What affects the taste of tap water?

The tap from the Waitsburg cemetery. Even the dead people get to benefit. (photo by J.C. Westbrook)

I don’t drink a lot of water, mainly because I’ve never really loved the taste. That, and I’ve always thought the whole “8 glasses a day” thing is bullshit. On a trip to Walla Walla wine country a couple of weeks ago, however, we stopped in a quiet little town called Waitsburg that is a dead ringer for Radiator Springs (from the Pixar movie “Cars”). We had a delectable dinner at the phenomenal Jimgermanbar but perhaps the most amazing part of the meal for me was the tap water. It was the first time in my life I ever remember thinking to myself how great a glass of water tasted.

Pure, zero flavor wetness without even a hint of aftertaste. Even at room temperature.

I asked our waitress about it and she said people comment about it a lot so I had her pour me two magnum bottles full and I brought it home (well, Tiffehr brought it home). Upon arriving back in Seattle, I had a few co-workers taste it and they also had positive reviews. Then I did a blind taste-test at home and it won with flying colors.

I’m now reasonably sure this is the best water I’ve ever been in the presence of, so of course my curiosity continues to grow. In researching the peculiarities of water taste, I came across this great but suuuuuuper fugly article explaining how minerals and other things affect the taste of water. Hint: use this readability widget to decrappify the layout.

Lots of interesting stuff in there. I’m convinced this water is extremely pure and contains very little mineral content, and now I want to have it tested. Anybody know what the easiest way to do this is? Are there local labs that will charge you a few bucks to quench your obsessive curiosities? If so, I’m all over it… and will report the results back here of course.

24 comments on “What affects the taste of tap water?”. Leave your own?
  1. Colin says:

    I think the easiest experiment to start with is a PH test. Buy some PH testing strips to find out if it’s more acidic or alkaline. If it’s so good and pure, it should be close to 7. Based on results, you could probably start to look into which materials are pushing the PH one way or the other.

  2. meks says:

    I hope you don’t have money signs in your eyes. Nestle recently got slapped down trying to bottle some Maine Spring water for their Poland Spring brand.

    That said, I am going to buy some property next door to Waitsburg and a drilling rig. I drink your milkshake! :)

  3. Mike D. says:

    Colin: Nice. I will hook up some PH strips this week.

    meks: Ha, definitely don’t want to sell it, but I’d love to figure out how to cheaply get more of it. Or get something similar, somehow.

  4. Peter C says:

    Wow, that link is hard on the eyes.

    The self home test kit we use to test water from the well is a Choline & PH Kit by Aqua Quip.

    If you want to send your water out to have it tested by a professional you may want to consider getting a company that has passed been accredited to analyze drinking water through the Department of Ecology.

    You can find an accredited lab here:

  5. ramin says:

    The thing is that what passes for drinking water and what causes the differences in taste in different waters are two very different matters. A pH test will basically tell you nothing at all about the taste qualities of the water.

    All in all Finland has very good tap water (Evian and most other high-end bottled water’s have more of a taste than common Finnish tapwater.) But even here from place to place you can taste differences. It depends a lot on the water source (a muddy river as a source will have some muddy taste come through). The most important thing to find out on what is affecting the taste of the water is, as you’ve already learned, the minerals it contains.

    But as I said, the standards for drinking water still leave lots of leeway for taste influencing minerals. The best water I’ve tasted comes from ground water wells or springs in moraine or till based ground.

  6. forrester says:

    Aside from natural minerals, there could also be various level of municipally added Flouride that could change the taste.

    Then again, didn’t you mention something about a cemetary? Soylent Green is very tasty… or so they say.

  7. Kevin says:

    Aruba has a state of the art system that transforms ocean water into drinkable tap water. Its probably the best I’ve ever tasted. Wondering why we don’t see this in the state more often?

  8. Julian says:

    You have much chlorine in your water in the U.S. that’s why it tastes bad. In Germany for example, they have excellent water with nothing added and thus absolutely no taste.

  9. Jemaleddin says:

    Year after year New York City tap water beats every bottled water in the world in blind taste tests. The city owns vast stretches of upstate New York and uses them as an aquifer.

    Plus, it’s essential for proper pizza dough. :-)

  10. Martin says:

    As Julian said, a lot of countrys use a lot of chlorine in the water, to deal with bacterias. This is where most of the bad taste in the water comes from. You should try tasting fresh water from a running river next time you are out in the forest!

    Pure distilled water (no minerals) acctually taste rather boring / not very good. It’s the minerals which gives it taste!

  11. Brad Smith says:

    I keep on hearing about great NYC tap water, but my experience with tap water has always been very poor. Horrible after taste that leaves my throat feeling like it’s got something stuck in it. I much prefer water elsewhere in the country to NYC water.

  12. Mike D. says:

    Peter C: Thanks for the tip. Will check out facilities to properly test it.

    Jemaleddin: I agree. NYC is probably the second-best water I’ve had after this stuff. Exceeds expectations dramatically.

  13. I am not much help on getting your answer solved, but I am right with you on not drinking water at all because I don’t like the taste.

    Everyone always says, “water doesn’t taste like anything, how can you not like the taste of it.” I am glad there is someone else out there with me who disagrees.

  14. Bradley says:

    How the municipality processes the water is important. We have a lime processing plant (quick overview here: http://water.me.vccs.edu/concepts/softeninglime.html). Our water is soft, but not softened down to zero. The source is roughly 300ppm and after processing comes out around 150ppm, which is a measurement of how much Calcium Carbonate is in the water. The pH is raised very high during processing, then brought back down to around 8.9, which I am told is best for smell and taste, and won’t corrode your pipes. As some have suggested, these properties are easily tested with an inexpensive water test kit, available at your local pet store and online.

    I know all of this because I called my city water department. Everywhere I’ve lived, these folks have been kind and informative, some even quite excited to talk with me (working for the water department apparently isn’t that glamorous and these people want attention in their jobs, who knew?). In the city of my current residence, I’ve even been to the plant and met the people, tested some water, and learned a bit more about it in the process. My city also publishes a detailed annual water report.

    So, look up the Waitsburg water department (if they have one; they may get their water from a nearby municipality or third party) and give them a call. No doubt, they know their water better than anyone—where it came from, what they do to it, and why.

    Full disclosure: I have some semi-aquatic pets. I am required to know properties of the water so that I can adjust as necessary for their habitat. I adjust the pH to around 7.5 and add trace minerals to the water to increase hardness. Also, chlorine eventually kills smaller animals, so that gets neutralized. A scoop of this, a cap-full of that, and we’re all set.

    Aside: Reverse-osmosis combined with UV sterilization produces pretty vanilla water, but just like iodine is added to salt, you have to add some minerals back in or we would all get rickets. There’s a RO water dispenser outside my grocery… have you tried RO water, Mike?

  15. Stewart says:

    Very pure water is disgusting – it’s very dry tasting. You need minerals to smooth it out.

    Softwater tastes smoother and crisper than hard water. High levels of calcium and magnesium make hard water (you will spot this if limescale is a problem in your area). I see from Wikipedia that “More than 85% of American homes have hard water.” Poor you!

    Putting fluoride and chlorine in the water supply is insane. Both are poisonous in large quantities and there’s no way to control dosage.

  16. Thomas says:

    I’m not sure if they do such small samples, but Frontier Geosciences would be a good place to start (http://www.frontiergeosciences.com/), and they are a Seattle company too. I used to do temp work there, and they basically have the best labs/procedures around for testing water, and they are awesome people, so it’s worth a shot.

    For the record, the best water I’ve ever had was from Ames, IA. We would stop at a friends house every time we drove by just to fill up a couple gallon jugs of tapwater to bring with us. Ahhh, the good old days.

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  18. C Brakke says:

    I live in Ames and it has THE BEST water. I have heard before it has the 3rd best drinking water in the nation

  19. Linda Hillman says:

    We had very very good tasting water from a private well. Recently something knocked out a electrical relay in the well pump. It did not hurt the pump. After the relay was replaced you could smell the water from the tap, and you could not even make coffee from it if taste so bad. It had a flat taste and kind of a chemical smell. What happened?

  20. Jon says:

    If you lost power in your well and there is no check valve, the water in the pipes and pump assembly drained back into the well possibly stirring up some sediments at the bottom

  21. Ryan says:

    I feel sorry for you Americans and your water situation !! I live in Canada do you know where that is ? I’ve met lots of people from the states that couldn’t even tell me where Edmonton is …..lol no joke!! Anyway I live on Vancouver island and literally drink the water right out of the streams and the water that comes from the tap Is phenomenal !! It is bacicly untreated filtered water straight from the beautiful qualicum river about 5 miles down the road !! The same place I catch 30lb salmon and crawfish that make me drool !!

  22. Tracey says:

    Most home fixing stores will offer a free water testing in the water heater/softner section.

  23. Alana says:

    Hi there. I also experienced smooth, silky water and I was wondering where I could get some more. Or how I could make some at home. Thanks :)

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