Water Sommelier Avanti Mehta On Holistic Understanding Of Water
Image Credit: Avanti Mehta, India's youngest water sommelier

Water is the essence of living beings and the very cause of existence. But how many of us really honour this gift of nature? The term water might sound trivial to many, but it has mindboggling facts. This is when the role of a water sommelier becomes imperative. Water sommelier – what does it mean? "He/she is a professional adept at tasting and evaluating natural mineral water, which is not a commodity with uniform characteristics but a natural, unprocessed product. Much like wine, water has terroir, i.e. the geology and conditions at the source give it a unique minerality and taste. The role includes educating others about its value," explains Avanti Mehta, India's youngest certified Water Sommelier. She is also the Brand Manager and Creative Director, Aava Natural Mineral Water. And it makes this India's only natural mineral water brand to have an in-house sommelier. 

Her niche career choice throws light on several facets of natural mineral water. There are many myths and misnomers associated with H2O. And as a water sommelier, she has a lot to convey for the better health of humans, other living beings, the environment and the food and beverage industry. In an exclusive interview, she shares some interesting verities which make one take a more prudent look at the water. 


Q. Water sommelier is a niche specialisation; what inspired you to become one?

Water has been an essential part of my life, because Aava Natural Mineral Water has been my family business for the last 17 years. In India, "mineral water" is synonymous with packaged drinking/purified RO water, which ironically has no minerals. On the other hand, natural mineral water is ethically sourced and contains natural minerals that impart wellness and give it a unique taste. It has the lightest environmental footprint compared to other packed beverages. Purification processes such as RO cause 75% water rejection. While natural mineral water is bottled as drawn, needs no purification, and causes zero water rejection.  

As a water sommelier, I want to highlight the unique experiences associated with natural mineral water, be it for taste or wellness, so that people can realise the difference and make better, more sustainable choices for their health and the environment. Apart from these, I was inspired due to my family's commitment to ethical water sourcing, biodiversity conservation and efficient recycling.

Q. From where did you pursue this course?

I was certified by Michael Mascha and Martin Reise, who established FineWater Academy and have tremendous expertise in the field and are world-renowned. FineWaters has a 3-level course with a mix of theory and practical taste tests to ensure we have a holistic understanding of water. We are regularly evaluated to test that knowledge too. It is an honour to learn from the best in the field. 

Q. What kind of tests one has to pass to get the certification?

Becoming a water sommelier involves grasping the science behind water – where it comes from, all the different natural sources and origins, and ethical sourcing and bottling methods. It also consists in studying and comprehending the minerality in the water. Tasting different kinds of water to understand how minerality impacts taste and how that can provide a unique experience when paired with the suitable types of food forms a significant aspect of what sommeliers do. 

In Europe, for example, there are unique natural mineral waters with a TDS that can go up to 3000 and even 7000. Such waters are specially used in fine dining and food pairings. Natural mineral waters with higher natural sodium content pair brilliantly with dark chocolate and lend an umami flavour. Low-minerality waters give a smooth finish to cocktails, while mid-to-high minerality adds a zing. Water advocacy and the importance of biodiversity conservation of the source are also areas one must study and grasp knowledge to become a water sommelier. 

 Q. What is the role of a water sommelier?

Water sommeliers taste natural mineral waters that are gently sourced and bottled without RO and other technologies, which cause tremendous water rejection. That's because no machine can create or match what is found in nature. Natural mineral water is intrinsically connected to the source and its natural environment. So, a water sommelier's role also involves understanding and advocating for protecting this biodiversity.  

Avanti tasting natural mineral water

Q. What is so unique about natural mineral water? Does it impact the taste of food and beverages?

When paired with the right food and spirits, natural mineral waters can elevate a dining experience with its unique taste. We are so conscious about our diets and what we eat, yet we seldom think about the water we drink, although 60% of our body is water. Natural mineral waters contain naturally occurring minerals like calcium, magnesium and other essential electrolytes, which are vital to wellness. 

Q. How does your age work in favour of bringing innovation to this industry?

There are about 6000 packaged water licenses in India and only 30 licenses of natural mineral water. Hence the natural mineral category is extremely niche. Rightly so, since it is tough to come by good quality natural mineral water untouched by pollution. I am a millennial water sommelier since it is up to our generation to make choices that can help us and the environment. Being a certified water sommelier equips me with the ability to learn and share that knowledge with others, so they can make informed choices. Thankfully my home-grown brand provides a platform for me to action all this knowledge I have. 

Q. What are your professional strengths and achievements? 

 My journey as a water sommelier began with my family business - Aava, that's been internationally awarded as one of India's premium natural mineral water brands since 2005. During the Covid-19 pandemic, I developed its e-commerce channels with free home delivery in 29 states to ensure everyone has easy access to safe and healthy natural mineral water. Today we have a loyal network of over 1,50,000 patrons across India who we serve through our own e-commerce website and leading online marketplace. 

Aava Sparkling Water, Image Source: Aavawater

My background in advertising led to the launch of the sustainable brand's glass bottle range, inspired by the indigenous flora and fauna found in its own bottling environment. In 2022 we've also launched its Sparkling Water range. This variant retains the goodness of natural minerals, imparting a distinct and delicious taste, making it an excellent zero-calorie mixer. 

 Q. How do you see the trend and innovation in the bottled water space?

The highest grade of water is "Natural Mineral Water" – an accreditation that means the water is bottled straight from a single protected natural source. Like organic food, consumers also want to know where their water comes from. The only innovation we genuinely need is better protecting, conserving and recharging of these natural mineral water sources and ensuring they are not polluted or exploited.

Q. Which water is best for health and consumption? How can a consumer select the right one?

Natural mineral water is as nature intended it to be, mineral-rich and bacteria-free. These minerals come from the earth, not from machines or artificial processes. If you live in India, the best way to determine is to look at the IS (Indian Standard) marking since bottled water must be certified by the BIS first, along with the FSSAI. If it is IS 13428, that means its certified natural mineral water sourced ethically and bottled without any harsh water-rejecting technologies, ideal for your wellness. If it is IS14543, that means it's a certified packaged drinking water that doesn't have a fixed source and is put through RO, UV, Ozonization or Ionization processes. 

If you are outside of India, spring water is the equivalent of natural mineral water and a much better choice for your health and the environment than purified/packaged one that's often just over-processed tap water. 

 Q. How aware is the common public regarding the above aspects of water?

There is a severe lack of awareness in India and in general. Most people assume all water is the same. Take the trend of alkaline water, for example. You have celebrities, nutritionists, etc., endorsing alkaline water, black water, etc., claiming that they cure diseases simply because they have a high pH. 

 This is a marketing gimmick designed to mislead consumers and charge them a premium for essentially RO-processed and ionised water, which they can even make in their own homes with machines. 90% of alkaline water brands in India carry an IS 14543 mark, meaning its RO purified water that's put through an ioniser. 

Ionisers simply split apart the water molecule through electrolysis which raises the pH artificially and, in some cases, temporarily. Studies show some alarming findings even if minerals are re-added to ionised alkaline water. Almost none of the commonly used methods to remineralise water after purification is adequate to improve health in the same way bioavailable minerals from natural mineral water do. 

It is not merely pH that makes the water alkaline, but the presence of alkaline minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium etc. Natural mineral waters (IS 13428) have a unique mineral composition, making the water naturally alkaline without ionisation. You can even sense it in the taste. The texture is smooth and creamy, and there is a hint of sweetness. As for ionised alkaline water, it tastes just like purified/ filtered/ processed RO water.  

Q. How do you see the future of water security and safety? 

Water is a ubiquitous part of our busy lives, readily available to us. Ironically, we take it for granted, and that's a concern. With easy access to bottled water, we don't realise something needs to change. The more we value water as a natural resource, focusing on ethical sourcing and constantly recharging our water sources, the better it will be for us and the planet. 

Q. Water has been an integral part of the food and drinks industry. How serious are people involved in this industry regarding it?

 Water menus are quite popular abroad, in countries such as Italy and America, where you have a curated list of natural mineral waters which pair well with the food served. While there are no water menus in India just yet. Only a few premium hotels and restaurants prefer to serve natural mineral water in glass bottles, which is a great choice. 

The pandemic also sensitised the importance of mineral-rich drinking water, which led to many institutions and airlines choosing natural mineral water over RO water. The F&B industry in India is evolving rapidly with the foray of many young chefs and budding food entrepreneurs. We can curate unique drinking and dining experiences with natural mineral water with enhanced sensitisation. These experiences, in turn, make people value water more.  

Q. What are your future plans?

As the creative director and brand manager for Aava, my role involves B2C, new product development and digital outreach. In my personal capacity, I want to raise awareness and advocate for conserving water sources, ecological biodiversity, and sustainable development. I plan to work with chefs and restaurants, especially in India, to curate unique fine dining experiences with natural mineral water.