Tag Archives: umami

How to Translate The Taste Of Fine Water

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.

Stay Thirsty!

The astonishing surprise of taste in fine luxury water

Does water have taste?

Recently I get this question a lot when talking water to my friends and colleagues. My answer, out of my gut, has been so far:

Yes, of course!

Over the past week I realized, that the fundamental challenge is not if water has taste, but how to describe and make people aware of the fine differences when tasting water.

As a sommelier, tasting is THE essential skill together with describing tastes and making people excited about that description.

Tasting is a journey. It is the sum of our experiences we had in our life with different types of foods and liquids. Tasting is linked to other senses: smell, visual and sound experiences. 

The taste map

We all taste different, we have millions of taste buds in our mouth, each of them positioned uniquely to give feedback on a taste we experience. Sometimes during our life we hear about the taste map, different regions on our tongue that taste different things. That map turns out to be wrong, call it fake news. Each taste bud can taste any taste type, although with a different intensity. That makes us unique as humans. We all have a different taste perception of the exact same food based on this unique profile. That makes the job of a sommelier difficult, finding something that tastes good and appeals to a lot of people, even we are all different and have different taste perceptions.

The taste types

There are five different taste types: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, umami (savory). Some literature calls for other tastes but these are the 5 most agreed on categories. As we start our life (and most likely we start with our mothers milk), we start to experience different tastes in the liquids and foods we are given. Some of these tastes we will start to like, some of them we will start to dislike. It is the collection of these experiences that shape our taste profile and our perception of tastes. We start to develop preferences and favorites build on these childhood memories and experiences in our life journey.


Taste of water

Most of us do not think of taste when it comes to water. I even heard now that some people use it to ‘neutralize’ the taste before tasting something else. As a sommelier I spend the past years to examine this aspect and bring more inspiration to the taste of water and tea.

Fine Water contains minerals, their level is measured by TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) and that number is printed on the bottle. TDS will tell you the level of minerals and you normally find the composition of minerals on the label of the water bottle. Lots of sodium and your water will taste salty, other minerals will tilt the balance towards bitter, sweet or sour. Bubbles in water will add to this complexity and will let you experience the taste of water in a different way. Did you know that salt water in the ocean has a TDS of 35,000 ? Your average mineral water in the supermarket will have a TDS of 250 – although you should not drink salty sea water as it will be damaging to your body.


Bottle check

So next time you pick up a bottle of water in the supermarket, look at the label and try to find the TDS number on the label. That will give you an indication of what to expect in terms of flavor complexity. In the next couple blogs I will try to unpack this flavor profiles with some exciting examples of different waters.

Stay Thirsty!