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The Short Version: Water has a wide variety of taste profiles, much like wine, but most people don’t think much about the type of water they drink. Fine Water Academy offers courses that help people expand their understanding of complex and unprocessed water. The top bottled water companies source their water from icebergs, glaciers, wells, and rain, to name a few. The Fine Water Academy teaches participants about the differences and helps them feel more connected with water, instead of thinking of it as a standard drink.
Couples who go to upscale restaurants for date night are familiar with reading a wine list that is many pages long. Many restaurants create food and wine pairings and may even have a sommelier who can make wine recommendations.
But when it comes to water, more often than not, restaurants serve diners filtered or tap water at their tables. Or they may offer S.Pellegrino if a couple prefers sparkling water.
Michael Mascha is a water enthusiast who wants individuals and couples worldwide to be more aware of the varieties of fine waters available. While most people are familiar with sparkling water, they may have never tried rainwater, deep seawater, or iceberg water.
Michael co-founded Fine Water Academy with Martin Riese to teach people about water and expand their appreciation of the most common drink in the world.
Michael said that most of the water Americans drink is highly processed and is, perhaps surprisingly, anything but a natural product.
“A lot of bottled water is tap water that runs into a factory where it’s filtered, and minerals are added to it. Listen to your body, and give it a natural product, not a processed one,” he said.
Michael also offers a suggestion for diners the next time a restaurant server asks if they would like filtered, bottled, or S.Pellegrino water.
“I would make the restaurant aware that I wanted more choices in my water. They have a hundred wines on the wine list, so why don’t they have more water choices? People want different experiences with water,” he said.
Over the last 20 years, Michael has devoted himself to bringing the finest waters in the world to water enthusiasts. Michael and Martin combined their expertise to create courses for Fine Water Academy. Now, the pair teaches individuals and couples who want to learn about water in the same way they learn about wine.
Many people don’t realize water comes in so many forms, and 20 years ago, Michael was one of them. In the early 2000s, his doctor said Michael needed to stop drinking wine. While that may have been an easy ask for some, Michael had more than 500 bottles stocked in his wine cellar.
But even more than the wine itself, Michael missed the social experience of having a bottle of wine on the table for a date or a few glasses during evenings with friends.
“When you remove the bottle from the table, there is a void — There’s no sharing wine, learning about wine, or engaging with wine,” he said.
Only then did he recognize there was another type of bottle on the table: a water bottle.
So he decided to transfer his interest in wine over to water. He began exploring the fine waters of the world and sharing what he discovered with others. Then he met Martin, a water sommelier who created water menus for restaurants in Los Angeles.
Together, the duo created Fine Water Academy courses that attract water-lovers who want to learn more about production and high-end options.
The academy aims to expand participants’ horizons about unprocessed water — and how unique and flavorful each type of water can be. Many students work in the food or beverage industry themselves, while others have an interest in wine. Others are new to the world of fine water, including couples who want to drink less alcohol while out on dates.
“We are educating the world that water isn’t just water. It comes from a place and can hold experiences,” Michael told us.
Couples often take a course through Fine Water Academy as a unique date experience. The courses are fascinating, and couples may discover a wine alternative that deepens their dining experience.
“It’s important to understand that water tastes different — 4,000-year-old iceberg water, artisan water, spring water — if you pay attention, you have nicer experiences,” said Michael.
Couples gain a great appreciation for what it means to bottle high-end waters, too. For instance, they can take virtual site visits, where Michael and Martin have one-hour conversations with water producers who show participants where the water emerges from the ground.
“What we love about this is the passion people have. They don’t talk about money, but about the passion they have for the product. Like a farmer would talk about produce, or a winemaker would talk about wine,” Michael told us.
People from around the world take the academy’s courses, which can be particularly exciting during the food-pairing part of the lesson. Michael and Martin recently had a student from Bhutan, and course participants — and teachers — had a chance to learn more about the country’s cuisine.
Some couples decide to take a course after a water tasting experience that surprised them. Michael said that many people are not expecting these waters to taste as unique as they do.
“Couples come to us and say, ‘This is an exciting new thing in my life.’ They can look back and remember when they learned that water was not just water. Experiencing something together is the most important thing to me,” he said.
People become interested in drinking high-end water for many reasons. The waters may provide them with a greater sense of place than tap or filtered water. Water in its natural state also tastes unique, and Fine Water Academy can foster that interest through its courses.
Others turn to water because they want to stop drinking alcohol, or drink less on dates or at parties. It’s not uncommon for people nervous about social interactions to turn to alcohol rather than working through their anxiety.
“From personal experience, when you go to a party, you might be a little nervous. If you drink wine, sometimes you don’t remember the whole evening. It gets foggy after midnight if you drink alcohol,” Michael said. “You remember the whole thing if you drink water instead of wine. That can be a good thing for dates.”
Michael has focused on bringing greater awareness to fine waters for the last two decades. He encourages Americans to move away from tap and mass-produced bottled water, especially for dates and special occasions. Water can be more than a necessity, he insists; it can be a luxury.
Fine Water Academy courses provide participants with a better understanding of how to identify and differentiate fine waters, and pair them with the right food.
“You’ll leave with a great knowledge of water — enough to embarrass wine sommeliers who don’t pay attention to water in their restaurant,” Michael said with a laugh.