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Tenzan Lab: Next-level shaved ice

Want to eat something truly unique in Berlin? Introducing the first Kakigori café in Europe, Tenzan Lab, featuring some of the most stunning matcha desserts we've ever tasted. But does the novel concept justify the hefty price tag?

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How much are you ready to shell out on something that’s truly unique (in Europe at least), quite delicious (especially if you have a soft spot for Asian sweets), and the perfect healthy, organic and mostly vegan alternative to mainstream frozen desserts?

That was the real-life dilemma we found ourselves in after trying and enjoying a €8 Matcha Kakigori at Tenzan Lab, a small Japanese shaved ice café that opened on a leafy street in the Kollwitzkiez in June. This is the most stunning matcha dessert we’ve ever had in Berlin: a decadent mound of hand-shaved ice layered with condensed cream made out of coconut-soy milk and matcha syrup, with a to-die-for homemade matcha mascarpone cream (or without for the vegan version). They also offer a kick-arse Houjicha Kakigori (the same thing but with low-caffeine roasted tea) and a memorable custard version with Kinako, the roasted whole soy flour used in many Japanese dishes. Even more unique: Sake Kasu (lees – left over from sake making – mixed with heavy whipped cream, €9). The more pedestrian flavours like fresh mango or raspberry (€7 vegan or non vegan) are less intimidating, but also less interesting. It’s all made on the spot before your eyes in the most shabby chic fashion with a shaving ice machine from Japanese manufacturer Swam (yes, that’s a thing). Add quality ingredients that are either shipped directly from Japan and/or organic. And don’t forget the slow-frozen Pi water, turned into crystal-clear ice blocks before being “shaved” by the machines. The cafe is a dark, minimalist cocktail-bar style space, where customers sit around a kitchen island. Everything about the place is tasteful, including the Japanese-American manager Maii Hamada whose hipster-missionary style perfectly epitomises the authentic-chic fusion of the premises.

Of course they serve matcha lattes (€4), and a more original Houjicha version, as well as a disappointing Earl Grey iced tea (€3.50), Barley tea as well as a rather astringent apple cider spritzer (€5). If you’re in an adventurous mood, one might risk the homemade Amazake (€5), a thick fermented rice drink traditionally enjoyed for New Year and so packed with healthy nutrients that it’s supposed to be the perfect hangover cure. But… yuck! “We had to make a choice and decided not to compromise too much on the authenticity, or the quality of ingredients,” explains Maii, in what sounds like an excuse for a drink that has the thick lumpy lukewarm texture of white vomit. “We” stands for the trio of founders – two from Tokyo and one from Bremen, who picked Berlin as the first European city to be graced with a Kakigori café.

This commitment to authenticity and quality comes with a hefty price tag with desserts running €7 to €9 a pop! Of course there’s their loyalty card, but we were disappointed to realise that 10 stamps and some €80 later, we would be only be rewarded with… a free drink! But then again, on the day we came, there was apparently a six-hour wait at one of Tokyo’s most popular cafes, with people queuing under the rain for Kakigori costing up to €16. So hey, who are we to complain about thoroughly Instagrammable €8 bliss! —FP