Ramblings & ephemera

How to grade or judge water

From Gideon Lewis-Kraus’s “The Water Rush” (Oxford American):

On the tables in front of us are pink “trial” judging sheets. Across the top run a series of boxes for water numbers, and down the side is the set of criteria we’ll be using. Arthur goes through the criteria one by one, and explains what to look for.

The first criterion is Appearance, which is rated on a scale from zero to five. Good is colorless; bad is cloudy. Self-explanatory, so Arthur moves along quickly to Odor, which is also based on five possible points. The box on the sheet has one example of a positive descriptor on the left side—in this case, “none”—and a row of possible characterizations of water odor on the right side: chlorine, plastic, sulfur, chemical, musty. Next on the list is Flavor, rated out of ten points; the left side of the box reads “clean” and the right side has the identical list of identifiers provided for Odor, plus “salty.” Mouthfeel is back down to a five-point criterion, and the relevant distinction is “refreshing/stale.” There’s a five-point box for Aftertaste (this one on a spectrum from “thirst-quenching” to “residue”), and finally we come to Overall Impressions.

Overall Impressions is scored out of fourteen points, which makes the total available points for each entrant an eyebrow-raising forty-nine. The fourteen-point scale is provided to us on an attached sheet. It was developed by a food scientist at UC Berkeley named William Bruvold. In the ’60s, he pioneered experiments in the acceptability levels of total dissolved solids in water, and he used his students as subjects; he incrementally increased the turbidity of the sample until the water came to resemble Turkish coffee and his students refused to drink it. Out of these experiments came this scale, which Arthur tantalizingly referred to the day I met him in Santa Barbara. Arthur seems a bit sheepish about the language of the document.

The fourteen-point scale, in its entirety, reads exactly as follows (all formatting original):

1. This water has a TERRIBLE, STRONG TASTE. I can’t stand it in my mouth.

2. This water has a TERRIBLE TASTE. I would never drink it.

3. This water has a REAL BAD TASTE. I don’t think I would ever drink it.

4. This water has a REAL BAD TASTE. I would drink it only in a serious emergency.

5. This water has a BAD TASTE. I could not accept it as my everyday drinking water, but I could drink it in an emergency.

6. This water has a BAD TASTE. I don’t think I could accept it as my everyday drinking water.

7. This water has a FAIRLY BAD TASTE. I think I could accept it as my everyday drinking water.

8. This water has a MILD BAD TASTE. I could accept it as my everyday drinking water.

9. This water has an OFF TASTE. I could accept it as my everyday drinking water.

10. This water seems to have a MILD OFF TASTE. I would be satisfied to have it as my everyday drinking water.

11. This water seems to have a LITTLE TASTE. I would be satisfied to have it as my everyday drinking water.

12. This water has NO SPECIAL TASTE at all. I would be happy to have it for my everyday drinking water.

13. This water TASTES GOOD. I would be happy to have it for my everyday drinking water.

14. This water tastes REAL GOOD. I would be very happy to have it for my everyday drinking water.

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