The fire behind the smoke

16 Sep 2017
2 min read
Kenan Tespi is one of the world’s rare shisha sommelier at Turkey’s Kempinski Hotel Barbaros Bay, as seen in FOUR Middle East Magazine.
Unique flavours

Shisha, or hookah is in my DNA. Born in the southern Turkish state of Hatay, my fascination with shisha came from watching the daily social event unravel in my family’s shisha cafe. Today, I do the same at the Kempinski Hotel Barbados Bay, on the south west coast of Turkey, where I curate shisha pairings as the sommelier, working with our bar to make sure that international guests have an authentic experience that is in line with the hotel’s luxurious and elegant atmosphere.

Shisha has been an integral part of society in Turkey since the 17th century, engrained in day-to-day culture and tradition. When it started to become popular it was used as a status symbol. Today, it is enjoyed by the masses, with the option of adding multiple pipes to enjoy the hookah amongst friends as the ultimate social activity. At the Kempinski, it is most popular among Middle Eastern guests as it is engrained in the culture.

I have been practising my craft since 1984, before which I was farming and exploring my interest in natural flavours, aromas and my love for the land. However, I became fascinated by the ranges and depths of flavours of shisha and wanted to discover those that are relatively unknown to the Shisha smoker. I started to work in the most popular shisha cafes are in İstanbul, in the Beyazıd, Tophane and Kasımpaşa neighbourhoods. I worked my way through the cafes year-by-year, becoming better and better and then becoming a master! If you work within these places for more than 10 years, you develop a good reputation and are deemed a master.

At the Kempinski hotel, I work in the chill out lounge, located by the undulating infinity pool to provide guests with a selection of 12 exotic and fragrant flavours of shisha and drinks that are best matched with their flavour of choice. We mostly use flavoured tombeki–the tobacco used in the hookah–which is light and aromatic, but sometimes we use the natural tombeki, which is unflavoured and heavier. I get the shisha flavours from Egypt where there is the best range of flavours, but I also make mixtures according to guest’s demand.

I complement light, sweet and refreshing drinks with sharper summer flavours such as orange and lemon, while other drinks that are heavier and tarter in flavour, like cappuccino are combined with the sweeter flavours such as chocolate. Although shisha is traditionally consumed with non-alcoholic drinks, some guests at Kempinski enjoy a traditional aniseed-flavoured Turkish Rakı, a beer or a glass of wine with their hookah. The best pairing is red wine with grape and mint shisha flavour. The shisha flavours that tend to surprise guests the most are the fruit blend of strawberry, peach and banana with a sprinkling of mint, or the tangy aniseed flavour. My favourite flavour is orange, lemon and mint combined with white wine or tea.

I imagine we will only continue to develop more interesting and surprising combinations of flavours at Kempinski hotel to keep the tradition of shisha fresh and alive. A sommelier’s work is never done; there is always something new and exciting around the corner to be discovered.


Kempinski Hotel Barbaros Bay Bodrum

Kizilagac Koyu Gerenkuyu Mevkii Yaliciftlik



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