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Meet America’s Only Water Sommelier

A sommelier is usually defined as a wine expert who makes recommendations on what wine goes best with certain meals, at a restaurant. But Martin Riese doesn’t know a lot about wines. He is a professional water sommelier, the only one in the the United States.

German-born Riese has been fascinated with the different tastes of water since he was 4-years-old. His parents, who worked in the hospitality industry, would take him vacationing all over Europe, and the first thing he always did was try the tap water. To him, it tasted different everywhere he went, so he couldn’t understand why everyone always called it the same thing. Later, he would learn that he had been blessed with a very special palette that allows him to detect the subtle differences in the taste of different mineral waters. Luckily for him, there was actually a job that required just the kind of unique talent he had – water sommelier.

Photo: Martin Riese/Facebook

Martin admits that when people hear what he does for a living, they think he’s a little crazy, which he says is “totally normal”. First of all, he’s the only one with his job in the United States, and second, most people here are used to “purified water”, the kind that comes from a factory and tastes really bland. To them, all water tastes the same, but that’s only because they aren’t familiar with the many natural mineral waters available in different parts of the world. They really have their own unique tastes and properties, and as a water sommelier for the Patina Group in Los Angeles, he tries to show them what they are missing out on.

Martin Riese isn’t just a guy who claims to know a lot about water and what it tastes like. His talents have been recognized by the German Mineral Water Trade Association, which is also where he got his certification as a professional water sommelier, in 2010. Two years later, he traveled to the US on a O-1 visa—a special permit only given to “individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement.” He has been working here ever since, and has actually made quite a name for himself, becoming the subject of several documentaries, special news reports and even landing an invitation on the Late Show with Conan O’Brien.

Photo: Martin Riese/Facebook

The work of a water sommelier is very similar that of a wine sommelier. They also chill the water to a certain temperature – in this case 59 degrees Fahrenheit is perfect – and offer clients a selection of different waters, while presenting them with all kinds of interesting information about them. Apart from its place of origin, he always focuses on the TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) level of the water. This is basically the mineral content, which can reach from very low (10 – 40) to very high (around 7000). The higher the TDS level of the water, the stronger its taste.

For example, VOSS is a Norwegian mineral water made from glacier water, which is very pure. It has a TDS level of only 40, about the same as most purified waters, so it’s very hard to identify its flavor profile until you’ve had a higher TDS water to compare it with. On the other hand, Iskilde, a mineral water from an artesian spring in a conservation area in Denmark, has a TDS level of 400, and has an earthy taste to it, when compared to VOSS. Having passed through 150 feet of alternating layers of quartz sand and clay, as well as an underground air-bubble full of 8,000-year-old oxygen, Iskilde has a very unique blend of minerals.

Photo: Martin Riese/Facebook

ROI, a special spring water from the Rogaška Spa and Health center in Slovenia, is on the extreme side of the TDS spectrum. It has a TDS level of 7,400, which Martin calls “insane”. He only has 10 bottle of it in his restaurant and uses it exclusively for tastings. It has the highest magnesium content of any natural water in the world, and has long been used as medication. In fact, the company that bottles it explicitly states that ROI is a health product and not intended to simply quench thirst. It has a strong, off-putting metallic taste, but it’s great after an alcohol-fueled night on the town. Its high mineral content quickly replenishes the nutrients lost while drinking, alleviating the symptoms of hangover.

These are just 3 of the 44 different natural waters that Martin Riese has on his water menu at Ray’s & Stark’s restaurant, and he can’t wait to tell you all about them while you take a sip. So if you’re interested in sampling some of the best still and sparkling waters on Earth and learning which one best compliments your favorite dishes, now you know who to ask.

 

And just in case you’re wondering about his experience in the water department, Martin says that he has so far tried over 4,000 different spring waters from all over the world. He drinks water professionally since 2005.

Sources: Business Insider, Quartz, Martin Riese

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