“The natural substance water per se tends to be tasteless” wrote Aristotle and many people around the world share this view.
I respect Aristotle but I do not agree. As a sommelier my taste buds became sensitive to everything that they experience and that includes water. Water contains minerals and these minerals influence the way we experience this lifesaving liquid. Water is an essential component of our food.
How to you describe the taste of water?
When I ask friends, I normally get the response: “Water tastes like water” or “Water tastes like nothing, it has no taste”.
Deep inside of my sommelier heart, I feel challenged, I see an opportunity to bring more clarity. Actually when you watch videos of Martin Riese or Michael Masha, you get a good sense of how to describe water tastes and we learned about that a great deal during the studies with the Fine Water academy.
What can I add to this conversation?
My starting point as always is my experience as a tea sommelier. Describing tea is both an art and a science. During my tea studies I used a tasting wheel, which has different categories and sub categories on describing the different tastes of tea.
This is a well-established tool and it got me thinking:
How about a Water tasting wheel?
Would people be interested in such a tool? Would it help the water industry to make the taste of water more visible? I thought about this many times and here are my initial thoughts. It’s a fun process so come along with me on this ride.
The first challenge is how to break down the taste of water into different sections on the wheel. I first started with the obvious. Water with bubbles and water without bubbles. There is clearly a taste bud distinction in these two areas. We experience still water differently than sparkling water. But how to integrate with the different level of TDS? Normally there are sparkling waters which also have a high TDS, but there are also sparkling waters with low TDS. What to do?
Some of the initial words on water taste came to my mind:clean, fresh, energizing, vibrant, delicate, soft and dull.
The normal taste categories like sweet, sour, salty, bitter,even umami would be a good option. In my tea studies with the World Tea Academy I learned not to use generic words to describe tastes (such as “This tea tastes sweet”, my teacher always reminded me to be more descriptive, such as “This tea tastes like a dandelion flower or sweet as maple honey”. So the tastes of the water should be very descriptive beyond the standard taste categories.
I like the take, Nestle has taken in their water taste glossary: It’s a good starting point to get some ideas for terms on how to best describe waters.
Somehow we also need to take into consideration the categories which the fine water society has outlined : http://finewaters.com/water-and-food-matching/flavor-taste-of-water
The trick will be to combine all these elements onto a flavor wheel.
Stay away from ‘pure’
A big no-no is the word ‘pure’. The fine water industry is clearly separating itself from the concept of ‘pure’ water and that is good so. Pure water is not desired, purified water is not fine water. The most extreme, distilled water is actually damaging to the human body as it is missing crucial minerals which the body needs. I still remember the water module during my tea studies, when I was living in Italy.
We were asked to brew tea in distilled water to describe the difference to regular water or spring water (more on this you can find in the final project in the fine water academy). Distilled water in Italy is sold in Pharmacies. When I mentioned to the Pharmacists that I am planning to drink the distilled water, his look turned very concerned and heal most did not sell me the distilled water. He said : Don’t drink the water it is dangerous, not good for human body!”. When I needed a second bottle, I actually had to go to another pharmacy to avoid this crazy discussion. Yet in the US, distilled water is marketed as healthy water in the supermarket.
When we describe a taste we link it normally to a memory of another tasting experience. I do this with tea. Once I take a sip of a tea I close my eyes and reflect on what that taste reminds me of. It would be a flower, a fruit I have tasted in a market or something familiar from where I used to live.
Another perspective on water taste description comes from one of my idols in the tea industry, Master Tseng from the tea house La Maison de trois tes. I love her vibrant tasting notes, which bring pictures of water to life. It is an interesting concept.
Here are her tasting notes of Aqua Panna:
“With a hint of wet granite. It is like discovering a clear stream. It has a light, almost silky, texture. Its balanced taste combines salty, bitter and sweet elements and conjures up wet white pebbles”.
I just love the concept of reflecting tastes based on elements we find in nature. This is what tasting is all about. It is vibrantly describing for your audience how you experience a taste and making it as appetizing and romantic as possible so we can connect to that experience.
I hope I did inspire you a bit and when you taste your next sip of water, try to describe how you experience this taste.
I think I just touched on the tip of a wonderful iceberg and will continue exploring this subject.