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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

TASTE: New York City tap water

New York is reputed to have the champagne of tap water. The crust and loft of our bagels and pizza crust have been attributed to its properties. At restaurants, when given the option “Bottled or tap?,” seasoned New Yorkers choose tap without hesitation, and in some spots a carafe of local water is part of the place setting.


I decided to sample New York’s miracle beverage in three forms: straight from my Brooklyn tap (free), from a plastic bottle of Duane Reade’s “New York Spring Water” ($1.56), and from a glass bottle of Molecule Water Project’s ultra-purified tap water ($2.50).


At home, I let the tap run cold, then filled up a glass. The water was clear and smooth with a faint bitterness that turned to sweetness before dissolving. The water was refreshing, clean, and utterly forgettable: exactly what most of us are looking for in a glass of water.

Duane Reade, the iconic New York drugstore, sells its “New York Spring Water” in a plastic bottle with the bar code shaped like the Statue of Liberty. The back of the label states: “Bottled in New York State, for New Yorkers.” The front of the label reassures skeptics and tourists: “It’s clean, it’s natural, we promise.” Duane Reade’s water was crisp and had a resinous tang, but overall it went down pretty easily. I felt energized and refreshed, perhaps because it was chillier than even the coldest water I could summon from my faucet. 


Finally, I went to the East Village storefront Molecule Water Café: a slice of prime Manhattan real estate—gleaming tile, wood counter, bay window—devoted to one thing: selling purified tap water (as well as filters for faucets and showers).


Molecule’s water passes through a twenty-five-thousand-dollar machine that subjects it to an eight-stage process involving ultraviolet light, reverse osmosis, and ozone treatments to rid it of all impurities (chlorine, fluoride, and lead, among others). It costs $2.50 for a sixteen-ounce glass bottle with a tin cap. Molecule recommends drinking water at room temperature so the body doesn’t have to exert as much energy. The handsome packaging, the satisfying glugglugglug as the water passed through the neck of the bottle, and the texture of the glass lip contributed a sense of value, but the water itself tasted the least smooth of the three. Though I’d heard Molecule’s purified tap water described as “velvety” and “round,” I tasted lemony and floral notes, and a decidedly bitter aftertaste that lingered, unlike the previous two waters.


One wall of the café features a row of glass tubes filled with colored liquids. For a dollar or two more, you can supplement your tap water with alkaline and electrolytes, vitamins, or one of several “Signature Blends”: luo han guo and shiitake mushrooms for immunity; biotin and grape-seed extract for hair, skin and nails; holy basil and white willow bark to counteract inflammation; and ashwagandha and rhodiola for energy.


In addition, there are “Suggested Combos” to take the most vigorous New Yorker from dawn to dusk: “Fountain of Youth” and “Body Repair” to get you out of bed in the morning; “Strong Bones,” “Cold Buster,” and “Glamour Shot” to transition from work to a night on the town; “Base” and “Night Vision” to help you keep your bearings; and finally  “Relax,” “Recover,” and “Hangover” (the most popular combo).


I decided to try “Molecule Energy” ($3), a “unique blend of herbs, fruits, and roots from around the world” that promises to “sharpen your mind and enliven your body so you can get out there and carpe diem.” The water in my glass bottle turned a murky green with sparkly sediments. It tasted like weak green tea. After a few sips, I did feel a tingle of replenished energy. Could it have been the caffeine anhydrous? The guarana? Or maybe it was the alchemy of a quaint café, a designer bottle filled from a test tube, and faith that if tap water could be transformed for three dollars, so could I.

The Molecule Water Project is located at 259 East Tenth Street. Readers might be interested to check out The Tastes of Drinking Water, about a table correlating the varying tastes of drinking water (“fishy,””grassy,” “cucumber” water to the particular organisms it contains.

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