You’d have to live under a rock not to know how important it is to drink water — and plenty of it — every day. But I must confess: I don’t like it. It’s not as though I think it tastes terrible; I just find quaffing enough of it endlessly monotonous. To be fair, I come by my ambivalence honestly; I was born into a family of camels. I don’t recall any of us — my father, mother, sister, or I — ever drinking any when I was growing up. Not at mealtimes, not after softball games or playing in the backyard (that’s what Kool-Aid was for), and certainly not just for the sake of staying hydrated.
As an adult in a newer, more health-conscious century, I know better, so I’m constantly devising strategies to help me hit my daily water quota. So I had a thought: Maybe a new delivery system — say, in the form of a modernly designed, almost-a-work-of-art water filter — could help me commit to developing a regular habit. We’ve all used the typical hulky pitcher that hides out in our fridge, hogging up half a shelf, but now there’s a crop of sleeker, more sophisticated options with both functional and table-worthy appeal. Who says hydration needs to be ho-hum?
When I set out to learn what’s new on the water filter market (by both researching and eliminating scores of options and personally testing more than a dozen), I discovered and fell in love with a filter category that was a breakthrough to me: glass carafes. While I’m definitely not paranoid about any poisonous effects of plastics, I find that all beverages — water, Provençal rosé, even Coca-Cola — taste cleaner and crisper out of glass. And there’s no question that a carafe’s simple elegance makes a welcome guest to any dinner party.
The best water filter I tested was Box Appetit Eau Carafe + Active Charcoal Filter by Black + Blum, a sleek, 34-ounce hand-blown glass carafe that filters tap water by placing a piece of Binchotan charcoal directly into the bottle. I was wary at first of sipping something that had a small log of carbon floating around in it, like I was somehow just one step removed from sucking on a BBQ briquette. Binchotan charcoal, which is charred wood dusted with earth, sand, and ash, attracts the ions of the contaminants found in drinking water; those contaminants are what make water less-than-satisfying to drink.
Activated carbon is used across pretty much all pitcher filters. “The carbon used in water filtration is activated by a process called charring, which leaves pores and cavities in the carbon that create a massive amount of surface area that contaminants stick to,” says Eric Yeggy, director of technical affairs for the Water Quality Association. Granted, not all carbon is created equal — there are certifications from institutions including the Water Quality Association and NSF International that guarantee how much of certain types of contaminants a charcoal filter can absorb. An NSF-42 certification indicates the charcoal filter can only improve taste and odor by reducing particulates and chlorine; NSF-53 certifies the reduction of specific metals and chemicals; NSF-401 is capable of filtering microbiological and pharmaceutical contaminants like bacteria and ibuprofen.
I should say now that I did not look for certifications in my search for the best water filter: If it looked good and made a difference to me in how my water tasted, I was on board. Case in point: Black + Blum’s Eau Carafe has no third-party certifications, but it made my water taste clean and cool, even when it poured at room temperature. Truth be told, I’d never given much thought to the actual taste of my tap — now I realize its chalky flavor may have been part of the reason I could never get too psyched about it. I downed an entire filtered bottle in an hour without even realizing that I had. Without question, it delivered the most thirst-quenching water of all the pitchers I tested, even though its filtering system was by far the most basic.
While it feels as comfortable in your hand as an old-timey milk bottle, it’s not the best fit for families — 34 ounces doesn’t pour very far, and it takes a minimum of an hour for it to filter water again (although instructions say that four hours is even better, and eight is ideal). But if you’re looking for something for a nightstand, an office desk, or a table for two, this pitcher is an easy first choice.
The better carafe for multi-resident households is the KOR Water Fall, a modernly designed countertop system that’s based on the concept of pour-over coffee makers like the cult favorite, Chemex. Dump the water into the top of it, and let the goodness dribble out. Unlike traditional filter pitchers where you have to haul the whole shebang to the sink, this sleek stand and filter stay wherever you choose to display it, and only the 1-liter glass carafe — two of which come with the device — needs to be moved around. The bottle two-fer means it can please both those who prefer drinking their water at room temperature and those who want it chilled. Or maybe you’ll want to reserve one of the carafes for spa water options. (I don’t know about you, but having a flask of cucumber water at the ready gets me more excited about hydration than just about anything else I can think of.)
This system purifies the water with coconut shells that have been converted into catalytic carbon — the same basic principle used by industry juggernaut Brita and up-and-comer Soma, which also use coconut shells as their carbon base. (Brita and Soma both carry NSF certifications; Kor advertises that it’s “currently seeking NSF certifications” and expects its Water Fall filter to “meet NSF-42 certification for removal of chlorine, taste and odor, and chloramines up to 80-gallon capacity.”)
Kor’s water was crisp and tasty, but its real drinkability comes from how easy it is to use. Unlike pitchers, where reaching a fill line still leaves the thing half empty once the water drips through, a full bottle from this one is a guarantee. (Granted, a full bottle isn’t so big, but still.) Fill the carafe; set the dial on the base so the water flow is stopped; and pour the water over the filter. Put the carafe on the no-slip base; turn the dial to on; and it trickles directly back into the bottle. Genius. After initially grumbling that it was taking up precious kitchen real estate, I quickly loved that it was an elegant reminder to drink up, and I refilled it immediately every time the vessel was empty.
Soma also brings a glass carafe to your table. Unlike the lightweight, grabbable ease of the Black + Blum and the KOR, this six-cup, German-designed vessel has the size and weight of a traditional water filter pitcher. Its inverted filter cone takes up nearly as much space as the glass flask, which annoyed me when it came time to fit it in the fridge, and its hourglass shape and heft made pouring from it a little awkward. I found myself reaching for this one much less often than the other two, even though the water tasted on par. In fact, Soma is the only one of the three glass carafes with NSF-42 certification, and is currently in the process of attaining more.
Also in its favor: Soma uses a biodegradable, organic filter made of silk and food-based plastic, which means you won’t have to recycle or toss any plastic parts, a feature that KOR and Brita lack (the Black + Blum has no filter device, so its pieces are all biodegradable, down to the cork stopper). It also delivers its finished product much faster than any of the other pitchers I tested. It only took 27 seconds to filter two cups of water through it — compared with more than two minutes for Brita, KOR, and ZeroWater — so dry mouths won’t be kept waiting. It also has a valve on the top that allows you to fill it without having to take the entire lid off, yet another time-saving feature. If you want more than a quart chilled and at the ready in a glass vessel, the volume capacity on this one works in your favor. If I didn’t know about the existence of the other two, this one would’ve suited my purposes just fine.
The Black + Blum, Kor, and Soma were my gold, silver, and bronze medal winners, respectively, but I wasn’t willing to give up on the idea of a traditional pitcher entirely. Don’t get me wrong: There are oodles of pitchers that are ugly, flimsy, cheesy, bulky, or just painfully slow to do their job, but there are also some standouts. (Not to mention there are plenty of people who don’t require the novelty of a glass carafe to drink eight glasses a day. Lucky them.)
Brita, for example —the household name of water filtration — has gone high tech with the Infinity. This 8-cup, BPA-free plastic pitcher connects to your wireless router to track how much water you’re pouring, and it automatically orders replacement filters through Amazon when it’s time to pop in a new one. To get those bells and whistles going, activate your pitcher close to the sink where you will normally fill it, and your wireless router shouldn’t be more than 25 feet away. I haven’t been using it for long enough to have the WiFi kick in with its ordering magic, but I’ve no doubt I’ll be glad when the filters arrive without me using any brain waves to make it happen.
Other than the next-gen reordering feature and its sleeker (and curvier!) design, this pitcher works with the same function and reliability one has come to expect from the company that invented the first water filter jug for private use. The filters may now come to your door, but they’re the same ones used in all of the company’s models. Like the KOR and Soma, the cartridges use coconut-based activated carbon, but Brita’s also contain an ion exchange resin, which is why it’s both NSF-42 certified for taste and odor and NSF-53 certified to reduce metals such as copper, mercury, and cadmium. This one’s a no-brainer if you use modern technology to remember and facilitate everything you do, like turning on your alarm system or adjusting your thermostat. But when it comes to singing the unique praises of its pourability or flavor, there really isn’t much to say.
Another clever pitcher contender — particularly for those who worry about what’s in their water — is the ZeroWater 8-Cup Stainless Steel Filter Pitcher. This stainless steel model is designed to give its users tangible peace of mind. The manufacturer says its five-stage filtration system removes 99.6 percent of all total dissolved solids (TDS), which the World Health Organization describes as the inorganic salts and small amounts of organic matter that are found in drinking water, including calcium, magnesium, sodium, and potassium, among others. TDS are what give water its flavor (both good and bad), but even more importantly, ZeroWater’s filter is NSF-certified to remove lead — the only filter I tested that does so.
The lid is outfitted with a removable digital TDS meter that you can use to test your own tap water. When I experimented with mine straight out of the tap, the reading was 041 PPM. When I did it again after filtering the water, the reading was only 001. Impressive results to be sure, but it took so long for the water to filter through it, I initially wasn’t even sure it was working. (Turns out this is the case with any filter: the more stuff your filter is contending with, the longer it needs to be in contact with the water. See: Black + Blum’s recommended eight-hour filter time.)
When I compared a glass of my tap directly against one from the ZeroWater, I could actually discern texture in the former — a faint tapioca mouthfeel — which proved beyond the digital reading that this pitcher is doing its job. Why did I never notice I could practically chew my water before? Some water aficionados claim that some TDS are recommended for good-tasting water (in fact, The Speciality Coffee Association of America recommends 150 milligrams per liter of TDS for the best cup of joe), but flavor is in the mouth of the beholder.
The seriousness ZeroWater places on its filtration rather than the pitcher’s design (besides lead and TDS, it also reduces pesticides and volatile organic compounds) got me thinking less about form and more about function. Who, in the wake of Flint, Michigan, hasn’t wondered about the quality of their tap water? Depending on the levels of contaminants in the drinking water where you live, you may need to rely on a more powerful filtration system than a pretty pitcher. “I don’t think Americans should be unconcerned about what comes out of their taps, but I don’t think the problems in Flint or Hoosick Falls (New York) are reflective everywhere,” says Nneka Leiba, deputy director of research for the Environmental Working Group. If you’re concerned about the quality of your tap water, ask for a water-quality report from the utility company that bills you or find resources in your area on the EPA website. The Environmental Working Group offers an online water filter buying guide that allows you to search for the specific contaminants in your own water, and it will recommend a filtration system that will work best for your household’s specific circumstances.
Fortunately for me, the quality of my tap is not at issue, so carafes and pitchers suit my — and most people’s — purposes just fine. And after drinking enough water to drown a walrus during the testing progress, I realized I probably will never jump for joy over drinking it. But I did, drip by drip, discover there are options even a dromedary like me can love.