There are certain incontrovertible truths to living in Texas in the summertime: It will be hotter than a stolen tamale. The traffic will be nearly as oppressive. And the combination of clogged freeways and heat will on occasion give you an intense appreciation for what a potato in a microwave must feel like. The cure is always indisputably an ice-cold Topo Chico mineral water, applied liberally to the mouth, starting first thing in the morning and throughout the day as needed. Deploying a chilled, sparkling Topo Chico as a curative beverage is not a new concept.
According to legend—at least as it is told by Topo Chico's website—an Aztec princess, daughter of King Moctezuma I, contracted an incurable disease. Priests advised the king that “In a far away northern land, there were strange and hidden waters” which could restore drinkers to health. She followed their instructions, traveling to the base of Cerro del Topo Chico in what is now Monterrey, and returned home right as rain. (Topo Chico does contain magnesium, potassium, and manganese, which may not lead to spontaneous healing but do contain some notable health benefits.)
Since 1895, the water has been sourced and bottled in Monterrey, and exported to US consumers since the 1980s. Initially, Topo Chico was primarily enjoyed by Texans with Mexican roots who craved their fizzy beverage from back home. It grew something of a cult following over the years in Texas, and in recent years is now expanding its distribution in other major American cities.
Americans are guzzling down Topo Chico in skyrocketing numbers. Sales are up to 15 times greater than they were in the year 2000, especially since a rising number of consumers are curbing their consumption of unhealthy sodas and sugary drinks. But how do you explain the obsession here with Topo Chico to someone whose taste buds have not yet been graced by the bubbly sensation? I talked to Beth Rankin, food editor at the Dallas Observer, who like me, is a Texas transplant from the Midwest. We both waxed rhapsodic about the first time we tried the Topo.
For me, it was a San Antonio morning in April 2015—a mild swelter, not yet full-blown summer sweat. Before me was a bucket of beautifully arranged glass bottles with that trademark retro yellow and red label. I whisked off a cap and took a swig, my tongue curling around the bubbles in exclamation.
For her, it was shortly after her move to Texas, when a friend she had met through couchsurfing took her to a little taco shop in Beaumont, ordered up some tortas and tacos, then added some Topo Chico to the order.
“I was just blown away. Southeast Texas is so humid and hot, and it was so deeply refreshing,” says Rankin, whose desk is now regularly covered with empty Topo bottles. “I almost always have a bottle of Topo Chico in my hand.”
She says she has tried all the mineral waters, including those with much fancier reputations and fancier prices to match. “None of them have that thing that Topo Chico has, that excellent mineral flavor and the perfect amount of carbonation.”
In Austin, a summer day ritually starts with Topo Chico in various forms. Some drink it straight from the bottle, some add a bit of orange juice or fruit to their morning Topo. “The burning sensation that lingers in your throat after a nip of it makes for a nice morning pick-me-up,” says Austin-based editor Robin Ratcliff.
“We’ve gone with mainlining it at work, just saves time and effort,” jokes her husband, James Ratcliff, who works for the startup company SpareFoot.
Some folks swear that Topo Chico is the perfect hangover cure. My friend Aden Simonelli said it cured morning sickness in her earliest stages of pregnancy—only to blossom into “a nearly nine-month-long addiction.”
Coffee shops in the major Texas cities have been serving up Topo Chico as a palate cleanser along with a cortado or other espresso-based beverages. The Dallas coffee shop Bolsa Mercado makes a Topo Espresso, a mixture of Topo Chico, a double shot, and a sweet syrupy “secret sauce.”
“Breakfast, snack, lunch, dinner, wine chaser,” she tells me. “I’m addicted.”