We arrived by the 39 bus from downtown Monterrey to a hilly working-class suburb north of the urban core, aptly named Topo Chico. We exited the bus, followed another disembarkee down the closest alley, crossed a pedestrian bridge over a colossal open stormwater sewer full of trash, and wandered through a neighborhood that hinted little that one of Mexico’s most famous brands was headquartered just blocks away.
Next to the local elementary school, a tree-filled park nearly hid the front of a monstrous warehouse baring the famous logo: Topo Chico Agua Mineral. After a full lap around the multi-block complex – not a sign to be seen – we find a security guard at the gate to what looks to be the original factory. In the fenced-in yard, painted statues and old trucks point to the brand’s origins.
“Is there a visitors entrance?” we ask hopefully.
“Where are you from?”
“The United States,” I respond – in retrospect, totally idiotic.
The guard politely makes a call. We cool our heels. When he gets off the phone: “Our marketing lady is in Guadalajara today. If you send her an email, I’m sure you can schedule a visit with her in the next couple of weeks.”
One person? “We won’t be here then. Can’t we at least come see the grounds?
“Sorry,” the guard smiles (somewhat sympathetically), “you don’t have permission.”
Topo Chico does not have a lot of visitors.
Peer in age to Mexico’s other big names in beverages, including Cuahtemoc Mpctezuma Brewery (think Dos Equis and Tecate), founded in 1890, and Grupo Modelo (Modelo, Corona), founded in 1922, Topo Chico was born around 1895 under mythic circumstances.
The legend began in 15th Century Mexico, under the reign of the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma I (not to be mistaken for Moctezuma II, who witnessed the arrival of the Spanish and the fall of the Aztec Empire just a century later). Moctezuma’s daughter fell terribly ill and Tenochtitlan’s priests recommended the girl visit a bubbling spring to the north that rose from an inactive volcano that resembled a little mole (un topo chico). After drinking the mountain waters, the girl was cured. News of the miracle drew many to the region as others sought its healing power. Eventually, the steward of the spring began to bottle and sell it.
Four-and-a-half centuries later, the young Topo Chico brand (founded in 1895) survived an intense economic downturn following the Mexican Revolution (1910-20) and in 1926 received a Coca-Cola franchise, becoming the first Coke bottler in Mexico. This franchise allowed the upstart to expand its reach and reinvest in its signature brand: Topo Chico Agua Mineral.
After 60 years of growth as a soft-drink company, Topo Chico ceased production on Coca Cola in 1948 to focus entirely on its own mineral water products. In the 1980s, Topo Chico expanded its distribution across the southern half of Mexico, and U.S. distribution got a steady start in the 1990s. Kentuckians and most southerners can now find Topo Chico in groceries though most of the Northeast is still in the dark (suck it!).
Topo Chico is most known – and appreciated – today for its incredible talent for curing hang-overs (esa resaca me está matando!) and – fittingly – its equal ability to take any cocktail up a notch. The water’s natural mineral composition, which includes sodium, magnesium, calcium, potassium and manganese, help aid digestion, improve brain function, and serve as an antioxidant. They also serve to open up the flavors of nearly any spirit.
Topo Chico is in every 7Eleven and OXXO in Mexico and people in Texas really seem to like it. If you want to know more, check out some other press coverage below. Topo Chico also provides a pretty detailed history on their website, to which I did no justice. Check it out here.