Tap Water Tuesday

People come to Costa Rica for its tranquil beaches, stunning volcanoes, and wildly diverse plants and animals.  But my favorite thing about living here is the water.  You see, other times I’ve lived overseas, accidental imbibing of tap water has inevitably led to bouts of writhing in pain on my bed for hours, accompanied by other unpleasant and unmentionable symptoms.  But here I haven’t gotten sick even once in three years. I don’t even think about it.  It’s wonderful.

But today, on Tap Water Tuesday, I wanted to find out if Costa Rican water could pass a more stringent test: the taste test.   Every Tuesday in Lent we’ll be discussing various aspects of clean water, one of the most important topics in global justice today. There are many health, environmental and economic reasons to prefer tap water to bottled water (to be discussed in later posts), yet many people pass up the tap because of taste.   So for lunch today I got my family together for a blind taste test.

We had three candidates:

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Coca Cola’s bottled water Alpina, sold throughout Central America at about $2 a liter. (A liter of gas is $1.20 a liter.)

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Fiji, which is the Rolls Royce of H2O at $3 a liter.  According to the label, it was bottled at a spring in Fiji “preserved and protected by one of the last virgin ecosystems on earth”

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Straight tap water, prepared according to the advice of Megan Z, Simple Living Challenge participant and scientist:  We ran the tap a bit to get fresh water that hadn’t been sitting in the pipes (waiting until the water ran cold.)  Then we collected it in a pitcher & waited a bit because the water naturally dechlorinates when it sits out (you want the chlorine to kill germs in treatment & as the water gets to your house, but it’s not so tasty.)

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We chilled each candidate to the same temperature and placed them in wine glasses.  We included a fourth glass of tap water just to see if we could tell the difference between two identical water specimens.  Here are the results: utter confusion.  Isaiah liked the Fiji best, but the Alpina worst.  Camila rated identical glasses of tap water the best and worst.  Jodi preferred, in order, Alpina, then tap water, then Fiji, then tap water.  I liked tap water best, then Fiji, then Alpina.  None of us correctly identified the identical glasses of tap water.  So according to our taste buds, water that costs almost three times the price of gasoline was indistinguishable from decidedly unsexy tap water.

Perhaps we’re just water philistines with undeveloped palates, but I doubt our experience is that unique.  Many studies have shown that our perceived taste preferences are often due to packaging, marketing and the desire to feel sophisticated rather than objective reality.  But why not find out for yourself before you spend another dime on bottled water?  Have your own blind taste test with friends or family–perhaps even a prize for whoever can guess correctly.  We’d love to hear your results if you do….

Happy Tap Water Tuesday!

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8 thoughts on “Tap Water Tuesday

  1. Great post!
    I would also add that tap water in the U.S. is almost always better/safer than bottled water because it is much more heavily regulated….

  2. Hey Gary, thanks for the post! I ran my own experiment tonight with these 4 choices:

    1) Distilled
    2) Filtered (under-sink Watts purifier from Costco)
    3) Megan’s method, standing for 5 hours
    4) Straight from the tap after running for 10 seconds to get cold water

    I could not tell the difference between distilled and filtered. But I could identify Megan’s and the straight tap water. Megan’s tasted flat to me, and the straight tap water tasted chlorinated. But it wasn’t as obvious as I thought it would be — it took a few back-and-forth sips to make sure of the difference.

  3. Dear Gary and Friends —

    I found this topic to be interesting and important. I actually think one of the most INCREDIBLE achievements of American technology is our ability to provide clean, drinkable water to every home. (So it’s ironic that we spend so much money buying in in a bottle!)

    Of course, most of the time I live in Hanoi and it’s highly inadvisable to drink the tap water there. So, we opt to purchase five gallon water jugs to have at home. Outside of the home, we bring out one-liter water bottle with us.

    Anyway, I wanted to highlight this story on the BU Today web-site. Further fodder for the cause!
    http://www.bu.edu/today/node/12570

    Warmly, Will

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