Tequila — What It Is, How Its Made, and Drinks to Try

Tequila is a type of mezcal that was originally produced in the Jalisco region of Mexico. The traditional method for making tequila involves fermenting and distilling agave, which comes from the maguey plant. Tequila is at its best when served neat or on ice with a few drops of lime juice, followed by salt to taste. There are many different types
of tequilas: blanco (silver), reposado (golden-brown), anejo (aged) and extra dry/añejo (amber). It will take you on an exploration into some high quality Mexican cocktails .

Tequila is a type of distilled alcoholic beverage made from the blue agave plant. It is typically served in a salt-rimmed glass with an orange slice or lemon wedge. The drink can be served straight up, on the rocks, or blended into a variety of cocktails. Read more in detail here: how to drink tequila.

Tequila displayed with a used lemon and a solution in a glass.

While tequila has a bad notoriety in the United States, where it’s typically used as a cheap shot by inebriated college students, it’s a centuries-old cultural practice in Mexico. While the origins of certain liquors are murky or contested, tequila is undeniably a Mexican spirit.

While tequila is frequently served with salt and lime in shot form to counteract the bite and burn of cheap booze, it’s normally served plain in a tall shot glass and designed to be savored in its native Mexico.

If you’ve had a bad experience with tequila in the past, it’s time you give it another opportunity and learned how to not only drink it properly, but also how to choose the appropriate quality so you don’t write off the whole category because of the swill that got you drunk in your youth.

But before we get into any of those criteria, we need to understand what tequila is.

What Exactly Is Tequila?

Tequila is a sort of mezcal, and it’s a little more complicated than that when it comes to the laws of labeling and such. Mezcal is a distilled liquor created from the agave plant’s crushed, fermenting core. Tequila is a mezcal prepared from blue agave and produced in a particular region of Mexico.

Tequila, like champagne, can only be produced in a certain part of Mexico. This occurs mostly in Jalisco (where Tequila is situated), as well as sections of Guanajuato, Michoacán, Nayarit, and Tamaulipas. These states are located in west-central Mexico, where the fertile volcanic soil is ideal for cultivating blue agave.

What Does an Agave Plant Look Like?

Man walking in agave plant's wide fields.

Blue agave plants grow in a field. Take note of the man’s size as he walks between rows. When fully grown, the leaves are roughly the height of a man.  

Whereas rum is made from sugar cane/molasses, brandy is made from grapes, and whiskey is made from different grains, tequila is made from agave. To comprehend one, you must comprehend the other.

Agave is a huge plant that resembles a spikey head. Its leaves are those spikes, and the main body, known as a pia, is what’s utilized to manufacture tequila. Agaves may grow to be very large. When harvested, the pia may weigh between 150 and 250 pounds.

The tree-like "flower" of the agave trimmed in tequila fields.

The agave’s tree-like “flower.” In tequila fields, they are pruned to lengthen the plant’s life.

The leaves are trimmed and the plants are harvested by specially trained farmers/harvesters, and the operation is mostly manual. Agave is a finicky plant that takes 7 years or more to develop, and the procedure isn’t always successful. The plant has a single blooming spike that develops from the center just once (growing to tree-like heights), after which the agave dies since the flower consumes all of the plant’s life supply. Farmers, on the other hand, clip that blossom to extend the plant’s life, which is required for it to completely mature and become mezcal/tequila ready.


What is the Process of Making Tequila?

After being collected, the pias are baked and effectively juiced, much like a large orange. The pulp is left behind, but the juice is collected, and the rest of the procedure is similar to that of any other fermented or distilled beverage.

The juice ferments in vats for a few days, yielding wort, which is a low-alcohol liquid (beer aficionados should know that word). The wort is then distilled at least twice (a legal requirement for tequila) and sometimes a third time — though some purists argue that the third distillation removes too much of the agave flavor (many brands list the number of times their product has been distilled right on the label for marketing purposes).

The wine is then either immediately bottled or aged in wood barrels.

Tequila Classification (or How to Read the Bottle)

Tequila Donjulio bottle.

On the label, you’ll find all the information you need to make an educated decision. The name of the company is “Don Julio.” Underneath it, in tiny text, you’ll see “100% de Agave.” And at the bottom, you’ll see “Aejo.”

When purchasing tequila, there are a few things to check for on the label that will assist you in determining its ingredients.

The first thing to look for is a statement that reads “100% agave” or “100% blue agave.” Tequila must only be created using 51 percent blue agave sugars in the fermenting process, according to Mexican rules (which control tequila manufacturing, labeling, exporting, and so on). Other sugar sources, which are typically cane, can account for the remaining 49%. “Mixtos” are tequilas that aren’t made entirely of blue agave. These tequilas will not be promoted as such; instead, they will lack the phrase “100% blue agave” on the label. Mixtos are brands on the low end of the scale, which is why they aren’t bragging about it. If the “100%” isn’t present, don’t believe it, even if it states “crafted from blue agave.” Remember that every tequila must be brewed using blue agave in order to be legally designated as such.

The "100% de agave" marking on a neck label.

A neck label may also include the “100% de agave” symbol.

Mixtos and 100 percent blue agave tequilas may be labeled with any of the age terms listed below. So, first and foremost, check for this description, which is normally printed in tiny font on the bottle’s neck or on the main label.

Following that, you’ll notice one of the age labels listed below, which is normally printed mostly on the bottle. It’s impossible to miss. I’d divide tequila into three categories: three major variations to seek out based on your preferences, and one low-quality version to avoid.  

Blanco/White/Silver. This is the unaged product that is bottled immediately after distillation. It’s simple and straightforward, and it’ll be a terrific place to start if you’re new to tequila. Some think it has a more pure agave taste since it isn’t matured in oak barrels, while others say it’s more like the vodka of the tequila world, missing character. What you’ll discover is a question of personal preference. In any case, this is the most common ingredient in every tequila drink. Keep in mind that, despite its clarity, it may still be a high-quality, drinkable product, similar to a white, unaged whiskey.


According to anecdotal evidence, true tequila connoisseurs prefer the clear kind, whilst whiskey connoisseurs prefer the older variations.  

Reposado. This kind of tequila has been matured for at least two months, but not more than a year (typically in old bourbon barrels, although other spirits’ barrels are also utilized). In terms of taste profile, it’s a great middle-of-the-road tequila. It’s not overpowering and works well in mixed cocktails, but it’s also refreshing on its own.

Aejo (or Extra Aejo) is a kind of tequila. This is tequila that has been matured for at least a year (or three years in the case of the “extra” variation). These are drinks that are meant to be sipped rather than mixed into cocktails. Using this in a mixed drink would be like putting a great bourbon in a cocktail; rather than muddle the taste, it’s best to sip and savor the excellent product. These tequilas have a mellow, woody flavor, which, as previously said, is why whiskey drinkers like aejos.

Tequilas marked “Gold” or “Oro” should be avoided. This item is merely “gold” because it has been colored for aesthetic purposes. They’re generally blanco and reposado mixes, but they’re always on the low-end of the quality range. Cuervo Gold, for example, would be a good example to avoid.

100% pure Corzo Tequila.

One last illustration of label marks. A single line of text under the brand contains all of your most crucial information. At the bottom, you’ll see “Triple Distilled” and “Highland Agave.” (“Highland” refers to a particular area of tequila fields, similar to Scotland’s Scotch-making regions.) In contrast to Scotch, where the varied tastes are more apparent, only genuine aficionados will be able to distinguish geographical distinctions in tequila.)

Tequila Drinking Instructions

While tequila, like whiskey, rum, and even fine gin, is often poured straight down the hatch, certain tequilas can and should be savored neat or over ice with no garnishes or extra tastes. These are often in the aejo group, but not always, as previously stated. Pour a few ounces into a snifter-style glass, take a few little sips, lingering in your mouth, and enjoy. It’s simply that easy.

Tequilas of all kinds, however, benefit greatly from the addition of citrus. Remove the salt that normally comes with a shot of tequila, but retain the lime. Pour a couple of ounces into the glass and squeeze some lime juice on top. It brightens up the tequila and softens some of the inherent sharpness for me, making for a really good compliment.

Of course, tequila’s distinct taste pairs wonderfully with summer beverages, especially margaritas. Let’s begin there. While there are a limited number of traditional tequila drinks to choose from, there are a few alternatives to try.

Margarita (classic)

There are a million and one ways to make a margarita. You won’t need to worry with the cheap margarita mixes that line liquor store shelves, or stoop to pulling one from a frozen slushie machine with this traditional margarita recipe.


3 parts tequila, 2 parts triple sec (or other orange liqueur, generally Cointreau), 1 part lime is the standard ratio. That translates to the following measures, which may be adjusted up or down to suit your preferences:

  • tequila 1.5 ounces (100 percent blue agave, blanco or reposado)
  • 1 ounce Cointreau or triple sec  
  • lime juice (.5 oz)

In a cocktail shaker, combine all ingredients and mix vigorously with ice. Pour into a glass with a salted rim (moisten rim with lime wedge, then dip into salt — coarse, kosher salt, not table salt).


While not as well-known in the United States as the margarita, the paloma is rather common in Mexico. However, it’s a simple, tasty drink that should be enjoyed by more people.

  • Tequila, 2 oz (100 percent blue agave, blanco)
  • grapefruit juice, 3 ounces (either fresh, or as often served in Mexico, in grapefruit soda form)
  • slice of lime juice
  • club soda, a dash (If you’re using fresh juice instead of soda)

Served in a salt-rimmed glass, shaken or stirred.

Tequila Sunrise is a cocktail made with Tequila.

When served in a highball glass, this cocktail derives its name from the way it looks. It has been popular in the American Southwest for nearly 75 years. It became particularly popular with rock bands in the 1970s when Mick Jagger received one and raved about it so much that he ordered them all across the nation while on tour.

  • tequila 1.5 ounces (100 percent blue agave, blanco or reposado)
  • 6 ounces of orange juice
  • grenadine (.5 ounce)
  • Garnish with an orange slice
  • Garnish with a maraschino cherry

Ice should be added to a highball glass. Stir in the tequila and orange juice. Allow the grenadine to drop to the bottom and create the dawn appearance. Serve with an orange slice and a maraschino cherry as a garnish.



Tequila is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from the blue agave plant. It has been produced in Mexico since at least the 13th century, and it is traditionally made with 100% blue agave. The word “tequila” comes from the Nahuatl word for “mead,” which was made by fermenting honey with water and then distilling it. Tequila is commonly served neat (straight up) or on ice, though some variations exist. Reference: tequila making kit.

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