational cheese flights, have a monopoly on preciously curated consumption? AT