Let’s talk about Sake! Interview practice at Sake Kontor

by Cornelia Reiher

In early June, our course took its first field trip and traveled to Friedrichshain to visit a sake store in Berlin. We had made an appointment with Anselm, a sake sommelier who works at the store, for the first interview of the season. After about an hour, we arrived and were joined by another student online. Before the interview, we had thought of questions and assigned them to each of the students. Everyone was very excited to learn more about sake and test their interviewing skills.

When we arrived, Anselm was waiting for us behind the counter and we had a moment to look at the beautiful wooden interior with shelves full of sake from different parts of Japan. In the center of the store were tables with sake cups, rice samples, and brochures that Anselm and the owner of the store use for sake tastings. We took seats around the table, presented a small omiyage, and had our recording devices, questions, notebooks, and pens ready. After the students introduced themselves, they took turns asking questions. During the conversation, Anselm not only answered all of our questions, but also showed us different sake bottles, explained the rice samples, printed out information about sake, and even offered sake for tasting.

We learned a lot about the different types of sake, the store’s customers, distribution channels, certifications and Anselm’s workflow. I was particularly surprised to learn that the store even has one type of sake that is made in Europe, although this is an exception as all other sake sold in the store is made in Japan. According to Anselm, the store’s owner has visited most of the sake breweries in Japan from which they source the sake they sell. Because of the covid pandemic, Anselm has not yet had the opportunity to visit them himself. But although most of their business customers are restaurants, the store has weathered the pandemic well thanks to an online store. However, many activities such as sake tastings, customer visits, and participation in festivals and fairs resumed only last year.

After the interview, we decided to go to a Japanese restaurant. After a short walk through Friedrichshain, we visited a Vietnamese-owned Japanese restaurant that offers curry rice (also in vegan and vegetarian versions) and enjoyed a meal together. After the interview and sake tasting, we had many new insights and impressions to share and also talked about our experiences with sake in Japan, our favorite Japanese food and upcoming trips to Japan. This was not only a great opportunity to talk about Japanese food and the course, but also for the students to get to know each other better and share valuable tips about studying in Japan.

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