'House of Water' taps market for designer agua

MEXICO CITY -- Casa del Agua bottles purified -- and "harmonized" -- rainwater for an increasingly eco-minded market.
Written by Lauren Villagran, Correspondent (Mexico City)

MEXICO CITY – The sign outside reads Casa del Agua and below it, el agua local: local water.

This could scare away a customer or two, given that this is Mexico City, where even the rain isn't clean and tap water is best avoided. But the capital's newest watering hole takes its water very seriously and purports to offer the purest drink around.

Owner Bosco Quinzanos envisions the Casa del Agua as an answer, however incomplete, to Mexico City's fraught relationship with water: In this often rainy metropolis of more than 20 million, there always seems to be either too much or too little.

Employing an elaborate purification system, which includes a period of "harmonization" in the final stage, Casa del Agua bottles rainwater. But the month-old business sells something more conceptual: ecology, sustainability, harmony.

"We deliver the highest quality water in Mexico," Quinzanos said while relaxing in a wrought iron chair on the shop's roof garden, which is designed to capture what it can of the capital's average 34 inches of rain annually – just slightly less precipitation than soggy Seattle.

The rainwater filters through a teak patio and garden of cherry, orange and lime trees and carpets of lavender, mint and thyme into storage tanks. The water then passes through increasingly fine filtration systems and distillation machines. After that, the water is pure. Bent on adding value, the Casa del Agua runs the purified water through a process to restore minerals and ionize it.

Then comes "harmonization," based on Japanese author Masaru Emoto's unproved hypothesis which holds that the environment – including music and prayer – can affect water on a structural level.

Quinzanos professes his faith in the "harmonization" process. Before bottling, the purified water runs over stones engraved with the words "love," "respect" and "gratitude" and is exposed, in bottles, to soothing classical music playing in the store. Whatever its benefits (or not) to the consumer, the concept resonates with a Mexican market's preoccupation with buena onda – good vibes – offering a promotional plus to what is essentially an ecological project.

Laura Casanova listened to the store manager's explanation of the process, from purification to harmonization, and became convinced to buy a returnable glass bottle for 30 pesos, or $2.30. A refill costs 10 pesos, or 77 cents.

"It's an incredibly novel concept," she said in flawless English. "Using rainwater — it's unheard of. It's like designer water, taken another notch up."

The bottles, branding and design of the shop itself come from the team that created the typography and interior of Mexico's fast-expanding, homegrown coffee chain, Cielito Querido. In the Casa del Agua, a palette of black, white and cream and the branding on bottles seems to echo the ink-on-paper sketches of bizarre 19th century inventions.

Graphic designer Nacho Cadena describes the design as "transparent … clean and salubrious."

"It's inspired by artisan processes, a brand that evokes nostalgia," he said.

On the rooftop, Quinzanos took a swig from one of the swing-top water bottles.

"It has no taste because it is very pure," he said.

Parts of Mexico City flood with nearly every storm as a perennially clogged drainage system fills up and runoff spills into ground floors and down subway stairs. Other days, turning on the faucet yields only the gurgle and hiccup of pipes that have run dry as the city periodically shuts off water to one or another neighborhood.

When the rain runs out, the Casa del Agua taps water from the city system, but the goal is to rely on nature, Quinzanos said.

The clouds overhead grew dark blue and heavy, and a line of laundry on a nearby building flapped in the sudden wind. It appeared the sky would deliver.

Photos courtesy Casa del Agua

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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