Flavors of Mexico

All About Spirits > Tequila

When the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, the Mexicans had already been making tequila, an alcoholic drink distilled from the blue agave, for a long time. This plant, which resembles a cactus but actually belongs to a different family, grows only in the province of Jalisco, at Michoacán, Guanajuato Nayarit, and Tamaulipas in northern Mexico. 

The name "tequila" comes from the conquistadores who discovered that agave grew on a small mountain whose silhouette reminded them of a woman's breast… and so they christened the mountain "tetilla." Gradually the word became corrupted into "tequila," and the name was later given to a town in Jalisco.

Tequila comes from Agave Plant
Or, more precisely, the fruit of the blue agave. Agave plants must grow for 10 years before they are mature and ready to use. In a process called "jima," only the hearts of the agave flower, called "pinas" (since they resemble large pineapples), are collected and then steamed for 24 to 50 hours, before being crushed and ground in order to extract their sap.

From this crushing comes a sweet, whitish and slightly sparkling juice called pulque. It is then placed into barrels and left to ferment with sugar for 6 months to 10 years.

Geographic origin: Mexico, Jalisco state, in which the village of Tequila is located. Mezcal is produced in numerous regions of Mexico.

Raw material: The fruit of the blue agave. Often compared to a cactus, the agave, which grows only in Central America, is actually related to the narcissus and amaryllis.

Alcohol content: 37.5% minimum

Characteristics: Once cooked and crushed, the blue agave fruit provides pulp, a sweet juice that ferments quickly (72 hours). From the first distillation comes mezcal, while tequila, lighter in color and more refined, requires a second distillation.

Traditions / Tasting

Tequila can be used as a base for cocktails, drunk "Rapido" with tonic, or simply Mexican style, with a pinch of salt and lime. 

The traditional way to serve it is in a large glass, accompanied by a saucer holding a slice of lime and a good pinch of salt. The drinker puts a little salt on the top of his left hand, preferably in the hollow between his thumb and index finger. He raises his hand to his mouth to lap up the salt, knocks back the shot of tequila and sucks on the slice of lime. Three steps that all take place within a couple of seconds. To acquire the knack, Manuel says you have to have emptied a considerable number of glasses and have slept more than once outside the hammock!

Varieties and grades

Tequila Blanca
Basic tequila, of ordinary quality, translucent, used in making popular cocktails.

Silver Tequila  
This colorless tequila is set aside to age in metal barrels. Though somewhat "riper" than white tequila, it is a young liquor.

Tequila Reposado
This tequila ferments in white oak casks for at least 150 days.

Tequila Añejo
This is tequila that has aged in white oak casks for at least three years and up to several decades.

A drink of tequila is a little starry-eyed taste of Mexico. They say here that tequila has the power to wake the dead. That's not true, but believe me, it does have the ability to alter the landscape and make the sidewalks narrower…


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