Guess who won the best tasting drinking water contest in our area? | Laurie’s Stories
I was honored to help judge this year’s best tasting drinking water contest for the region that included the Treasure Coast.
As a self-proclaimed water snob, I figured I’d be a useful asset.
At the Port St. Lucie Community Center, I met the two other judges: Ken Gioeli with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and Al Beltran with Cosmic Barley and Greener Solutions.
We were tasked with critiquing water from the American Water Works Association Florida Section region that includes Glades, Highlands, Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee and St. Lucie counties.
All we knew was the water came from the following utilities: Fort Pierce, Indian River County, Martin County, Okeechobee, Port St. Lucie, Seminole Tribe of Florida, South Martin Regional, St. Lucie West, St. Lucie County and Vero Beach.
As judges, we wore Olympic-like medals around our necks as carts were wheeled in front of us with clear cocktail cups. Each cup was filled with water and labeled A through K.
We were asked to grade each lettered cup based on color, taste, smell and clarity.
At first, this seemed daunting. I figured I wouldn’t have a problem judging the taste and smell, but all the waters looked the same.
Thankfully, my fellow judges gave me a couple tips: use my cell phone flashlight to shine through the water and check for clarity, and put the cups of water on top of white paper to see a color difference.
I dipped my nose into each cup and breathed deep, much like one would when sampling a glass of wine. I was only able to get a true scent after I had had taken a few sips from each cup.
I took one drink from cup A and swore the water was from Fort Pierce. I grew up drinking that water and went into the contest boasting I would recognize the one from my hometown.
My bias continued throughout the morning as I noticed I had scored that cup better than the other judges, although we were agreeing on most of everything else.
After I went back through a second time to be sure of my scores, I changed most of them including cup A.
That water turned out not to be from Fort Pierce; it was from Okeechobee, likely the only water in our area I haven’t tried.
We slightly disagreed on another water, one that seemed slightly chilled. The rules are strict; water must remain at room temperature for 24 hours before the contest.
Beltran explained to me anything chilled tastes better, so it would give an unfair advantage. He said that’s why some beers are served in frosty mugs, even though beer should be served in room temperature glasses.
Because of this, I was tougher scoring the slightly chilled water than my fellow judges.
In the end, we were so in agreement with our top waters there was a tie for first place.
Still not knowing where the waters were from, it was much easier to decide the better water when it was narrowed down to two, even if we enjoyed both. We unanimously chose cup K over cup D.
It turned out we picked Port St. Lucie as the runner up, and I was relieved because the utility had the most employees in attendance. (I worried throughout the contest about making faces while sampling the water in case they somehow knew which sample belonged to them.)
“It really gives the guys a sense of satisfaction (about) what we do every day,” said Tim Vanasdale, chief operator of Port St. Lucie Utility Systems.
The shocker for me was the winner: the Seminole Tribe of Florida, whose water came from the Brighton Reservation near Lake Okeechobee. I never would have guessed cup K belonged to them, but I later found out they won the previous year as well.
My fellow judges were surprised too. After the contest, we had theories as to why their water tasted so good. One was maybe the Seminole Tribe is far enough out west to avoid runoff. Another was maybe the tribe has more control over a small batch of water.
The whole experience not only was fun, but it taught me how hard utilities employees work across the Treasure Coast to bring us the best tasting drinking water.
“You have to stand behind what you’re making,” said Alex Rush, who works for the Seminole Tribe of Florida. “You’re responsible for the water and for people’s lives.”
Laurie K. Blandford is TCPalm’s entertainment reporter and columnist dedicated to finding the best things to do on the Treasure Coast. Read her weekly column, Laurie’s Stories, on TCPalm.com. Follow her on Twitter at @TCPalmLaurie or Facebook at faceboook.com/TCPalmLaurie.