By Briana Seftel
What would a trip to Mexico be without sampling some of its finest drinks? From iconic cocktails to milky rice drinks, Mexico's beverages are as colorful and varied as its 761,610 square miles of terrain. After you've sampled some of the country's most delicious dishes, check out this guide to the best beverages - ¡salud!
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A friend and a foe to many, tequila is the liquor of choice in Mexico. Like champagne or cognac, tequila can only be made in a specific region: the western state of Jalisco (the drink itself is named after the city of Tequila). Distilled from the sugars of the blue agave plant, tequila is generally divided into four main categories: blanco, reposado, añejo and extra-añejo. It's generally served straight as a shot with salt and lime or mixed in a cocktail.
Corona, Dos Equis, Tecate, and Pacifico are just a few Mexican cervezas you’re probably already familiar with. With a history starting long before the Spanish conquest, beer in Mexico really took flight with the influx of German immigrants in the 19th century. Today, Mexican beer is run by two large conglomerates that own the most-well known brands. And while sipping a Corona on the beach is an essential experience, you can also find many other local and craft beers like Bohemia that you wouldn’t find back home.
Mexico’s most well-known cocktail is a deceptively simple combination of tequila, triple sec and lime juice, served with salt on the rim of the glass. Either on the rocks or frozen, margaritas have become emblematic of not only Mexico, but of fiestas around the world. While the drink has many origin stories, the first known recipe was published in Esquire magazine in 1952. Whether you go for classic, strawberry or mango, any margarita is a good margarita!
Think of mezcal (also spelled mescal) as the cooler sibling of tequila. While tequila must be made from the blue agave plant, mezcal can be made from any agave plant. Mezcal is usually produced in Oaxaca, although it can legally come from anywhere in Mexico. Prized for its smoky flavor similar to scotch, mezcal can be drunk as a shot or mixed in a cocktail. Adventurous drinkers will want to try their mezcal with sal de gusano, also known as worm salt.
The paloma might just edge out the margarita for being the most popular cocktail in Mexico. Simple and refreshing, the paloma is a tequila-based drink made with grapefruit soda or juice, tequila blanco and lime and served on the rocks. This cocktail makes the perfect accompaniment to spicy Mexican dishes.
Everyone's favorite coffee-flavored liqueur happens to be from Mexico. Made with arabica coffee beans grown in Veracruz, Kahlúa is the base for many iconic cocktails like the White Russian and the B-52. Enjoy as an after-dinner drink or take a bottle home with you; Kahlúa is so beloved that February 27th is National Kahlúa Day!
A beer cocktail…? Yep, and in Mexico it’s known as a michelada. Beer, tomato juice, lime juice, salt, chili, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce (known as "salsa inglesa") are all mixed together and poured into a glass with a salt rim. It’s a savory yet refreshing drink that brings to mind a Bloody Mary.
Mexico’s wine region may be underrated, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find plenty of great vinos to sip on. There are currently seven regions in Mexico producing wine, with Baja California being the preeminent wine-producing region. Don't be afraid to ask your concierge, server or tour guide on where to find Mexico's wines near you.
And a few non-alcoholic drinks…
While horchata (pronounced or-CHAH-tah) is known to have many names and variations around the world, Mexican horchata by far the most popular. Rice and cinnamon are the two main ingredients that make up this sweet and creamy drink, traditionally served cold and sweetened with sugar.
Even though you might think coca cola is the same around the world, it’s actually made a little differently in Mexico - and many people swear it tastes better. Mexican coke is sweetened using cane sugar as opposed to high-fructose corn syrup, and many claim it has a more natural taste. Order a bottle for yourself and see if you can taste the difference!
The Mayans were the first to cultivate chocolate, so it comes as no surprise that Mexico is famous for its hot chocolate. While not as bitter as its original incarnation, today traditional Mexican hot chocolate is made with semi-sweet chocolate, cinnamon, sugar, and vanilla. It's frothed by hand with a wooden molinillo (a great souvenir, hint hint). While in Mexico, you can also try hot chocolate’s cousin champurrado, thickened with corn.
If you're looking for a thirst-quenching beverage in Mexico, order an agua fresca. Literally meaning “fresh water," this drink is a simple blend of fruit, water, a bit of sugar, and a squeeze of lime. Choose from classic flavors like watermelon or stawberry, or go for more exotic flavors like hibiscus (known as "jamaica") or tamarind.