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The Tequila
 Page updated on 03.10.2015
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Tequila is famous around the world because of its unique taste and its aroma. It is also the strongest alcohol mixed with another one to prepare “Margaritas”, very popular martinis.

blue agaves in the state of Jalisco Tequila is an alcoholic drink made in Mexico, distilled from fermented juices obtained from the hearts of the blue Agaves plant called "agave tequilana" harvested in the area of Tequila. This alcoholic drink is named after the city of Tequila located in the state of Jalisco where production started more than 200 years ago.

Agave plants need about 10 years of culturing in order to mature before being harvested.

The blue agaves (called Agave tequilana Weber) have a beautiful blue/green color with thorny leaves with sharp heads and a big heart (called piña which means pineapple because it looks like a pineapple). These hearts are cut and roasted about 50 hours, then crushed to obtain a juice that will be left to ferment and distilled.

Left picture : blue agaves in the state of Jalisco

Agaves landscapes have been classified in the world heritage list of Unesco in 2006.


herradura reposado The Mexican government controls the brand name "Tequila". Everyone interested by its production has to conform to the strict rules presented by the secretary of Economy (in the past, Secretary of Industry and Trade) who delegated his to the "Consejo Regulador del Tequila", CRT, a non-profit private organization located in Guadalajara, (Jalisco). The state of Jalisco is in charge of the enforcement of the law, the verification and certification of the quality of tequila. This board supervises every aspect of the production, from the culture of agaves to the bottling and labeling to insure the authenticity of the product. Authentic Tequila has to follow the NOM-006-SCFI-1994, which is a strict standard and need to carry the official name or NOM (Norma Oficial Mexicana) and the monogram of the Board "CRT" on the label. "Premium" Tequila needs also to have "100% Agave" printed on the label. Each distillery of approved Tequila gets its own NOM, which means it is authentic. Because of the imitations, pay attention to labels when buying Tequila.


The Aztecs were the first to appreciate the healing and aphrodisiac properties of this drink. In the past, the indigenous populations used the blue agaves to feed themselves, make clothes and paper. But the plant was also a tool of torture : The sharp extremities were driven into the flesh of their prisoners and the religious pierced themselves as a way of paying a tribute to the Gods.

The history of Tequila really stated with the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. With the imported ways of distilling, the "Conquistadors" started to distill the Indian pulque and create this drink. They knew that the blue agaves plant containing sugars could be fermented and that a new drink would be appreciated by the native Indians. They fermented and distilled the sweet sap of the blue agaves plant and obtained an alcoholic drink with a new taste. For many years, Tequila was a local drink with not a lot of orders. At the beginning of the eighties, the famous "Herradura Reposado" was sold mainly at the distillery of Amatitán with very little export to Mexico City. But in the nineties, it became fashionable to sip Tequila. The production rose and new brands started. The market was full of promise. People asked for more authentic, more traditional Tequila, meaning with 100% of blue agaves.

hills covered with blue agaves

Starting in 2000, more brands arrived on the market and Tequila became one of the three alcoholic drinks with the most sales in the world. The production of blue agaves covers vast lands never cultivated before. While traveling in the states of Jalisco (Western part : Valley of Amatitán - Eastern part : Valley of Los Altos) and through some cities of the states of Michoacán, Nayarit, Tamaulipas and Guanajuato, for as far as you can see, there are nice hills covered with blue agaves.

Left picture : hills covered with blue agaves

The region of TEQUILA

regions of tequila production
In order to obtain the guaranteed denomination, the blue agaves have to be cultivated in a well defined area : It is composed of the state of Jalisco and some cities in the states of Guanajuato, Nayarit, Michoacán and Tamaulipas, with a similar reddish volcanic soil and a similar climate. The plant grows on high altitude of more than 1,500 m and sandy soils.

How the TEQUILA is made ?

the process of separating spikes and hearts called “pinas” with the jimador" Blue agave plants take 8 to 10 years to mature. The spikes are separated from the heart by a "jimador" (agave harvester) who verify the maturity of the plants.

     Left picture : the process of separating spikes and hearts called      “pinas” with the jimador"

The job of the "jimador" is crucial ; once he decides that the plant is ready, he uses a specific long knife, called a "coa" to cut off the spikes exposing the heart. The hearts or piñas (Spanish for pineapple) can weigh 20 to 35 kg in average and up to 80 kg. You can see the "piñas" (see picture in the margin) when all the spikes (pencas) have been cut away.


truck with blue agaves at the entrance of the distillery



   Right pictures and below : truck with blue agaves at the entrance of the    distillery


truck with blue agaves at the entrance of the distillery






cooking of the agavesThe piñas are brought to the distillery and cut in half before being cooked. The modern distilleries use big steam ovens to raise the production and save energy. Cooking time, depending on the oven, is 24 to 48 hours at 55°C, and then there is a cooling time. An average of 7kg of blue agave hearts are needed to make 1 liter of tequila.

   Right picture : cooking of the agaves


fermentation of the blue agave

   Picture above : fermentation of the blue agave

The baked "piñas" are crushed in a grinding mill and the juice is squeezed to extract the sugar from the fibers, and then placed in barrels, for fermentation, of 5000 up to 50000 liters. Some distilleries use the traditional method to make Tequila. With this traditional method, the hearts are crushed on a stone disk with a large stone wheel called a "tahona". The fibers are taken apart in the wooden barrel to raise the fermentation and bring an extra taste. The juice is brought to a fermentation tank and yeast is added.
Each producer keeps secret the component of the yeast. During the fermentation, yeast interacts with the sugars of the agave and is transformed in alcohol. The fermentation process lasts 30 to 48 hours. The obtained juice is called : "mosto". The time of fermentation could be longer depending on the distilleries and the added catalysts.

distillation of the blue agaveAfter a time of rest, the "piñas" are distilled twice in traditional copper alembics or stainless steel tanks. The first distillation produces a low-grade alcohol (about 20 to 30°C) and the second one produces a colorless hot produce that will be blended later before the bottling. The produce is Tequila (with up to 55°C of alcohol). Depending on the aging process, every kind of Tequila will be classified and its color will change with the time.

   Right picture : distillation of the blue agave

Differents types of Tequila

Tequila must be produced only in Mexico in the region of Tequila and has to conform to the strict rules of the Mexican government.

In order to satisfy a rising request as well as the preferences and tastes of the consumers, Tequila is produced in 2 general categories and 4 different types : the 2 categories are defined by the percentage of juice coming from the blue agave :

Category "Tequila 100% agave". It needs to be made from 100% blue agave and bottled in the Mexican distillery. It could be "Blanco, Reposado or Añejo".
Category "Tequila". It has to be made from at least 51% blue agave juice. It could be bulk exported and bottled in other countries that follow the NOM standard. It could be "Blanco, Or, Reposado or Añejo".

The NOM standard defines 4 types of tequila :

amate blancoBlanco or silver
It is basic tequila. Clear and transparent, fresh and young, it is called Blanco (blanco or silver). It is bottled right after the distillation process. It has the aroma and savor of the blue agave. It is strong and usually drunk in a small glass called the "caballito".

Oro or gold
It is the basic tequila with coloring and caramel aromas. It is amber-colored and very fragrant. It is the best tequila for frozen "Margaritas”.

Reposado or rested
reposado dontacho It is the Blanco that stayed in white oak barrels called "pipones" for 2 months and to up to 1 year. The oak barrels give it a sweeter taste, a pleasant aroma as well as a pale color. The Reposado keeps the taste of agave and is sweeter to the palate. These tequilas are in big request and are expensive.

casta anejoAñejo or aged
It is the Blanco that aged in white oak barrels for more than one year. The maximal capacity of each barrel can’t go over 600 liters. The amber color and the wooded aroma come from the oak, and the oxidation through the porous wood develops a unique perfume.

Since 2006, there is a new appellation : extra-Añejo that aged in smaller tanks for at least 3 years. Be aware of the prices !

Voir chapter : economy (international market of Tequila)

  Jose Cuervo Tequila Distillery in the village of Tequila - nice pictures  


Don't confuse tequila and mezcal

Mexican common saying : Para todo mal, mezcal (for all hardships, mezcal).
Para todo bien, también (for well being, also).

differents types of mezcal bottles Mezcal is part of the Mexican culture. It is a popular proverb, a social icon, and a "toast"; there is always mezcal, or tequila for that matter.

Every distilled drink from agave is a "mezcal", but takes the name of tequila if twice distilled and the agave comes from the designed area of Jalisco and its suburbs. Every other one is a "mezcal". The most famous mezcal is distilled from a variety of agave cultivated in the state of Oaxaca.

The finest comes from a wild agave known as "papalomé", which is a very strong alcohol.

     Right picture : differents types of mezcal bottles


How to drink Tequila ?

Tequila is a fine and complex drink and has to be sipped slowly. It should be served at room temperature even if some like it frozen.
"Blanco" and "Reposado" could be served with "sangrita" made with tomato and orange juice, salt and chile. Añejo is preferably served in a small glass to conserve the full aroma. Some add lime. It is a question of taste but choose the right "tequila" for your martini and savor it.

caballito When ordering, ask for “un” tequila. It will be served in a small specific glass (caballito).

A few recipes :

Margarita is a great martini. You have to prepare it the right way. Avoid bottled lemon juice, too bitter or too sweet. Use fresh squeezed lime. For sure, the small limes found in Mexico have an unrivalled taste !

lime margaritaClassic Margarita

5 cl of Tequila
then 3 cl of Triple sec
2 cl lime juice

If you wish a lighter Margarita :
4 cl of Tequila
then 2 cl of Triple sec
1/2 lime juice

Combine the ingredients in a shaker* with ice cubes (or crushed ice) and pour it in a martini glass. You could salt the rim of the glass by running a lime wedge on the edge of the glass before pressing it against salt.
You could substitute triple sec with Cointreau, Grand Marnier, Napoleon Mandarin or Midori.

*haut gobelet surmonté d'un couvercle à deux fonctions principales: mélanger, rafraîchir et parfois filtrer.

You can also drink pure tequila or mix it with a soda.

You can also drink tequila with a glass of sangrita. Sangrita is a spiced mixture non-alcoholic made of orange juice, grenadine syrup and "chile piquín" or a mixture of different chiles. Sangrita, short in Spanish for “blood”, is served in a "caballito." Already made bottles can be found in Mexico and the USA but it is better to make your own Sangrita.
tequila sangrita

4 cups of fresh orange juice
1/4 to 1/2 cup of lime juice
1 tablespoon of grenadine syrup
1 tablespoon of salt
1/4 table spoon of chile piquín
You can change the quantities to adjust to your taste. You can add fresh tomato juice (to make it redder), try chile de arbol (long, thin and red... hot...) or Tabasco. You may also add black pepper.


Tequila Sunrise
tequila sunrise4 cl of ice-cold tequila
12 cl of orange juice
1 little bit of grenadine syrup

Combine tequila and ice in a shaker. For orange juice in a high glass, and then add the iced-cold tequila slowly tilting the glass to have a layered effect. Add grenadine on top. Garnish with an orange slice. Instead of iced-cold tequila, you could use ice cubes.

Vampiro (Bloody Mary)
3 cl of Tequila
1 glass of tomato juice

Add salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce to taste.
Garnish with a lemon slice, celery stalk.
Blanco 100% agave is excellent for a Vampiro. It is the drink of choice after a hangover. You can try Clamato instead of tomato juice or half and half. You can also squeeze half a lemon to add flavor.

3 cl of Tequila
2 cl lime juice

Pour tequila and lime juice in a small glass. Add salt, pepper, Maggi sauce and Worcestershire sauce to taste. Mix the ingredients. Add 1/2 chile "serrano" and 1 or 2 ice cubes. Use Blanco or Tequila Reposado.

3 cl of Tequila Reposado
3 cl of Blanco
3 cl of Clamato juice

Combine the ingredients in a glass. Add ½ tablespoon of Tabasco sauce and the juice of half a lime. Mix the contents and add crushed ice and salt to taste.

tequila anejoTequila Sour
6 cl of Tequila
½ lime juice
1 teaspoon sugar

Mix the ingredients with crushed ice and pour the mixture in a martini glass. Garnish with a red cherry.

Use Añejo for a better taste.

Tequila añejo is for a slow tasting with nothing added. Some even think that using it in a martini is wasting.

Mezcal can be drunk with an orange slice and salt of gusano.

"Extract of Unesco site" :

"agavero"Agave Landscape and Ancient Industrial Facilities of Tequila :

The 34,658 ha site, between the foothills of the Tequila Volcano and the deep valley of the Rio Grande River, is part of an expansive landscape of blue agave, shaped by the culture of the plant used since the 16th century to produce tequila spirit and for at least 2,000 years to make fermented drinks and cloth. Within the landscape are working distilleries reflecting the growth in the international consumption of tequila in the 19th and 20th centuries. Today, the agave culture is seen as part of national identity. The area encloses a living, working landscape of blue agave fields and the urban settlements of Tequila, Arenal, and Amatitan with large distilleries where the agave ‘pineapple' is fermented and distilled. The property is also a testimony to the Teuchitlan cultures which shaped the Tequila area from AD 200-900, notably through the creation of terraces for agriculture, housing, temples, ceremonial mounds and ball courts.
End of extract.

     Right picture : "agavero"


Information about the village of Tequila :

TEQUILA EXPRESS logo Tequila Express

tequila express A good way to visit the agaves fields and a famous distillery : Take the Tequila Express on a weekend. Leave the station of Guadalajara, located on Washington Avenue, at 10:30 AM. You’ll reach Amatitán, one and a half hours later. You’ll take a bus ride to a distillery close to Amatitán called Hacienda San Jose del Refugio.
Ticket price : mxn$1200 per adult and $800 per child (6 to 11 years old). The National Chamber of Commerce, Services and Tourism Guadalajara welcomes the Tequila Express tour. Information for purchasing tickets to 01-800-503-97-20 / (0133) 3880 9090 and 3880 9099. It is a nine hour tour with mariachi, folkloric ballets and fun during the whole ride.

You can consult their site by clicking
Only week-ends -friday to sunday, sometimes on thursdays.

Video in spanish about the Tequilaexpress, the production of Tequila and a few views of Guadalajara.

In april, every year : Tequila's Foundation - Cultural week : (374) 74 20012, 74 21221 / tequila@jalisco.gob.mx

End of november, every year (end of november-beginning of december) - XXXIII National Tequila Fair, in Tequila, Jalisco. Information : (374) 742 0012.

Visit the Museum of Tequila, old "'Hacienda La Rojena" (Usine Cuervo) : - Possible Tours, consult the website.

December 2007 : Economy – Mexico strikes out on a war against Chinese tequila.

fields of blue agaves
The tequila is initially an alcoholic drink produced essentially in Mexico, from the blue agave called tequilana. But since mid 2007, a new type of tequila is on the market : this second-rate tequila is made in China. The Chinese use the cactus called Nopal instead of agave. They produce the Nopal in the United States and sell the second rate tequila at half the price compared to the Mexican tequila. This could be a real economic threat. The Mexican government decided to react : a law should be voted on soon in order to patent the Nopal as a national product, which will prevent its use by the Chinese. In 2006, Mexico produced 210 million of liters of tequila with half of it for exportation. The tequila brings in more than 400 millions of mxn$ a year in the American market alone.

   Right picture : fields of blue agaves


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