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Meet the water sommelier advocating for clean drinking water

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

There is nothing like a tall, cold glass of water on these very hot summer days. But we talked to someone who says not all water is created equal.

MARTIN RIESE: Hi. My name is Martin Riese, and I'm your personal water sommelier.

PFEIFFER: Wait, a water what?

RIESE: I think a water sommelier is a person who is very much in love with water and obviously wants to make sure, because he understands how important water's in general, that without that, we wouldn't be on this planet. So therefore, we need to take care of it a little bit more seriously.

PFEIFFER: Riese is from Germany, and he says at a very young age, he started noticing that water has different tastes.

RIESE: My parents always said, like, what's wrong with our child? Like, why is he waiting in the car until we're stopping somewhere, and then he runs to the restroom and puts his face under the sink?

PFEIFFER: He says those taste variations are often due to the water's mineral level.

RIESE: I'm looking for spring - natural spring waters, artesian spring sources or mineral waters. That means these waters coming from Mother Nature due to the water cycle, they're going down, passing through different stone layers, obviously, as rainwater. Water's a universal solvent. It will pick up minerality. Dissolve - like, it leaches out minerals from the stone layers and then coming up of a natural occurring spring source.

PFEIFFER: And he says we should be skeptical of water that's labeled as purified.

RIESE: I think that purified water brands are a scam. I don't believe that American person should purchase filtered tap water in a plastic bottle for $3 per pop. Get yourself a filter and hydrate yourself, please, at home, and use a reusable bottle.

PFEIFFER: Part of Riese's job is coming up with water menus for restaurants so they can pair different types of water with meals.

RIESE: We started with appetizers like a sushi or salad. And you would think like, oh, like a lighter white wine because that fits perfectly. So it's the same with water - lighter dishes, lower minerality, no carbonation fits perfectly. Then on the other spectrum, like you're doing your barbecue - barbecue season is right now - have a high-mineral-content water with a high sodium content with extremely a lot of carbonation in that it will cut through the richness of your steak.

PFEIFFER: We wondered what he considers the best water to drink.

RIESE: There is no best. There cannot be best because - let's be honest - we are all individual people. And you might be liking a pinot noir. I might like a merlot. Who's right and who's wrong? It's just a different taste profile. And it's the same with water.

PFEIFFER: And he says your water preference may also be related to your current activity.

RIESE: It really depends on my lifestyle. So for the gym time, I want a water with a high mineral content because I'm losing a lot of water when I'm sweating, and my sweat is very salty. So I'm not just losing water. I'm losing tons of electrolytes and minerals. So therefore I want to replenish them with a high mineral content water. But for dinner, when I'm having a glass of red wine, I want definitely a water what does not have too many minerals because it will infiltrate the taste profile of my red wine. So I'm looking for something a little bit more on the lower side.

PFEIFFER: Mostly, Riese says, he wants people to be more mindful about the water they consume.

RIESE: Let's be honest - 2.2 million people here in America don't even have access to clean and safe drinking water. They don't have running taps. We need to change that. And that's my job as well as a water advocate, not just as a water sommelier.

PFEIFFER: That was water sommelier Martin Riese.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.
Hadeel Al-Shalchi
Hadeel al-Shalchi is an editor with Weekend Edition. Prior to joining NPR, Al-Shalchi was a Middle East correspondent for the Associated Press and covered the Arab Spring from Tunisia, Bahrain, Egypt, and Libya. In 2012, she joined Reuters as the Libya correspondent where she covered the country post-war and investigated the death of Ambassador Chris Stephens. Al-Shalchi also covered the front lines of Aleppo in 2012. She is fluent in Arabic.