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Maple Water Is a Local, Eco-Friendly Alternative to Coconut Water. But How Does It Taste?

Vertical Water.

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I love drinking coconut water (especially the amazingly sweet Taste Nirvana, in comparison to which all other brands pale), but I recognize that it’s a frivolous habit. Yes, it tastes refreshing on a hot day, especially when you are battling a hangover. But there are no good reasons, apart from flavor, to choose coconut water over tap water. Coconut water is expensive; its packaging is a waste of resources (compared to a reusable water bottle, anyway); it doesn’t provide any nutrients you can’t easily get from whole foods. More disturbingly, buying coconut water supports an industry that exploits poor farmers in the Philippines and Indonesia, as Krista Mahr has detailed in Time. Plus, from an environmental perspective, it’s hard to defend a product that has to be shipped halfway around the globe—burning fossil fuels along the way—to reach consumers.

A soon-to-launch product called Vertical Water is aiming to ease consciences on those last two points, at least. Vertical Water is maple water—water from inside maple trees, also known as the liquid that’s concentrated to make maple syrup. Like coconut water, Vertical Water is geared toward the segment of the population that believes water from inside a plant is preferable to water from an aquifer. It’s packaged in a Tetra Pak highly reminiscent of Zico and Vita Coco cartons. Maple water boasts vague health claims—in this case, minerals and amino acids. It also has tradition on its side: In many places where maple trees are abundant, like southern South Korea (and Vermont), maple water has been a popular springtime beverage for centuries.

What gives Vertical Water a marketing edge over coconut water? Take it away, Vertical Water website FAQ section:

How does Vertical Water™ compare with coconut water?
There’s no comparison. A 240 mL serving of Vertical Water™ has just 15 calories, 3 grams of sugar, and it just plain tastes better. It has a smaller carbon footprint, and exclusively sourced and bottled in the U.S.

Indeed, Vertical Water was conceived as a creative way to conserve American forests: It helps forest owners make money off their land, but it doesn’t do any lasting damage to the trees. And to those who live in the northeast, it practically qualifies as local, which coconut water decidedly is not.

Does it really “just plain taste better” than coconut water, though? I know that many people seem to have an inborn aversion to coconut water—like the Huffington Post’s Tony Posnanski, who recently wrote that coconut water “tasted like someone took salt, dirt, and gross and mixed it with water.” Maple water will no doubt taste much better than coconut water to these people.

But what about people like me, who like the flavor of coconut water? I tasted Vertical Water at an event hosted by the Cornell Sugar Maple Research & Extension Program (which helped develop the product) last week, and I had high hopes going in: I consider the flavor of maple syrup to be one of the greatest flavors known to man. But the maple water disappointed me. It tasted like … slightly sweet water. The maple flavor was so mild as to be almost impossible to discern.

Don’t get me wrong; it wasn’t bad at all. If you like regular water, you will almost certainly like Vertical Water. I would definitely drink it in a pinch if I were parched. I just find its claims that it helps conserve forests more compelling than its taste claims. You can find out whether you agree with me soon enough—Vertical Water hits grocery store shelves starting in April.