You’re in the middle of nowhere when your child asks you for some water. You reach into your purse to discover you left your Watsons drink in the cab that hurriedly sped away after getting his money. You turn to your husband to ask for his water but he tells you he forgot it in the cab as well. How you both left your water bottles in the cab beats me, so before you can argue with the author of your silly predicament about the strange story she’s put you in, your child reminds you of her still unquenched thirst. You breathe, focus, and then look around for the nearest convenience store.
Aha! You spot one—it’s just right across the street. You troop your family to the convenience store and there ask for a few bottles of water. The tummy-exposed, hole-ridden-couch-lying vendor grunts his displeasure that his TV watching has been interrupted for just a few kuai, and he grabs a few bottles and rolls it towards you without breaking eye contact with his show. “Six kuai,” he says in Chinese, although in your country that sounded more like a reprimand than a statement. Your child’s almost lifeless grumble brings you back to the present and as you grab the water bottles and slowly reach one out to your child one thought suddenly crosses your mind.
Wait, is this safe?
Your child reaches for the water bottle just as you pull your own arm back, mommy instincts suddenly going into overdrive. “Do you have anything else other than this?” You ask in your elementary Chinese as you try to return the bottles. The bottles are so soft they succumb almost effortlessly when you accidentally squeezed. You remember that recent post about Drinking Waters and Shower Filters and can’t help but gulp down worry.
“No, that’s all,” says the vendor, annoyed that you’re still there. Your daughter screams at you for keeping her precious water away from her, and she’s seconds away from jumping up and down and releasing her unforgiving Intense Scream of Hatred. You sigh with resignation. You give the rest of the bottles to your husband and open one for your child, who downs the whole bottle as if she had just walked through a desert.
And finally you do the one thing you’ve been meaning to do since this fiasco began. You look up to the heavens knowing I’m still typing your story and you go, “Why in the world is there only one type of bottled water in that man’s shop?!”
If you’ve been in the same situation once or twice before (not referring to the screaming-to-the-heavens part) or feel you might be faced with one during your expat years in the capital, then you’ve come to the right post. You’ll encounter a bunch of water bottles during your stay here in China, and yet won’t really have any way of knowing which is your best option unless you have a Xiaomi TDS and a little cup to test your water’s PPM. In other words, it’s just a load of 麻烦 (má fan). Fortunately dear reader you’ve got us, and we’re here to tell you whether or not you’ve chosen the right poison (err… drink).
To aid in our quest for the best on-the-go water option is the Xiaomi TDS Pen Water Quality Tester, a nifty device that looks quite similar to a pen on the outside but is secretly a water purity spy for us Beijing-based folks. The instructions are simple enough: take off the cap, press the ON button and dip it in the water in question. A few seconds is all it takes for the TDS Value to appear on the tiny screen.
You’ll want this number as low as possible, because a high value means that the water you’re about to drink might be high in dissolved solids or worse—not within drinkable ranges. If you’re wondering what “dissolved solids” here means, here’s how Xiaomi explains it:
So for this experiment I chose some popular water options amongst foreigners, some amongst locals, and some from one of the nearby newspaper stores. And then I list their respective TDS levels and their price per bottle. Unless stated otherwise, prices below are all Carrefour prices.
So here are the results:
1. Snow Mountain Mineral Water: Differs from water bottle to water bottle, but generally straddles between 238 to 271 ppm, (RMB 5 for 510ml)
I was very surprised to discover that this water’s TDS Value was so high, considering that it’s quite expensive and that there’s this famous movie company that uses this. To make sure it wasn’t just the problem wasn’t with the specific bottle I had bought, I decided to purchase another one at Carre Four. The number went lower, but really not by much. So for those who think that price always means quality, I’m not sure that’s the case here.
2. C’est bon Purified Drinking Water: 6 ppm (RMB 3 for 350ml in our neighborhood shop but just the same price as Nongfu elsewhere)
This is a popular choice amongst my friends since it costs almost the same as a bottle of Nongfu, which honestly surprises me considering it’s a foreign brand. Also, considering how low the ppm is it’s definitely a steal!
3. Nongfu Spring Water （Natural Stone Mineral Water): 35 ppm, (RMB 2.35 for 535ml)
I first met this version of Nongfu on the bullet train to Tianjin, when we visited the Aircraft Carrier Theme Park. I remember it costing around RMB 6 during that ride, and found it quite pricey at the time. But now that I’ve checked its ppm level I think it was the right choice. After all, I was buying it not just for myself but for my kids to drink as well.
4. Watsons Water (the green bottle): 1 ppm (RMB 2.40 for 400ml)
Watsons seems to be the number one option for expats, but my beef with this famous brand is that it’s quite pricey. I know, I know, you can’t put a price on health. But when you’re buying liters and liters of this you really need to ask yourself if spending that much on water really needs to be such a high priority (P.S. Check out that A++ ppm level!)
5. Hosanmi Drinking Natural Mineral Water (Deep Volcano Mineral Water): 122 ppm, (RMB 3.5 for 542ml)
I bought this water as well because it was one of the options at our neighborhood convenience store. It looks AND sounds cool – Deep Volcanic Mineral Water – whoa that’s got to be freaking healthy right? But I was surprised to see a high ppm level from this particular mineral water. Hm. Oh well. Looks were quite deceiving after all.
6. Nongfu Spring Water (the normal one): 66 ppm, (RMB 1.5 for 550ml)
A popular choice amongst many Chinese I know because, well, it’s Nongfu. It’s a big name, and even with its scandal years ago I still see a lot of people drinking it. Worse, many leave it in their cars which, when warmed, makes the bottles release antimony, a trace heavy metal that has been linked to several diseases.
7. Master Kong Bottled Water (Kangshi Fu) : 11ppm (RMB 8.8 for 550ml x 12 at Carrefour, RMB 2 for 550ml at the newspaper shop)
This honestly came as a big surprise to me, considering how cheap it is! This bottled water would have definitely never made my list of waters to drink had I not tested it.
8. Ganten Natural Mineral Water: 39 ppm (RMB 3.6 for 570ml)
This has been our choice water for awhile, not realizing that C’est bon was actually better in terms of ppm level! But it’s still good to know that our bottled water’s TDS gauge is still within the highest purity limit.
9. Bing Lu Purple Olympic brand: 22ppm (RMB 1.8 for 550ml)
Anything with the Olympic seal will catch a fan’s attention, and fortunately the TDS levels are within acceptable range.
10. Evergrande Spring: 87ppm (RMB 4 at the newspaper shop)
This is one of the three bottled waters I saw at the newspaper shop, and naturally I decided to also test this. For those who have to choose between this bottled water and Nongfu, the latter is still a better choice.
So the winner of the Water Purity contest is…. Watsons! But availability might be a problem especially for those traveling. In those cases, C’est bon, Ganten, and fortunately Master Kong bottled waters are great alternatives as well.
Photos: Xiaomi and Jackie Park