The great Sydney water weigh-in

Mineral Water

Is spring water all it’s cracked up to be? Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

After news broke last month that many bottled water suppliers in Sydney were simply bottling tap water and selling it to us for a bajillion times the price, the reactions of the Smog editorial team were somewhat varied. Some said they knew about this injustice all along, others were understandably upset they had been misled.

Since everyone seemed to think there was a definitive difference between tap water and bottled water, and they had the necessary palette for identifying them, I thought I would put the team, and Sydney’s various water products, to the test. It would be Sydney’s great water weigh-in.

Our contestants

The water weigh-in contestants, minus the tap. Photo: Liam Taylor.

Four very different water types were put to the test. Mount Franklin, as Australia’s most popular spring water, had to feature. Coles brand rounded out our spring contestants as the cheerfully cheap alternative. Noble’s Pureau would act the villain in our weigh-in as the representative for bottled tap water. Our final contestant would be old faithful: the water straight from our tap.

Seven members of the Smog team tested the waters based on the three most essential qualities of Adam’s ale: freshness, clarity and taste. They would rate each of the water’s out of five for those three categories. They were then asked to identify whether their water sample was taken from the humble tap, Noble’s Pureau, Coles Brand or Mount Franklin. Take a squiz at the results, they might surprise you.

Mount Franklin: Australia’s favourite ($2.50 per 600 ml)

Oddly enough, not a single member of the Smog team correctly identified the Mount Franklin sample. One person was absolutely certain it was tap water. After discussing this afterwards, it came out that many of us were put off by the price-tag, which was just too much to go past for uni students. This could be why the group had so much trouble identifying Mount Franklin when it sells more bottles than any other brand in Australia. Interestingly, a number of our water connoisseurs did initially guess correctly but changed their answers after tasting other samples. Mount Franklin scored moderately across the board and, strangely enough, was no one’s favourite.

Freshness  Clarity   Taste Overall 

Tap: our daily drop ($2 per kL – yup, that ‘s approximately $2 per thousand litre)

In contrast to the previous test, only one member of the group failed to correctly identify the sample as Sydney tap water. This is perhaps testament to the fact we all drink tap water most often.  Tap water seemed to divide opinion amongst our taste-testers with some loving and others hating the public supply. One Smog contributor described it as “very fresh and natural”, while another said it “tastes like permanent marker.” Overall, tap water scored moderately, but it had stronger marks for taste and lower marks for clarity.

Freshness  Clarity  Taste Overall 

Coles Brand: cheap and cheerful ($0.89 per 600ml)

It turns out that the cheaper alternative for bottled spring water is not a bad way to go if you find your bank balance on the decline. The home brand product comes at nearly half the price of its competitor Mount Franklin, but to our judges, at least, it definitely had the better of this bout. Some members of the group even changed their previously correct identification of Mount Franklin they were so sure they were tasting the more expensive brand. Scored highly across the board, particularly in the clarity criteria.

Freshness  Clarity  Taste Overall 

Noble’s Pureau: the villain  ($3.99 per 6x600ml bottles; $0.67 per 600ml)

Of course, just to throw our expertly conceived study completely out the window, our villain came up with the highest scores of the day. Last month a spokesperson for Noble’s Pureau, acting after the news of commercial water suppliers bottling tap product, stated the company obtained product from Sydney Water before “value-adding” with filtration processes. On the evidence of today, they are certainly adding something special as our villain consistently outscored its tap counterpart. What distances it even further from its bottled rivals is its price.

Freshness  Clarity  Taste Overall 

So what does this mean besides the fact that the Smog team aren’t very good at guessing water? For me, tap is still the pretty obvious choice, if for no other reason then price. However, while it pains me greatly to write this, it would also appear that if you are going to commit the crime and go bottled, Noble’s Pureau or other bottled tap waters are perhaps the way to go. On this evidence they certainly achieve something taste-wise through filtering the water, and it comes at a pretty cheap price.

Read Liam’s toast to what he thinks is Sydney’s finest stuff on tap.

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