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What is the signature drink in Mexico?

Mexico is known for its lively culture, vibrant traditions, and flavorful cuisine. When it comes to Mexican drinks, one beverage stands out as the most iconic and beloved – tequila. Tequila is Mexico’s signature spirit and cultural export, enjoyed both within Mexico and around the world.

What is tequila?

Tequila is a distilled alcoholic drink made from the blue agave plant. It is produced primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila in the state of Jalisco and in some municipalities of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas.

To be labeled as tequila, the spirit must be produced according to strict regulations within the designated tequila producing regions of Mexico. The blue agave plants used to make tequila take 7-12 years to mature before their sugars can be extracted and fermented into alcohol.

Tequila is usually distilled twice or thrice before bottling. Based on the extent of distillation and aging, tequila is available in different varieties like blanco (white/silver), joven (young/”gold”), reposado (aged 2-11 months), añejo (aged 1-3 years), and extra añejo (aged 3+ years).

History of tequila

The origins of tequila production can be traced back centuries to the time of the Aztecs in Mexico. The native Nahuatl people of central Mexico produced a fermented drink called pulque from the agave plant which they considered sacred.

After the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century, they introduced the process of distillation to make mescal wine, a precursor to modern tequila, from fermented agave. Tequila production began in the 1600s near the location of the city of Tequila.

By the late 19th century, tequila was being produced on a large commercial scale and exported internationally. The tequila industry grew further in the mid-1900s after prohibition ended in the United States, creating demand for Mexican spirits. Today, Mexico protects tequila as a product exclusive to designated regions within the country.

Types of tequila

There are two main categories of tequila – mixtos and 100% blue agave tequilas. Mixtos are blended with up to 49% non-agave sugars. On the other hand, 100% blue agave tequilas are made purely from the sugars of blue agave.

Within these two categories, there are five main types of tequila:


Also known as white or silver tequila, blanco tequila is unaged. It is bottled immediately after the second distillation. Blanco tequila has a sharper flavor compared to smoother aged varieties.


Joven tequila is a blend of blanco tequila and a small amount of aged, extra añejo tequila, giving it a pale golden color. It is known as “gold” tequila in the US. Joven has more flavor from oak aging than blanco but less than other aged tequilas.


Reposado tequila is aged for a minimum of 2 months up to a year in oak barrels. This mellows and enriches the flavors compared to blanco tequila. Reposado means “rested” in Spanish.


Añejo tequila is aged for 1-3 years in oak barrels, giving it a smooth, complex flavor and amber color. Añejo means “aged” or “vintage” in Spanish.

Extra Añejo

As the name suggests, extra añejo tequila is aged over 3 years in oak barrels. The extended aging gives it a sophisticated, smoky flavor. Extra añejo was introduced as a category in 2006.

How tequila is made

Tequila is made from the blue agave plant that grows in the Jalisco region of Mexico. Here are the key steps in tequila production:

  1. Blue agave hearts are harvested when they reach maturity at 7-12 years. The spiky leaves are trimmed off.
  2. The agave hearts are steam-cooked in ovens to convert their starches into fermentable sugars.
  3. The cooked agave is crushed to extract the agave juice (aguamiel).
  4. The agave juice is fermented with yeast, usually for 1-2 weeks, turning sugars into alcohol.
  5. The fermented agave mash is distilled twice or thrice in copper pot stills.
  6. The distilled spirit may be diluted with water to achieve ideal alcohol level.
  7. Tequila is aged in wooden barrels from 2 months to 3+ years depending on type.
  8. Aged tequila is filtered or blended before bottling.

By law, tequila can only be produced using blue agave from designated tequila-producing regions of Mexico. The entire process from agave cultivation to bottling must happen within these regions.

How tequila is consumed

There are three common ways to drink tequila:


Sipping tequila straight or neat lets you taste the pure, complex flavors. This is best done with high-quality, aged tequilas like añejos and extra añejos served at room temperature in a snifter glass.

On the rocks

Pouring tequila over ice cools and dilutes the drink slightly. Reposado, añejo and extra añejo tequilas are suitable for on the rocks drinking. The ice mellows the alcohol bite and aromas.

In cocktails

Tequila is a versatile spirit that serves as the base for famous cocktails like the Margarita and Paloma. Blanco and reposado tequilas are ideal for mixing in cocktails. Their crisp, clean taste shines through other flavors.

Here are some classic tequila cocktails:

Cocktail Ingredients
Margarita Tequila, lime juice, orange liqueur
Paloma Tequila, grapefruit soda, lime juice
Tequila Sunrise Tequila, orange juice, grenadine

Tequila nutritional facts

As a distilled spirit, tequila does not contain fat, carbohydrates, protein or micronutrients. The nutritional values are:

Nutrient Per 1.5 oz serving
Calories 97
Alcohol 13.5 g

Keep in mind that cocktails made with tequila often include high-calorie mixers like fruit juices and syrups.

Is tequila gluten-free?

Tequila is gluten-free since it is made purely from the distilled sugars of blue agave. People with celiac disease or gluten intolerance can safely consume 100% agave tequila without risk of gluten exposure.

Some mixto tequilas use wheat or other gluten-containing grains during fermentation, so they may not be fully gluten-free. Those highly sensitive should stick to 100% agave varieties certified gluten-free.

Tequila certifications

There are two major certifications that verify a tequila’s quality and production standards:

DOT Number

A DOT (Department of Transportation) number on the bottle indicates the distillery is registered with Mexico’s Tequila Regulatory Council. This certifies the spirit is officially recognized as tequila.

NOM Number

The NOM (Norma Oficial Mexicana) number ensures the tequila is produced according to government regulations on ingredients, distillation, aging and alcohol content.

Authentic, high-quality tequilas will carry a DOT and a NOM number on the bottle. These certifications are given only to tequilas manufactured within designated regions of Mexico.

Major tequila brands

Some of the most popular tequila brands worldwide include:

Jose Cuervo

The best selling tequila, available in all varieties from blanco to extra añejo.


A premium brand known for high quality 100% agave tequilas.

Don Julio

A luxury tequila brand that makes sought-after añejos and extra añejos.

Casa Noble

An organic tequila made from hand-harvested agave.

1800 Tequila

A popular priced tequila with Expressions line aged in cognac barrels.


Noted for its distinctive hand-blown bottles and mixable blanco.


Founded by George Clooney and two friends, known for ultra-smooth taste.

How to drink tequila responsibly

While a fun spirit, keep in mind that tequila is a strong alcoholic drink that should be enjoyed in moderation:

  • Pace yourself – sip slowly rather than taking shots.
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • Eat before and while drinking to slow absorption.
  • Know your limits and don’t go past them.
  • Never drive after drinking – arrange alternate transportation.
  • Avoid binge drinking tequila as the risks are immense.

Is tequila gluten-free?

Yes, tequila is generally considered gluten-free. Since it is distilled, the final spirit does not contain any gluten proteins from the grains used in production. Any gluten present cannot survive the distillation process.

To be sure your tequila is gluten-free, look for bottles labeled as such or confirmed by the distiller to not use any gluten-containing grains. Some mixto tequilas may use wheat or barley during fermentation, so check if you have celiac disease or are highly sensitive.

What is a good tequila for beginners?

Here are some recommended tequila brands and styles for tequila beginners:

  • Blanco – Olmeca Altos, Espolòn, El Jimador, Lunazul
  • Reposado – Cazadores, 1800 Coconut, Tequila Ocho, Cascahuin Tahona
  • Añejo – Casa Noble, Don Elias, El Mayor, Herradura
  • Limit mixtos – try 100% agave tequila instead
  • Sip it – avoid drinking tequila in shots or heavily mixed drinks

Go for a blanco or reposado from a trusted brand. Sip it slowly neat or on ice to appreciate the true flavors. Avoid mixtos and prioritize 100% agave tequilas even as a beginner.

What is the smoothest tequila?

Generally, reposado, añejo and extra añejo tequilas are smoother than blanco/silver tequilas. Aging in oak barrels for months or years mellows the sharp edges of young tequila and rounds out the flavor.

Some brands known for super smooth tequilas include:

  • Don Julio 1942 – Extra Añejo
  • Jose Cuervo Reserva de la Familia – Extra Añejo
  • Patrón Extra Añejo 10 Años
  • Casamigos Añejo
  • Clase Azul Reposado
  • Casa Dragones Joven

For a sublimely smooth experience, try sipping one of these high-end aged tequilas neat or over a large ice cube.

Does tequila have health benefits?

While excessive drinking has risks, moderate tequila intake may offer certain benefits:

  • Antioxidants – Agave contains antioxidants like polyphenols which may help lower inflammation.
  • Prebiotics – Agave fiber feeds good gut bacteria and aids digestion.
  • Blood sugar – Some research shows agave may support healthy blood sugar levels.
  • Heart health -Tequila contains saponins which can lower bad cholesterol.
  • Weight loss – Compared to other liquors, tequila has relatively fewer calories.

That said, more studies are needed to confirm tequila’s health effects. Drinking too much can certainly negate any benefits.


With its iconic blue agave base, rich history, and celebratory spirit, tequila has rightfully earned its place as Mexico’s signature drink. Its complex production process yields a diverse range of tequila styles, from crisp blancos to smoky añejos. Sipped straight or mixed into cocktails, high-quality 100% agave tequila offers a true taste of Mexico.