What a cup of tea teaches us about the value of water

Shaakira Jassat's ThirTEA for One project highlights the hidden footprint in the lifecycle of the products we consume.

The Design Academy Eindhoven student started her talk by inviting the audience to have a virtual cup of tea. But her work isn't just about experiencing the aromatic beverage, Shaakira Jassat's most recent project, ThirTEA for One takes an alternative look at the world's dwindling water resources.

The interior designer and design researcher minored in ceramics under the tutelage of fellow Design Indaba Conference 2018 speaker, Lonny van Ryswyck from Dutch studio, Atelier NL. 

But it wasn't until the sudden death of Jassat's father in September 2016 that she truly realised the need to take a closer look at the way we value our resources. Inspired by this event in her life, she asked, "Why is our human nature such that we only realise the value of what we have when we don't have it anymore?"

With that she turned her focus to water. At the time of the Conference, Cape Town was, and is still, experiencing severe restrictions on water use. And at the height of the city's worst drought in history, Jassat investigated the water we don't see.

Virtual water is the sum of all water used in the whole chain of production. So, a cup of tea may require 200ml of water, but how much water went to its production from source to cup? Through her design research, she discovered that a 150ml cup of tea expends 30 litres of water in the entire production process. 

The ThirTEA for One installation is made up of a giant tea-maker to drive home this point. What is essentially a tower of stacked tea cups, narrows down to a single cup below. The method involves dispensing a 1.7 litre kettle into the top cup six consecutive times in order to fill the single cup at the end.

This installation only accounts for a third of the actual water used to make a cup of tea, but the project demonstrates that there is a lot more water wastage beyond what we see before us. 

Design Indaba 2018 Conference Talks are presented in partnership with Liberty.

More design stories that investigate our dwindling resources:

NexLoop looks to nature to create a remarkable water generator

On creating unique ceramics out of sand collected from all over the world

On the future of food, fashion and eating our environmental problems away