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This is Highly Recommend, a column dedicated to what people in the food industry are obsessed with eating, drinking, and buying right now.
By now you’ve probably heard of Topo Chico. Coca-Cola acquired the Mexican mineral water in 2017 and quickly moved the drink into bodegas, coffee shops, and supermarkets across the U.S. But let’s imagine it’s 2016 and you’ve just moved to Houston and you’re at an ice house and tired of beer but still excessively thirsty because every day in Houston feels a little like walking through butter. Imagine you ask the bartender for club soda, and they hand you a “Topo.” The glass bottle is as lean and willowy as a model; the carbonation is confident, intense. This is the beginning of the rest of your seltzer-drinking life.
I grew up on the East Coast pounding Polar Seltzer. During my undergrad years in Oregon, I survived off artificially flavored store-brand sugar-free soda waters that tasted drastically of aspartame. Whereas those drinks were either too tepidly undercarbonated or desperately overflavored in a bid to compete against soda, Topo Chico knew what it was: a 126-year-old mineral water so heavily carbonated the opening sips scour your tongue. Unlike LaCroix with its dozens of fruity options, the flavored varieties of Topo—lime, grapefruit, tangerine—are few and dignified.
Before 2017 Topo Chico was a regional obsession in Texas and Mexico. In Houston, Topo drinkers stand by their brand; they make Red Sox fans look nonchalant by comparison. It’s a key component of Ranch Water—Topo, tequila, and lime—and is rumored to cure hangovers. At bars across the city, I learned that pronouncing the drink “Top-oh” would draw the ire of bartenders. (Say it with me: Toe-Poe.) Sure, Houston also had LaCroix, but after Topo Chico, drinking LaCroix is like sucking a rock when you’re craving a steak. It’s not only the taste that satisfies. The true pleasure of Topo Chico is holding the bottle, sleek and firm, heavier than most club soda bottles. Feel the textured glass that rings the bottle beneath your forefinger and thumb, right where the bottle begins to taper toward the neck. Drag the glass across your forehead—there’s no better way to cool down during a steamy Texas summer.
Over the past few years, as Topo Chico spread into stores across the U.S., I’ve felt a pang of nostalgia for my early days in Houston when Topo felt like a secret. I moved to Brooklyn last summer, and seeing its bottles on shelves across the city reminds me of hearing The Postal Service playing at Crate & Barrel years after I “discovered” the band. My special thing was suddenly everyone’s special thing. But Topo was never my thing. I discovered it 121 years into its life as a transplant to Texas. I’m only recommending Topo Chico because Houstonians shared it with me. I’m happy for Topo. Really, I am. It isn’t even about me. It’s about what’s best for Topo Chico. And you. Because if you haven’t already tried it, it’s time you discover what might be the worst-kept secret in mineral water.