The dramatic, snow-dusted Lesser Khingan mountain range is in Heilongjiang province in north-eastern China, close to the Russian border, about five hours’ drive from the Chinese city of Harbin. Deep below the mountains is the Beian aquifer, a huge underground lake of mineral-rich fresh water filtered through thousands of feet of rock. The water is known locally for its quality but it wasn’t until 2011 that some of the investors behind Krystal water happened to try a bottle of Lesser Khingan water and quickly realized its potential. Within a year they’d launched the company.
“We thought it was a bottle of high-end branded water when we first tried it,” says Daryl Wong, director of Krystal. “Before, I was very much like everyone else and just thought that water was water. But I noticed that the water here tasted different, fresh and smooth.”
It is the dissolved minerals that give Krystal water its taste and its naturally high alkalinity of pH8 to pH8.8, which compares to about pH7 for spring or tap water. Alkaline water has been promoted in recent years for its health-giving qualities, neutralizing the effects of an acidic modern diet and aiding digestion. Krystal water, in its distinctive square glass or recyclable PET (polyethylene terephthalate) bottles, is now distributed in Hong Kong, Macao and China and is looking to expand globally.
Daryl and his team are keen to protect their source by ensuring that they do not over-exploit the area. He says that the company carefully monitors the amount of water it takes from the underground aquifer to prevent their work causing sinkholes – a problem which is common in the drinking-water industry – or pumping the aquifer dry.
“We don’t want to destroy the ecosystem by drawing too much water,” he says. “We don’t want to affect the streams, the drinking water for locals, or the cities. That’s what’s happened to a few places around the world. We work closely with a geological team in the area, and they understand that we need to keep a healthy ecosystem.”