Tee Salon

Grashina Gabelmann grabs a cuppa in the charming Berliner Tee Salon…

I love tea. In fact, I’m sipping on my third cup of Jasmine as I write this. Not only is tea a great excuse for procrastination (“I’ll get back to writing just as soon as I make another cuppa”) but the ritual of preparing and drinking it is relaxing and quite often I’ll even find an idea or inspiration after gazing wistfully into the bottom of my tea cup.

Kristine Mager (now Maerz), the owner of Berlin’s Tee Import, understands this. She knows tea is more than just a beverage to warm you up on a cold day. She’s fascinated by its history, its origin and the rituals and customs attached to it, which becomes immediately apparent upon experiencing her enthusiastic customer service and her shop’s unique atmosphere.

Though Tee Import is larger than any tea salon I’ve been to, any sense of sterility is banished by the wave of homely warmth that washes over you as you enter. Most likely you’ll find Kristine behind the shop’s small wooden counter, offering up a cheerful welcome in front of a display of huge, silver tins containing carefully selected teas.

On top of the counter stands a delightful old till, and on the floor beside it an equally antiquated set of scales. These perfectly match the aging flowery yellow-and-green tiles that cover some of wall’s lower half.

“The tiles are original,” remarks Kristine. “When the former owner of Tee Import renovated this place the walls were covered with layers of thick paint and as these were taken off these beautiful tiles re-surfaced.” Though many people believe the shop used to be an apothecary, probably due to the shelves that extend far into the ceiling, it was actually a “Holzhandel” (a wood selling shop) prior to being a coffee house.

The shop opened in 2001 and was taken over by Kristine in 2006. “I had a small tea shop in Wedding but I knew that I’d chosen the wrong location,” she says. “I thought this store was extremely beautiful and, having always had a healthy portion of self-confidence, believed that I could run it even better than the previous owner.”

One of Tee Salon’s many winning factors is that rather than simply offering hundreds of different types of tea, it specializes in certain types. The main focus is Far Eastern teas like fine smelling Oolongs and a variety of white, green and yellow teas. Kristine also sells Indian (Darjeeling and Assam) and varieties from Africa, Japan and Mauritius. “But the tea has to taste good,” she insists. “There’s no point in getting tea from an exotic country if it doesn’t taste right.”

In order for customers to authentically enjoy her products, Kristine also collects and sells a huge variety of exotic and oriental teapots—some shaped like mallards or pumpkins—as well as attractive, hand-made cups and other related paraphernalia.

Some of these products are made from fragile porcelain and covered in hand-painted flowers; others are sturdy clay structures. Some are square, round or shaped like a U.F.O, but their abundance is not oppressive and there isn’t any underlying pressure of having to buy one like in other shops. They’re just there, part of the atmosphere the shop until someone else takes them home.

What also makes the store cosy is that you can sit down and enjoy a cup of tea while eating some cake (Kristine sometimes sells cake but she’s fine with people bringing in their own); and if she isn’t already busy with customers she’s more than happy to sit down with you and tell you a little something about what you are drinking.

In fact, on Saturday afternoons Kristine offers a tea-tasting session (or you can book your own session any time with a minimum of six participants). Ten to twelve teas are served with in-depth explanations of each.

“There are different thematic areas I delve into such as tea ceremonies. I start off explaining the European tradition. Why do we drink tea out of a handled cup? Because we drink black tea and it’s still hot. Why is the cup made of thin porcelain? So that when our lips touch it we can tell if it is still too hot to drink…

“Then I go into Gongfu Cha, the Chinese/Taiwanese art of drinking tea. I use the proper utensils and show how it is done, though of course I pour the tea in a much more European way then someone who grew up in Asia. The water won’t be as hot and the tea won’t be as strong as most Europeans don’t like the taste that way. Then I explain the Chanoyu, the disciplined and regimented Japanese ceremony as opposed to the Chinese ceremony where joking and chatting is allowed. Chanoyu doesn’t fit into the store very much but it’s interesting to talk about it anyway.”

Before I leave the store, I ask Kristine the burning question: “why tea?” Her answer is as unexpected as it is charming: “It’s simply a grateful product,” she smiles.

Tee Import
Stuttgarter Platz 15, 10627 Berlin
T: 030 28 04 06 60

All images by Grashina Gabelmann