Straight from the tap

Drink - Victoria Moore on Adam's expensive ale

There are two sorts of people. Mineral and tap. I fall into a third category for social cowards because I will drink tap water most of the time but baulk at ordering it in restaurants. "Can I have a glass of tap water, please?" is fine. But the word "tap" has a strange inaudible quality to it. Always, a bottle of mineral water will arrive. I do hate complaining, particularly about something so small. So I will generally smile uncomfortably and accept both the water and the charge. I think I prefer mineral water anyway.

If I am properly honest I will admit that the prospect of bawling "I said 'tap'!" (at anything less than full volume the waiter never quite seems to comprehend) within earshot of a) other diners and b) several snooty waiters is distressing to my refined sensibilities. I would no more yell: "Can I have the less-nice tasting one because it's free, and I'm a penny-pinching skinflint and no, you won't be getting any tip at the end of the meal, my man!" I mean, it's just a little bit embarrassing, isn't it? So I always go for mineral.

My cowardice is proving increasingly expensive. I could just not drink water, but I do not want my skin to shrivel and wither until I resemble the Ancient Mariner, so in the past week alone I have shelled out £4, £3.50 and £3.75 at various London establishments for a mere litre of bottled water.

This, as my fierce friend Sarah assures me, is very silly. "But some people really do like mineral water," I protest feebly. "Some people even have a preferred brand. It's like a fine wine." This doesn't wash with Sarah. "That's clear pretension," she snaps. And if you consider the effort that goes into making it look good on the table or attractive on the shelf - painstakingly designed bottles fashioned out of cobalt-coloured glass - you might well agree. No wonder supermodels once wore bottled water like another label.

Caught between the twin pariahs of derision of style victim and undiscerning meanie, I decide the only thing to do is to conduct a taste test.

In the pub one night, I place two apparently identical glasses of water on the table. My friends pass them round, sniffing cautiously for bouquet and swilling the liquid round their mouths like true connoisseurs.

It rapidly becomes obvious that these ostentatious gestures are a cover to buy the testers more time to make their minds up. One by one, they reach a conclusion. Everyone assumes that the mineral water will taste "better" and bases their adjudication on this. Sarah, to my delight, is successful almost straight away. Steve claims to discern a faint tang of chlorine in what he rightly identifies as Thames Water. It is no surprise when my friend Bones, so sensitive that she is allergic to just about everything including public swimming pools, turns her nose up at the tap water.

All in all, four out of six get it right, but most are hesitant. One out of six blithely says she has "absolutely no idea", which is why she always orders tap. One out of six gets it wrong. And this is at the beginning of the evening, before our taste buds have been disabled by large amounts of alcohol and garlic. It's not a very scientific test, but then tasting isn't. It's certainly enough to press home the point that when I order mineral water I'm being conned. Thames Water costs 0.062p per litre and there's no way the pricey bottled mineral version tastes 6,000 times better. So perhaps now I can go to restaurants, order tap and hold my head up high.