SAMTSE, Bhutan (AP) — Millions of people worldwide don’t have clean water to drink, even though the United Nations deemed water a basic human right more than a decade ago. Yet, even as extreme heat dries up more aquifers and wells and leaves more people thirsty, luxury water has become fashionable among the world’s privileged, who uncap and taste it like fine wine.
Water of exceptional quality is sourced from volcanic rock in Hawaii, icebergs that have broken off from melting glaciers in Norway, or tiny droplets of morning mist in Tasmania. The most precious type, often packaged in valuable glass bottles, can be sold for hundreds of dollars each.
The Associated Press has covered the trend in India, Bhutan, and Greece.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
The exquisite water landscape was prominently showcased as the Fine Water Society convened in April at a luxurious hotel in Athens, Greece for their yearly global tasting competition and conference.
They explore the concept of “virginality,” referring to purity. They gain knowledge about “terroir,” the surroundings where water is sourced. They make comparisons between the total dissolved solids, also known as TDS.
Water with a low TDS is similar to rainfall that has not come into contact with the ground. Water with a high TDS, like Vichy mineral water from hot springs in France and Catalan, contains a significant amount of minerals including calcium, magnesium, potassium, or sodium.
Some restaurants in Spain and the United States offer menus that recommend specific types of high-quality water to complement certain dishes. For example, a robust mineral water may be recommended to accompany a grilled steak, while a more delicate rainwater may be suggested for fish dishes.
“High-quality water arrives in India.”
Ganesh Iyer, an Indian entrepreneur with extensive experience in the beverage sector, anticipated this shift in consumer preferences. He observed a growing demand for non-alcoholic options and decided to pursue training as a water sommelier.
The current managing partner of Veen Waters India is responsible for overseeing the production of natural mineral water in Bhutan and its transportation to India. This high-end product, which comes in elegant glass bottles, is mainly found in upscale hotels and restaurants. It is priced at $6 per bottle, which is equivalent to the daily wage of an Indian laborer.
According to Iyer, Veen’s business significantly decreased during the pandemic. However, currently, the company is shipping approximately 20,000 cases (equivalent to 240,000 bottles) of water to India every month. He estimates that they have only reached about 10% of the potential market thus far.
HAVES AND HAVE-NOTS
The narrative surrounding water in India varies greatly, according to the World Bank, which has identified the country as one of the most water-scarce nations on the planet.
The south Asian nation, now the most populous in the world, is among many countries that have built huge plants to desalinate sea water. Other countries, including Singapore, are collecting and cleaning up storm and wastewater to try to solve their water woes.
However, such solutions are still in their early stages and may not be available in many locations.
That means the commodification of water, and those who profit from it, are likely to become more contentious. Fine water is certainly a commodity too, though its connoisseurs and those who bottle often speak of the importance of respecting and conserving an increasingly precious resource.
According to Michael Mascha, co-founder of the Fine Water Society, our actions aim to increase awareness about water. When we value something, we are more inclined to safeguard it.