This Is What A Water Sommelier Really Does

If you've been to a fine dining establishment or watched a fancy restaurant scene in a movie, then chances are you're familiar with a wine sommelier. Highly trained wine specialists are not so uncommon in the hospitality industry. However, when the role is shifted and the expert is an authority on something as elemental as water, the jokes ensue. Nevertheless, the title of water sommelier has been earned by a number of enthusiasts, each equally passionate about a beverage we need to survive.

Among the most famous water sommeliers, Martin Riese comes up as the first person to make it a professional career in the United States (via National Geographic). Indeed, Pacific Standard reports that Riese's unique skill provided him with the opportunity to enter the U.S. on an O-1 visa, reserved for people with extraordinary abilities. It just so happened that in his case, his superpower was tasting water. Riese's obsession with water isn't new, and he told Business Insider that as a child growing up in Germany, he would excitedly anticipate family trips so that he could taste novel tap water — a far cry from soft drink fueled kids nowadays.

How does water vary?

Before you chalk him up to being a snob captivated by the nuances of a liquid that we drink without a thought, pause to really taste your next sip of water. As with many sensory factors, the details pop out when you compare between options. In his tasting sessions, Riese guides people through a selection of bottled water with variations in levels of total dissolved solids (TDS). According to Business Insider, these levels can vary from 10 to 7,000 milligrams per liter and even the biggest skeptic can taste the difference. National Geographic likens this measure and the flavor of the dissolved minerals to the concept of terroir in wine. The source explains that every region imparts unique characteristics to water depending on a number of factors, including the geologic makeup of the soil and the journey of the flowing water.

Water can taste and feel different in your mouth, and Riese's aim is for people to find the perfect water for every occasion. The Fine Water Society sees quality water as a suitable alternative to wine and similar specifications such as temperature, food pairings, and glassware are taken into consideration. Riese has designed a water menu that include over 40 pages of options, with bottles ranging from $8 to $20 (via Business Insider). If it seems superfluous, Afar wrote that Riese chose to create the extensive menu following a customer's request for more water choices.

What gives water value?

While most people enjoy water to quench their thirst or accompany a meal, The Guardian remarks that there has long been a tradition of visiting spa towns in Europe. According to World Atlas, unlike modern-day spas, the concept was originally designated for towns with natural mineral springs. In the past and still today, people visit these locations with the hopes of benefiting from their healing nature. Similarly, some of the waters that Riese highlights in his tasting events have mineral contents that make them practically medicinal (via Business Insider).

Among the vast range of waters that Riese has consumed, the most baffling goes for $100,000 and is stored in a bottle with a diamond lid (via Eater). He shared the bottle with rapper 2 Chainz and his producer Diplo, neither of whom seemed to think the water was worth the price (via YouTube). Of course, not everyone is on board with the concept of paying for water as a luxury product if tap water is available. Certainly, the primary consideration worldwide should be ensuring that everyone has potable water. However, for those that do and take it for granted, being mindful and truly enjoying its particularities can heighten the value we give to this precious beverage.