Spacing water booth

Spacing's Water Taste Test: Tap vs Bottled

Spacing Magazine doesn't plan to release the results of their tap water taste test until the next issue of the publication, but I did get a few small samples when I stopped by Sean Lerner's booth this past Saturday.

Actually, I got two kinds of samples. Though my glimpse at the gathered data was limited to my own choices and Sean's (when he got me to run the test on him), I also lucked out and got four delicious samples of water that are typically available to locals at a range of prices - Toronto (tap), Markham (tap), Coca-Cola's Dasani (bottled filtered tap water) and Danone's Evian (bottled French spring water).

Now, you may not think that free samples of drinking water qualifies as much of a bonus, but maybe you haven't tried to buy a bottle of the stuff lately. Sporting convenience store prices that often exceed the juice and soda sitting next to them, bottled water has actually somehow managed to go from being a totally laughable concept to something that people are convinced is superior among soft drinks.

(Take a look at the brand websites linked above and see if you can figure out just who might've done that convincing. Something tells me this isn't a word-of-mouth phenomenon.)

Of course, there are many times where I'm too thirsty to want anything sweet and need pure water to properly quench my thirst, and this is when buying bottled water seems to make sense to me. This is also when the whole situation is at its creepiest - when I'm beyond wanting a drink to needing one, and feel like I have no choice about paying the higher prices.

All the same, I only really feel unhappy about it when my choices are limited to Dasani (or Pepsi's Aquafina filtered tap water). The stuff has always tasted like cement or metal to me. I was, however, convinced of Evian's superiority to local tap or even filtered water, dating back to my first encounters with bottled water as a child.

Well, apparently that was a placebo effect. Here are my scores, blindly rating each sample from 1 to 10:

Toronto - 8
Dasani - 6
Evian - 7
Markham - 6

(I would have placed Markham slightly above Dasani if I felt there was room, I remember slightly preferring the final cup to the second one. Sean invoked a .5, which I hadn't considered doing.)

Organizer Sean Lerner's results (with the sample order rearranged):

Markham - 6
Dasani - 7
Toronto - 7.5
Evian - 6

While neither of us were surprised about not choosing Dasani as our favourite, we had both been expecting Evian to come out on top. Frankly, I remember noticing that sample having a very faint, unpleasant smell as I put it to my mouth.

I do try to think for myself, but I have the feeling that the bottled water producers sort of "got me" on this one... and I think that's probably because I started drinking Evian at a young age and just bought the whole mountain spring story without giving a thought to the entire process between the source and my mouth. By the time Dasani was out, I was much more suspicious of such things.

As a friend of mine once said when he saw a bottle I was drinking, "Why are we spending tons of money to fly filthy Italian water around the world when we have the largest collection on the planet right here?" Well, the answer is obvious, because it's profitable for those doing it... but the real question is, why are the rest of us buying it?

This whole thing has made me a lot more comfortable with drinking our local tap water, but I do have to admit that it still tastes weird to me - a tad more flavourful than I want my water to be. More than anything else, though, this is probably because I usually drink filtered water at home. When I took a similar taste test at the Ontario Science Centre, I chose filtered water over tap, bottled or distilled.

Sean hopes to include the Science Centre's data with his, and it'll be very interesting to see what the overall results are. My money's on Hogtown Springs... and since we've all already paid for the stuff - at cut-rate prices - why not make your next purchase a good, empty water bottle and enjoy free refills from now on?

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