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Wednesday, 10 July, 2002, 12:19 GMT 13:19 UK
Tap v Cap: The water blind taste test
It might make you gulp with disbelief, but experts say that tap water is now every bit as good for you as bottled water. But will the public swallow it?

Bottled water is serious business in Britain today. We spend 700m a year on the stuff and that figure is set to double by 2005.

But what are we really buying: the bottle or the water?

After all, when Welsh producer Ty Nant decided to extend its range from glass to plastic, it spent two years developing a suitably hip container.

And Evian's Millennium Teardrop bottles were marketed as collectors' items.

Raelene McVinish
Raelene McVinish: "It hasn't got a taste at all"
The water seems to take second place in many people's estimations. And now it seems there are even better reasons to head for the nearest tap rather than chiller cabinet when you fancy a drink of the natural stuff.

According to the Drinking Water Inspectorate, the quality of tap water in Britain is better than ever.

Research by found the number of water samples failing to comply with strict industry standards, has fallen dramatically.

Water companies are even being encouraged by the inspectorate to market their own water for drinking.

To see how the public might respond, BBC News Online ran its own blind taste test.

Equipped with two identical looking bottles of water - one filled with London tap water, the other Highland Spring - we headed to the chic streets of Notting Hill, in west London.

Liam Taggart
Liam Taggart: "I haven't got a great palate"
Price wise, the tap water was an immediate winner, costing a fraction of a penny compared to 90p for 1.5 litres of spring water.

But which would the public prefer.

• Temp worker Raelene McVinish spotted the difference without much difficulty, finding the tap water betrayed a "slight after taste - maybe chlorine".

"The bottled water tastes clean. In fact, it hasn't got a taste at all. I always try to buy bottled water. In London the water makes my skin dry."

• There was no fooling Linda Shala either. After swilling the two in her mouth, she found the tap water tasted "gritty and horrible"

"I always buy bottled water; have done since my son was born 12 years ago. I am concerned about the health problems more than the taste though."

David Fishwick
David Fishwick: "Drinking from the tap has never worried me"
• Tourist Liam Taggart's taste buds are attuned to the tap water of rural Ireland, where he lives. He also tasted the difference.

"I haven't got a great palate but the tap water has got more of a flavour to it, but not a good flavour."

Although he "likes a Perrier once in a while," Mr Taggart confessed that his ambivalence about bottled water may have cost him dear.

"I had a friend 20 years ago who said we should go into the mineral water market. I turned him down and he's probably a millionaire now."

• Solicitor David Fishwick failed the blind taste test.

"I don't really bother with bottled water. Drinking from the tap has never worried me. Sometimes I can taste chlorine in it, but it's not much. I think it's all a bit of a rip off to be honest."

Kylie Norman
Kylie Norman: "The bottled stuff is smoother"
• Bottled or tap water, Kylie Norman wasn't too bothered - she was just looking for something to ease her hangover. Yet she still managed to pass the test.

"I'd generally buy bottled water to carry when I'm out shopping. The bottled stuff tastes smoother than the tap, but I also drink it for health reasons."

The BBC's Max Foster
"Consumers will take some convicing"
Michael Rouse, Drinking Water Inspectorate
"People do not need to buy bottled water"
Liz Breckenridge, Mineral Water Information Service
"Natural mineral water offers something different"
See also:

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