The ‘coffee culture’ has hit practically every corner of the world, with coffee being consumed at incredible rates. This isn’t surprising. Coffee is delicious! And coffee shops are so inviting…in a cozy Café , one can be alone but also surrounded by the energy of other people…it’s a place to do some work, but also find distractions when a break is needed. For many of us, a cafe feeds us in a way we don’t find elsewhere.

In our Community Coworking & Event Space re-design in Dreispitz, we are striving to open a Café that is as close to ‘zero waste’ as possible—while including all the special details that make a Café such a wonderful ‘home away from home’ for our guests. Our incredible, talented HubAngel Nini Zhang, recently finished her Masters thesis at the FHNW Academy of Art and Design (woo hoo!), and her design and research has created a very unique addition to our plans. But this isn’t for coffee lovers. Nope. This time, tea is getting some love.

“The Journey of Tea Leaves”

Put leaves into water, then it becomes a tea. For thousands of years, humans practiced this simple gesture to create a nice tea. With the opportunity to create the Zero Waste Café led by Impact Hub Basel, I want to invite visitors into a circular journey of tea. In order to consume locally, the interior herb garden experiments the cultivation of tea leaves in a self-sustaining ecosystem. It encourages guests to harvest leaves, create tea and finally not forget to give the tea waste back, because tea waste, together with other recycled materials, have played a big role in creating a zero waste life cycle in our Café. -Nini Zhang

Nini, far left, presenting her Masters project

Nini came to us as a volunteer in November 2018 for our Zero Waste Café initiative, while also embarking on her Masters thesis. Why the journey of tea? For her, the art of preparing tea has been lost to the convenience of a tea bag. The standard method of making a tea is a result of fast spreading industrialization. From New York, the tea bags were successfully marketed in the beginning of 20th century, with instructions for exactly how long the bag should steep. But in China, making tea is a hands-on experience: every region and every home has their way to make tea. Each cup could be a creative process for a new mix of flavor. For Nini, this pleasure of creating tea is fundamental. “I remembered how my father told me to observe the movement of the green leaves in the hot water, and to wait the ‘dance’ of the leaves and then take the first sip. He never counted the time. Instead, he enjoyed the changes of time.”

The legend in Ostfriesland, where tea makes clouds!
Wuyi Yan Cha tea farm








Based on these observations, Nini began her Masters thesis on tea production cycles, and the history of making tea in different regions. The end result—her research, knowledge, and finally, an upcycled wood herb display—would be a unique tea experience available for our Zero Waste Café guests. With inspiration from traditional Japanese-style, so called tatami, rooms that can still be found at tea houses, followed by adaptation to our Impact Hub Basel community, she built a whole concept, and drafted and crafted everything by hand!

Interior Herb Garden—creation and design by Nini Zhang
Nini during her presentation with the Interior Herb Garden in the background and the Zero Waste Café model in the front

The Interior Herb Garden would not only connect humans with nature, but guests could harvest herb leaves themselves and create their own tea. The guests then become not only the consumer but also the cultivator—even more so once the tea is finished, as they are encouraged to give back their tea waste to the “Tea Waste Collector”. The liquid tea waste is therefore collected for feeding the herb garden once a day by the Café Manager. (The herbs like acidic soil and some nutritional elements from the tea waste). And the tea leaves can be composted, or used in a much more creative way—adding them to clay for ceramics projects as Nini did…

For those of us who feel that life moves too fast and we’ve gotten away from our roots of simple living, a tea experience sounds like a perfect way to slow down. This tea ritual doesn’t just refresh the air around it, but connects us to nature. It raises our awareness of the plants’ regeneration time when we pluck their leaves.


And if you still haven’t got enough, watch this production video, also self-made by Nini.

Carrie Aikman

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