San Antonio reacts to aguas frescas ‘spa water’ controversy – mySA

For Jesus Arreaga, owner of San Antonio snack shop Elotitos, aguas frescas are reminders of simpler times in Coahuila where vitroleros were always filled to the brim with the cold elixir. They’re also standout memories of school days spent in San Antonio with his sister. As an adult, the fruity, refreshing drinks are also a big seller and compliment the popular corn in a cup menu at his business. He wasn’t aware that the staple of his life has been at the center of a TikTok controversy until recently. 

The debacle surrounding the fruit-infused drinks has been a popular TikTok talking point with many Latinos calling out content creator Gracie Norton for passing off a recipe that she made, which closely follows the one for aguas frescas, as “spa water.” Arreaga says he was out of the conversation until one of his employees showed him one of the many TikTok responses to Norton. 

“To be honest, I thought it was a little funny. Being offended wasn’t my initial thought. I’m pretty sure there are people on TikTok who live in Michigan or Utah and have no idea what aguas frescas are,” he says. “Whatever their motives are to call it spa water, it’s still kind of bringing awareness to our culture and making people excited to try it, Google it and find a whole bunch of recipes, places. It’s going to expose our culture a little bit more.” 

Since opening in 2021, the Fredericksburg Road shop has become a fresh and inviting space for Latinos and tourists. Arreaga’s take puts new spins on elote with a list of toppings from Dorito dust to the classics like queso freco and chili powder. While the shop offers a more modern take, they have a classic menu that includes aguas frescas. Even those have the signature Elotitos spin. 

Elotitos sells a menu of aguas frescas along with corn in a cup. 

Elotitos sells a menu of aguas frescas along with corn in a cup. 

Courtesy, Jesus Arreaga

This summer, pina colada limonada, agua de berry limon (blackberry lemonade with a hint of mint), and agua de la casa (cucumber and pineapple) are driving summer sales. No one has visited Elotitos asking for “spa water,” seriously or sarcastically, but Arreaga says he’d be happy to educate them.  

Arreaga says most of his tourist customers are unaware that the fruit-based drink exists and he’s excited each time he gets to make the introduction. He says he’d treat the “spa water” crowd with the same enthusiasm. 

“I’ll be like let me put you on to some ‘spa waters,'” he jokes. 

While Arreagea sees the conversation as a way to share Latino culture, he recognizes how cultural appropriation is harmful and disrespectful to BIPOC and agrees credit should be given.

“It is important to speak up and I’m not going to sit here and take it lightly,” he adds. 

Norton’s “spa water” series has been removed on TikTok. She later issued an apology, according to Remezcla. 

“I am aware that it is my responsibility to continue to educate myself on the origin of those recipes,” she wrote. “I sincerely apologize to the Latin community and those of you that I have offended.” 

The creator recognized her responsibility to educate herself on the origin of aguas frescas recipes.

Los Valles on Nogalitos is a Southside go-to for snacks, an array of Mexican eats, and six types of refreshing aguas frescas. 

Los Valles on Nogalitos is a Southside go-to for snacks, an array of Mexican eats, and six types of refreshing aguas frescas. 

Madalyn Mendoza,

Arreaga wants people who are new to the taste to be aware of its importance. Arreaga says growing up, he didn’t eat meals with soda or tea but “agua de sabor” was always around. 

“It’s a very nostalgic thing when I see someone selling aguas frescas because it is part of our culture,” he continues. “It is something that we probably took for granted and now that it’s being highlighted it’s like ‘Oh shoot, we do have that and it’s been around since I was little.'”

Arreaga’s memories are split between Mexico and San Antonio, where he spent most of his childhood. Other than his own line of fresh drinks, he says Las Nieves, the Hildebrand shop where he and his older sister would pick up treats and limonada or agua de pina on school days, is his go-to.  

Arreaga isn’t alone in amplifying his favorite spot. Now that the drink is in the spotlight, we’ve rounded up a list of staff picks and reader favorites where you can try authentic aguas frescas. 

  • Los Valles at 3915 Nogalitos St, San Antonio, TX 78211
  • Viva Vegeria at 1422 Nogalitos St, San Antonio, TX 78204
  • Fruteria La Mission at 553 E White Ave, San Antonio, TX 78214
  • Con Huevos Tacos at 1629 E Houston St, San Antonio, TX 78202 
  • El Tropico Ice Cream at 3534 Fredericksburg Rd, Suite 1, San Antonio, TX 78201
  • Sandia at 106 S. Callaghan Rd, San Antonio, TX 78237
  • La Colmena Fruit Cups and Ice Cream at 15171 Judson Rd #105, San Antonio, TX 78259 
  • La Bendita at 2202 Broadway, San Antonio, TX 78215

Here’s a map of San Antonio’s aguas frescas locations:

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