(Qatar Airways In-flight Magazine Oryx – January 2017)
The Latin author Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella first chronicled the springs of Guarcino nearly two millennia ago in 50AD. The pristine waters flowed from the Apennine Mountains into the Lazio region of present-day Italy. Prized for its restorative properties, the water was used by Roman legions to heal their wounds from war. Today, the very same source is available as a luxury drink, marketed under the label Acqua Filette.
Rohit Suvarna has a story like this for each of the nearly two dozen water varieties offered at Doha’s West End Café. He is the in-house water sommelier, a designation slowly emerging in the culinary sphere. “Are you familiar with Calvin Klein,” he sheepishly asks. Turns out, the fashion titan’s former creative director designed a perfectly cylindrical bottle for the Norwegian company Voss. “The popularity of the brand basically boils down to packaging,” Suvarna explains.
It goes beyond mere folklore and advertising strategy. Suvarna speaks about water with the mastery and spirit of a traditional sommelier describing an outstanding Le Pin vintage: “Many people enjoy Badoit because it has light bubbles. Don’t be deceived. It also contains a high mineral content as measured by its total dissolved solids.” And that synthesis of calcium, sodium and magnesium along with the natural carbonation obtained as the water travels through underground gas deposits, is what gives it its unique profile.
The subtle differences in drinking water are so often overlooked; yet they form the bedrock of a multi-billion-dollar industry. Is it spring, artesian, well or glacier water? Where does it fall on the pH scale measuring acidity and alkalinity? What is the level of carbonation? And then there is the factor of virginality, how protected the source is from surrounding pollution.
Suvarna is more than delighted to delve into technicalities. But that is not what enraptures the average patron seeking a beverage at the hotel lobby café. So he chooses to focus on the narrative, regaling the perils of harvesting Berg’s Canadian iceberg water or extolling the benefits of oxygen-infused water in combatting fatigue. Of course, some brands need little help – the gold-filtered Gize is a natural bestseller in this market with a penchant for luxe.
“It’s about creating an experience, not selling an expensive bottle of water,” Suvarna says. He is now working on creating food pairings to highlight varying water qualities. Perhaps one phrase he’s unlikely to ever utter?
Tastes like water.