Water filtration pitchers can certainly be useful for improving the quality of tap water, but they have their drawbacks. Filter pitchers require regular replacement of disposable plastic filters to maintain performance, and they are generally big, bulky, and nothing to look at. For all but the most casual gatherings and dinner parties, I decant filtered water into a glass or ceramic vessel that looks better and takes up less table space than my filtration pitcher. Though it may not be ideal, this method works well enough that I’d never much considered another possibility.
Filtering with Charcoal and Stones
Then, while flipping through the pages of the latest Design Within Reach (DWR) catalogue, I found a tempting alternative: an elegant, slim glass water filtration pitcher with an attractive, “natural” filter solution. Instead of using sealed disposable plastic filters that should be changed monthly, this glass pitcher uses big chunks of Binchotan charcoal and louseki stones, suspended in a columnar basket in the center of the pitcher, which last about 6 months. I couldn’t find any information on the louseki stones (all I know from what a DWR representative told me is that they came from a mountain in Japan), but I have gathered that Binchotan is a much revered Japanese charcoal that is exceptionally hard (making it unlikely to flake or crumble into the water) and it is used, among other things, for purifying water while imparting healthful minerals.
Many quality pitcher and countertop style filters use two lines of defense for filtration:
1. Activated charcoal, which is pretty much like regular charcoal except that it's been heated in the absence of oxygen or presence of certain other gases or chemicals to give it exceptional porosity. It functions like an ultra fine sieve, filtering out sediment, chlorine, pesticides and other impurities in color and flavor.
2. Special plastics (Brita uses an “ion-exchange resin”) or delicate ceramics, for filtering out heavy, inorganic substances like lead, magnesium and mercury.
I have yet to see Binchotan credited as an “activated charcoal” (perhaps because such terminology would undermine the au naturel basis on which it is promoted), but based on the temperature range to which it is heated during production, in the absence of oxygen, it seems to qualify as such. Thus, my guess about the nifty DWR pitcher is that the Binchotan functions as its first line of defense and the louseki stones as its second.
Without testing, it is difficult to say how well this pitcher functions relative to the plastic guys—maybe it’s better, maybe not—but function is not the only consideration here. This pitcher surely purifies to some extent, and it does so with long-lasting, chemical-free filtration components—half of which, the charcoal, can be composted once it’s worn out its utility as a filter. No plastic, no chemicals, and pretty to boot—this might just be the perfect pitcher.
Note: Through some inexplicable glitch (DWR representative had no explanation, but assured me that they’d look into it), as of this article’s publication, the filter pitcher is only available through telephone orders: item#13977 (filter refills: #13978). Although currently out of stock, the pitchers are scheduled to arrive in the DWR warehouse by mid-August.