South Africa

AQUA, FRESH: The cool, clear water of life

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

‘Location, location, location,’ he said. But it was really my best water ever drunk till then. And of course it had been filtered by cool and ancient African sands a long way down under the desert. I feel thirsty for it as I write.

My most considerate ex-neighbour, Matthew Ballendon, who owns Fresh Earth, is saying that he hopes this Covid-19 time is making us more conscious about what we consume in general, what we put into our bodies. I venture that I think it is doing that, in cases where people have choices. I also think it is doing something of that to me, except in cases where I have to do too much jostling to get what I want and then rather plump for whatever the hell can be delivered. Health shops of course, including, Fresh Earth, do deliver though.

But when it comes to throwing liquid down my throat, I am only too aware of it not being wine currently. I always drink a helluva lot of coffee but it’s interesting that, with lunches and suppers, I want to drink something that’s not necessarily just caffeine. I want wine, can’t have it so keep looking for other non-alcoholic drinks. Sometimes it’s just what my brother-in-law used to call fuzzy water. Recently it’s been kombucha. The latter has turned out to be quite an inspired wine replacement.

For a long time, I’ve liked both anyway. Yes, I really do like water. But recently I’ve realised I’m drinking a lot of both water and kombucha, quite expensively, I think. I also keep looking for better versions of both. Maybe, as Matthew suggests, even a bit more consciously.

A lot of my water comes out of the Joburg tap, courtesy of Rand Water. Is it still true, I wonder, that Joburg has some of the best potable water in the world? I can’t find anything to corroborate that in the last eight years. However, such visitors as we get currently are always relieved not to have to bother with bottled water here. We are the ones that bother with it for other reasons.

I also know that the water I drink when (whenever will that be again?) I visit my sister in Friuli Venezia Giulia is especially cool and delicious. It runs straight off the Dolomites and rushes down to her sighing pump in the garden and all the taps of the house. Strangely, the next door neighbour’s son, who works for the municipal water board, insists his mother buy him bottled water because he doesn’t like what he sees under the microscopes. I don’t ask him. I just want to  keep on liking that fresh mountain water.

Image by Ludger Aundrup from Pixabay

Matthew, in this piece, told me the first something of his “restored” Happy Water. I thought it a simply clever story for us to hear more about and that I should try the water. Especially since he calls it living water.

I like to say, because of the place but really it was a revelation, that my very best tasting water was drunk half a day’s camel ride from Timbuktu. The photographer Philip Schedler’s and my guide, a Tuareg called Tawadali, asked me if I’d like some water. I looked across the sands stretching into the distance and even peered into the short distance to see if he had any supplies with him and then just nodded unbelievingly.

We dismounted, which always sounds fairly simple and nothing like the precarious lurching far too forward and being thrown back again that really happens until you can scrabble safely from the carpeted leather saddle, in the Sahara sands. Tawadali led us to an inconsequential looking well and winched down a leather bucket-shaped bag. He winched and winched and winched. Then he winched it back up and up till it appeared, swaying and splashing precious clear water and gave it to me. I imagined it would be brackish but drank deliciously, gulping down the cool liquid. I gasped to Philip that it was the most delicious water I’d ever drunk.

“Location, location, location,” he said. But it was really my best water ever drunk till then. And of course it had been filtered by cool and ancient African sands a long way down under the desert. I feel thirsty for it as I write.

So, I think I have a few good standards of water comparison. 

I have also been doing an impressive amount of kombucha drinking, so that I have a few good standards there as well. At Matthew’s Fresh Earth in Emmarentia and at the new one in Blairgowrie, they have it in quantities that I have been hoping for, which is to say it is on tap. 

It’s made right there, with no pomegranate or buchu or any cute flavouring, simply from the tea and sugar brew itself, fermented by a very large scoby that is a big flat lump of suitable bacteria and yeast. It goes to work on the sugar, producing kombucha’s acids, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and the characteristic fizz that is from carbon dioxide. A 440 ml glass bottle of kombucha costs but R25, which is less than even the tiny  bottles sell for in supermarkets and health shops. Those have generally also gained some carbon footprint by travelling up from Cape Town or somewhere else. This stuff hasn’t put a foot outside the door yet. 

I approve but even more so when I use my own container (even more goody-goody if it’s also glass) and fill it up here. Bigger bottles cost more and the kombucha itself is still incredible value.

Image by Manfred Richter from Pixabay

It would certainly be jolly nice to be able to have a couple of glasses of wine with meals. The taste of wine with food is as good as you select it to be but it is also a digestif. So is kombucha, often touted as a probiotic. But the major thing, as far as I’m concerned, is its grown-up, non cooldrinky taste. It doesn’t even taste of tea and kombucha’s a great thing, in the place of  alcohol, to sip as a sundowner I am finding, but most especially as a meal accompaniment. With benefits, if you read the labels. 

Would I go back to wine when I can? Yes, like a shot but I will probably also have kombucha in the fridge for some of the same sort of drinking, now. Especially given that I can easily get it in such economic amounts.

Meantime, I reckon there’s nothing wrong with kombucha’s antioxidants, vitamin C and acetic acid being able to boost my immune system.

Only a few metres away from the kombucha-on-tap, in the Blairgowrie Fresh Earth outlet, is that Happy Water I mentioned, also on tap. As Matthew says, water is our sovereign right. We don’t all manage to get our sovereign right on tap. Or in good condition. 

From the verandah there, the route of the not-at-all pristine Braamfontein spruit can be seen, somehow drawing attention to what’s both right and wrong with our access to our own water.

The Happy Water, Matthew continues, is essentially Joburg’s local water from the Rand Water Board.  

We’re standing in front of a tall cylinder of bubbling water that keeps changing colour from blue to green.

“Just set-dressing” says Matthew dismissively. “The water is pretty enough anyway.” I am drinking some of it and don’t want to be too imaginative but I do think I see it glimmer in quite a lively way for water sitting in a tumbler. I also think it tastes very good. I can trust myself more with that aspect.

I realise now I used to buy Happy Water because it had the tiniest little shop, I think in a lift shaft, in Maboneng with witty messages on the door. That was about seven years ago. Now a bottle will advise you the water comes from Unit 26 of the Rand Steam Centre, Richmond in Jozi. Some does. It can be bottled wherever it’s been cheered up by the Happy Water system.

But this water comes from the stuff out of the taps right here at Fresh Earth. The elements of the whole system take up about a meter and a half of part of the wall, not counting the showy cylinder.

“The idea comes from a Japanese water researcher, Dr Masaru Moto, who examined the ice crystals of good and bad water and suggested water could be returned to its natural (happy) state. It’s a process of purification and enrichment. Oh and the filter is Israeli. It’s not even big, using opal filtration technology. Clever.” Matthew taps a section of a poster. It’s about the rebalancing of the water with minerals that the water picks up from ceramic beads of 20 or so elements as it tumbles around, like the stream water on the Dolomites, I imagine. 

(Photo: Marie-Lais Emond)

Cyclists and people can bring in their Happy Water bottles and fill them up for nothing. Or it can cost R4 per litre plus the glass bottle

It’s a strange time when there are new freedoms and also none, I think. Here I am eager for tumbled tasty water and fermented tea and being as serious about it as I am about wine.

“I read online,” I say carefully, “that sometimes this water gets classical music and chants played to it…” Mathew peers down at me. He’s exceptionally tall and I recognise his expression from when we were neighbours, even behind the bandana-mask. He wants to laugh but doesn’t. 

“You can play it whatever you like. If you want.” DM/TGIFood

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