Even in water, Coke and Pepsi make the favorites

Patti Anderson of St. Petersburg checks one of the waters sampled by taste test panelists. Anderson didn’t have a preference among the samples, but “there were a couple that I didn’t like.”

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Patti Anderson of St. Petersburg checks one of the waters sampled by taste test panelists. Anderson didn’t have a preference among the samples, but “there were a couple that I didn’t like.”

The label on bottles of Aquafina shows mountains and the words, "Pure Water,'' so there was quite a to-do when it was reported that it was just tap water.

Then Coca-Cola admitted that its product, Dasani, was processed from tap water, too.

But lost in the dustup was the bigger picture: Pepsi's Aquafina and Coke's Dasani are much more than tap water, not only far cleaner, but with touches of the secret magic the corporate beverage giants have used to flavor their other drinks.

The special treatment by major bottled brands came out in a blind test conducted by the St. Petersburg Times.

Without knowing what they were drinking, a five-member panel tasted purified water brands and plain tap water.

The winner: Coca-Cola's Dasani. Two panelists chose Dasani as their favorite; the other three picked no favorite but gave Dasani positive marks.

"It's no surprise that the folks in Atlanta can sculpt a product that consumers like," Alan C. Bloom, of the National Science Foundation, said of Coca-Cola.

The panel — two men, three women, ages 25 to 54 — included a wine connoisseur, a fitness instructor, a consumer protection investigator, a college student and a municipal water resources director.

The least favorite water had a familiar taste that even the blind test could not mask from the sensitive palate of Tampa wine expert Tom McEntee.

"Yuck! This tastes like Tampa tap," he wrote on his score card.

Tampa tap it was.

Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Nestle use tap water for their purified products. Using various combinations of demineralization, water softening, ultraviolet light, ozonation and reverse osmosis, they strip the tap water down practically to its essence — two hydrogens and one oxygen — then season it to taste.

To its Dasani water, Coca-Cola adds a touch of potassium chloride to stimulate the palate. Whatever else they do makes up the secret formula that Coca-Cola will never tell.

The panel described Dasani, known to them only as sample "B", as pleasant, sweet and clean.

Also scoring well with the blind testers were the other purified waters, Aquafina and Nestle Pure Life.

Scoring the poorest were the three tap waters, from Tampa, St. Petersburg and Zephyrhills. Among those, St. Petersburg's scored best, with marks for its pleasant taste and cleanliness.

Four panelists tagged the tap water from the city of Zephyrhills for an unpleasant aftertaste.

Of the Zephyrhills city water: "Clear, but something doesn't feel right," said Nathan Cowan, a 25-year-old student at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, who usually drinks tap water.

The taste testers tended to score the spring waters in the middle. The brands tested were Zephyrhills, Deer Park and Publix spring waters. Also included was the Norwegian water Voss.

In the end, tasting water wasn't like sipping wine.

"Most of them tasted about the same, smelled the same, clarity was about the same," said Patti Anderson, the director of St. Petersburg water resources, who didn't have a favorite. "There were a couple that I didn't like."

She gave the sample that turned out to be Tampa tap some of the worst marks, noting it was dusty and had a lingering taste.

Those marks were no surprise to wine expert McEntee, who said: "Tampa water is absolutely disgusting."

Times staff writer Chris Sherman contributed to this report.

Even in water, Coke and Pepsi make the favorites 03/14/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 18, 2008 4:24pm]

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