We Tasted 75 Drinks from 25 Brands to Find the Best Sparkling Water, Period
The small brands show up big-time in our taste test.
Over the last decade, the colorful zig-zag pattern of La Croix cans have steadily replaced the familiar gray cans of Diet Coke in home refrigerators, on office desks, and in popular culture (including the hands of characters on television shows like Shrill and The L Word). But while the French-sounding, Wisconsin-made sparkler captured the zeitgeist, it ranks just third among sparkling water brands in sales, after Sparkling Ice and private label store brands.
That still means a lot of cracked cans, since Americans drink about 16% more sparkling water each year and show no signs of slowing down. With few or low calories, an increasingly wide variety of flavors and styles, and the introduction of caffeinated and enhanced versions, the category offers something for everyone—and some of those things taste a lot better than others (including La Croix).
We tasted through more than 75 different drinks from 25 brands to find the most delicious flavors and refreshing bubbles to create this list of the best sparkling waters for any palate.
- Crowd Pleaser: San Pellegrino Essenza Tangerine and Wild Strawberry
- Best Brand: Montane
- Best Unflavored: San Pellegrino Sparkling Natural Mineral Water
- Best Bubbles: Topo Chico Carbonated Natural Mineral Water
- Best Citrus: Kimino Yuzu Sparkling Water
- Best Non-Citrus Fruit Flavor: Sanzo Lychee
- Best Botanical: Sparkling Botanicals Dandelion Ginger
- Best Herbal: Dram Lavender and Lemon Balm
- Best Caffeinated: Phocus Cucumber
- Best Organic: Nixie Watermelon Mint
- Best CBD: Dram Sweetgrass
Our Top Picks
Best Crowd Pleaser: San Pellegrino Essenza Tangerine and Wild Strawberry
Why we chose it: With refreshingly soft bubbles, the gentle flavor of actual strawberry, and a hint of balance from tangerine, people with all taste preferences loved this equally.
|Strawberry flavor lingers on the tongue||Tangerine is a little too subtle|
|Soft but ample carbonation|
This slim can from San Pellegrino’s Essenza line surprised tasters with just how much the wild strawberry named on the label manifested as actual strawberry taste, a rarity among the non-citrus fruit flavors that can often skew candy-like and artificial. Though the tangerine component was subtle, its citrus notes nicely balanced out the richness of the berry flavor with the aid of San Pellegrino’s signature soft bubbles. With just a hint of sweetness from the flavoring and no added sweetener, this was the only one that pleased every palate, no matter their personal preferences.
[Volume: 11.15 oz | Sweetener: None | Flavor Source: “Natural Flavors” ]
Best Brand: Montane Sparkling Spring Water
Why we chose it: This Southern brand consistently tasted natural and as described, with strong, plentiful bubbles. Montane offers a variety of creative flavors, an excellent caffeinated version, and a crisp, refreshing plain option.
|Clean, refreshing spring water base||Hard to find outside the South|
Drawing from Blue Springs in Georgia, each can of Montane starts with delicious water drawn from a quartzite bedrock spring, giving it an exceedingly pure, fresh taste—most noticeably in the plain version. The concentration and size of bubbles go down smoothly, easily competing with the big corporate brands. But Montane’s flavors stand out both for their interesting options—cucumber lime, lemon honeysuckle, and grapefruit peach—and how accurately they represented their descriptions. The caffeinated yuzu citrus with green tea delivers a strong, crisp flavor that works equally well for a morning wake-up or an afternoon pick-me-up. The only real problem with Montane is that the limited distribution makes it hard to find outside of the Southeast—they don’t stock anywhere west of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
[Volume: 12 oz | Sweetener: None | Flavor Source: “Natural Flavors” ]
Best Unflavored: San Pellegrino Sparkling Natural Mineral Water
Why we chose it: The soft, small bubbles and light salinity from the minerals makes this water pleasant to drink on its own, and a terrific match for food.
|Soft, small bubbles||Limited bulk options|
Don’t call this iconic sparkling water plain: San Pellegrino manages to give personality even to the unflavored variety, demonstrating how it became such a classic. The gentle bubbles tickle the tongue, prepping it for the hint of salinity that makes this water more interesting than similar products. Outside of the salt, it tasted neutral but not bland, making it the standard bearer for water. Though some tasters craved more aggressive bubbles, there were enough of them to make up for it without interfering with the pleasant texture.
[Volume: 11.15 oz | Sweetener: None | Flavor Source: N/A ]
Best Bubbles: Topo Chico Carbonated Natural Mineral Water
Why we chose it: The aggressive bubbles in this bottle make it the perfect drink for anytime that you crave strong carbonation.
|Aesthetics of bottle||Bubbles could be considered too aggressive for everyday drinking|
Topo Chico’s medium-large bubbles rush out of the bottle excitedly with every sip, handily earning it the title of Carbonation King in our taste test. It’s definitely a personal preference to have this much fizz, but of the bubble-forward brands, Topo Chico makes it work best, thanks to the refreshingly clean flavor of the water that’s bottled in Monterrey, Mexico. Though not as broadly food-friendly as the soft sparkle of San Pellegrino, the big bubble energy of Topo Chico comes in particularly handy with certain foods by cutting through richness and spice. Plus, the label’s vintage design looks cool and drinking from its hefty, tall glass bottle feels great.
[Volume: 12 oz | Sweetener: None | Flavor Source: N/A ]
Best Citrus: Kimino Yuzu Sparkling Water
Why we chose it: The luxurious feel and bright yuzu flavor of this Japanese sparkling water feels fancy enough to serve as a non-alcoholic cocktail alternative.
|Unmistakable yuzu aroma||Shortage of bubbles|
|Soft fizzy bubbles|
The first sip from this adorably small can is a burst of yuzu flavor, as it boldly proffers the tartness of a lemon and the fragrance of grapefruit. The juice-thickened drink and soft, small bubbles make for a luxurious mouthfeel, with the only disappointment being that there is not a tad more fizz. Bright and richly refreshing, it feels like a special occasion drink.
[Volume: 8.45 oz | Sweetener: None | Flavor Source: Fruit Juice ]
Best Non-Citrus Fruit Flavor: Sanzo Lychee
Why we chose it: This boldly fruit-forward drink somehow manages to not only taste just like a fresh lychee, but to replicate the feeling of eating one in liquid form.
|Soft bubbles||Shortage of bubbles|
|Big fruit flavor|
This youthful start-up and Instagram darling is taking on the big brands, combining the flavors from often overly saccharine Asian sparkling waters and the sharp, clean texture of big American brands. While the lychee and calamansi flavors both sang with true, balanced fruit flavor, the lychee truly captured the burst of sweetness that comes with eating the fruit itself. As with all juice-based waters, though, it did leave us craving just a few more bubbles.
[Volume: 12 oz | Sweetener: None | Flavor Source: Fruit Juice ]
Best Botanical: Sparkling Botanicals Dandelion Ginger
Why we chose it: The deep, spicy, and complex flavors of this infused water turn the trend of a light “kissed by a lemon” on its head.
|Spicy, complex flavors||Not food-friendly|
|Strong bubbles||Tea base isn’t exactly water|
Naturally caffeinated by the green tea base, this beverage walks the line between sparkling water, iced tea, and ginger beer. With complexity from the fermented tea, fiery ginger, and a subtle bitterness from the dandelion, this drink shows off the opposite end of the spectrum from the “barely there” flavors of La Croix. It brings enough complexity to work on its own as a non-alcoholic cocktail substitute, and enough flavor to serve as a soda alternative. But in the end, with nothing else in the actual drink besides water, bubbles, and flavor, it also works as a classic thirst quencher.
[Volume: 12 oz | Sweetener: None | Flavor Source: Infusions ]
Best Herbal: Dram Lavender and Lemon Balm
Why we chose it: Herbal, bitter, and refreshing, this drink from Dram achieves the rare feat of balancing lavender in a way that works even for people who feel neutral, or even unfavorably, toward the flavor.
|Balanced herbal flavors||Minimum $60 order for free shipping|
|Bright bitterness||Not widely available in stores|
Dram’s interpretation of the classic combination of bitters and sparkling water—often a bartender go-to for a quick, thoughtless non-alcoholic drink—proves to be an impressive packaged drink. The light lavender flavor avoids the overwhelming florality that often deters people, while the mild lemon and subtle minty sweetness of lemon balm balance it out. The bitter component of the lavender and lemon balm bitters used to make it comes from gentian root, and shows up in a big way, giving it a pleasant astringency and an overall freshness.
[Volume: 12 oz | Sweetener: None | Flavor Source: Bitters ]
Best Caffeinated: Phocus Cucumber
Why we chose it: Crisp, clear, and with plenty of gentle bubbles, this caffeinated water works to wake drinkers in multiple ways.
|Crisp cucumber flavor||Other flavors in the line are hit and miss|
|75mg of caffeine|
With a green tea base that gives it a moderate hit of 75mg of caffeine—less than a cup of coffee, but more than a Coke — Phocus’ line of caffeinated waters have more than double that of brands like Aha and Montane. But that is just an added bonus to the eye-opening and refreshing crisp, clear cucumber flavor of this drink, shored up by ample bubbles.
[Volume: 11.5 oz | Sweetener: None | Flavor Source: Natural Flavors ]
Best Organic: Nixie Watermelon Mint
Why we chose it: From the founder of Late July comes a two-flavor combo that brings the best of red fruit and fresh mint flavors to one of the few organic options on the market.
|Real watermelon flavor||Other flavors in the line are hit and miss|
|Strong bubble texture|
Though this brand’s other sparkling water flavors proved to be misses, watermelon mint is a surprising success. While watermelon often tastes more like Jolly Ranchers than real fruit, Nixie’s version has a pleasant, summery flavor with a hint of mint. It’s carbonation is strong, too, with lots of bubbles that linger on the tongue.
[Volume: 12 oz | Sweetener: None | Flavor Source: Organic Flavors ]
Best CBD: Dram Sweetgrass
Why we chose it: No other water matched the depth of flavor in this sweetgrass-infused drink, with its intricate mix of grassy, woody, and malty sweetness.
|Unique and original||Expensive|
|Depth of flavor||Not widely available in stores|
Fragrant sweet grass grows throughout North America, and many Indigenous peoples consider it sacred and have long used it for a variety of purposes, including as medicine, in ceremonies, and as a material in basket making. Dram deftly weaves the heady vanilla-scented herb into this drink and boosts it with additional botanicals, resulting in a unique and impressively complex drink with undertones of honey sweetness.
[Volume: 12 oz | Sweetener: None | Flavor Source: Infusion ]
How We Chose These Products
Quality matters when choosing a sparkling beverage: You can have good sparkling water, or you can have cheap sparkling water, but you can’t have both. Our guide focuses on options that stand out from the ultra-affordable grocery store brands, most of which consistently tasted, somehow, both artificial and nothing like the flavor listed on the can or bottle.
Features to Keep in Mind When Shopping for Sparkling Water
Sparkling water, at its plainest, is just water infused with carbon dioxide gas; mineral waters, naturally, have minerals in them. But the real difference in ingredients comes in the flavored waters, which range from the murky, calorie-free “natural flavors” of most of the large corporate brands, to fruit puree, juice, or infusions. While the brands using fruit puree tasted significantly better, the slight added thickness of the drink weakened the bubbles, meaning that none of the best flavored drinks had the kind of satisfying bubbles that ones using “natural flavors” achieved.
Some sparkling waters come with added sweetness, from sugar, honey, or artificial sweeteners; others add flavor with herbal, botanical, or tea infusions, all of which add big taste without the downside of fruit juices.
Enhanced sparkling water is growing even faster than the category overall. At their most basic, that includes the caffeinated or electrolyte-enhanced versions that have been around for decades. Newer to the market are a slew of waters with adaptogens and various natural additives designed to give you energy, help you sleep, or help you focus. Finally, the most prominent new category is the sparkling water labeled with “hemp” that has CBD in it.
Ask the Experts
Q: Is it bad to drink sparkling water every day?
Plain, unflavored sparkling water has all of the same hydration benefits as still water, and some studies have shown that it improves digestion. According to the American Dental Association, “sparkling water is generally fine for your teeth.” After looking at research, the organization decided that “even though sparkling water is slightly more acidic than ordinary water, it’s all just water to your teeth.”
This changes once you look at waters with added sweeteners and juices, which change the chemical make-up of the drink. The flavor of each water also plays a part in the equation: “Citrus-flavored waters often have higher acid levels that do increase the risk of damage to your enamel,” says the ADA. To combat this, they recommend drinking those all in one sitting to reduce prolonged exposure to your teeth, or with a meal.
Q: What can I mix sparkling water with?
The short answer: Anything you like. Plain sparkling water plays a big role in both traditional American drinks like the vodka soda, gin Rickey, and Tom Collins, and in Japanese-style highball cocktails. Though flavored sparkling waters are found in fewer standard cocktails, those with stronger flavors (especially those with real juice) work well as a quick two- or three-ingredient cocktail with a complementary spirit and a dash of bitters, lemon, or lime.
Q: What is the difference between sparkling water, club soda, and seltzer?
Club soda and seltzer are each types of sparkling water, an umbrella term that includes any water with carbonation. Seltzer’s distinction comes in its distinct absence of salt, while club soda includes added sodium or potassium salts.
You can have good sparkling water, or you can have cheap sparkling water, but you can’t have both. The ultra-affordable grocery store brands consistently tasted, somehow, both artificial and nothing like the flavor claimed on the can or bottle. For those who drink multiple cans a day, you probably already have a favorite in that bottom tier and don’t need this piece to guide you to something better—stick with what you already know you like. (Unless you live in the South, then switch to Montane.) If you want to add an occasional treat or drink at a rate that makes it worth the money to pay slightly more per can, the waters selected here taste significantly better.
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