Thirsty? Consider a 'Water Tasting' With TikTok's Viral Water Sommelier

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In just three years, the canned water startup Liquid Death went from a cult beverage company to a $700 million business. Investors are calling it the “fastest growing non-alcoholic beverage of all time.” But Liquid Death is part of a larger premium water trend led online by a fast-talking, eccentric TikTok celebrity: Martin Riese.

Riese, whose catchphrase is “water is not just water,” is the platform’s bespectacled water evangelist, educator, and “personal water sommelier.” In one video, he’ll be sitting shirtless on the toilet, explaining the link between hydration and travel constipation, and in another, he’ll be decrying his arch-nemeses, brands like Dasani and Essentia that peddle “highly-processed tap water.”

“First of all, water should not be expensive at all, so don’t believe companies who charge you $2, $3, or $4 because they’re calling themselves premium waters, and they may be nothing else than highly processed filtered tap water,” Riese explains in a popular video. “I strongly believe in a filtration system at home.”

Riese is right, according to experts. Most bottled water companies — Dasani, Aquafina, SmartWater, to name a few — simply take municipal water and filter it for bottling, removing healthful minerals like magnesium and calcium. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Marion Nestle, a professor emeritus of nutrition, food studies, and public health, said that bottled and tap water are more or less the same.

“Companies buy water from municipal supplies at very low cost and sell it back to the public at a huge markup,” Nestle told the LA Times. “I am not aware of any evidence that bottled water is safer than city water in places where cities take care of their water.”

But at the same time that Riese rails against bottled water companies for their marketing ploys, he champions ultra-premium waters on TikTok and hosts expensive private tastings. Riese even invited 2 Chainz and Diplo to taste a $100,000 diamond-studded bottle of Beverly Hills 90H20 in a video for GQ, which has 19 million views on YouTube. While both artists are confused by the price tags  — “Ain’t it all the same?” 2 Chainz asks — Riese explains how mineral content can change a water’s flavor. (Riese, who occasionally films TikToks in front of his Porsche, has expensive taste). 

“It’s rain water at one point, and it drips down in different layers all over the planet, and the different layers have different terroirs like wine,” Riese explains in the video, adding that the mineral levels are measured in TDS, or total dissolved solids. Plus, the water is part of the "ultra-diamond luxury collection."

To be fair, Riese later said that he agreed to the "outrageous" video to raise awareness, not because water has to be expensive or inaccessible. That said, there aren't that many people who appreciate water to the degree that Riese does.

He discovered his unlikely love for water while growing up in northern Germany near the Baltic Sea.

“As a child, when I would vacation with my parents, I would always taste tap water wherever we went. And I came to realize that tap waters in different cities (taste) different,” Riese writes in a piece for Eater. “This became the most interesting part about traveling for me — sampling different tap waters.”

While Riese began his career as a wine sommelier, he broke into the premium water world after curating a Michelin-starred restaurant’s water menu in 2006. Four years later, Riese became a certified water sommelier through the German Mineral Water Trade Association. 

@martinrieseofficial In honor of @conantbs last episode tonight, always DRINK water and stay hydrated. #conan #water #watersommelier #hydration #fyp #bottledwater ♬ original sound - Martin Riese

But it wasn’t until Riese’s move to Los Angeles that Riese’s career really took off. In 2013, Riese appeared on “The Late Show with Conan” and debuted his first American water menu — a 45-page booklet for Ray's & Stark Bar in Los Angeles.

Since then, Riese has found his largest audience on TikTok, where he has nearly 400,000 followers, many of whom say Riese has changed the way they drink water.

“I bought a case of Fiji after listening to you! I have noticed a big difference since I’ve started drinking it,” a viewer commented on one of Riese’s videos.

Riese’s latest project is a curated “Hydration Station” at an expensive apartment community in downtown Los Angeles, though he continues to post daily on social media, bookending both his informational clips and pithy takedowns with the same mantra.

“Cheers, my friends. And remember: water is not just water.”

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