How to Drink Tequila Like a Mexican

How to drink tequila like a mexican

Do you have a (completely rational) fear of tequila? Do you flat-out hate the stuff? If so, I can almost guarantee that you’re drinking it wrong. After spending a year in Mexico, I finally learned the secret: how to drink tequila like a Mexican… and actually enjoy this potent drink.

How to drink Tequila like a European /American /Canadian /Australian [insert your home country]*

(*delete as appropriate)

How to drink tequila like a Mexican England

Photo by: scani

Before we get into the details of how to drink tequila like a Mexican, let’s take a good hard stare at how the rest of us tend to approach the subject of tequila drinking…or should I say tequila slamming.

More often that not, it goes a little something like this:

  1. Enter bar, consume a dozen or so other drinks.
  2. Realise it’s past midnight and a) you want to dance or b) you still feel too sober to call it a good Friday night.
  3. Shout to your friends, “Tequilas?!”
  4. After a mixed reactions of “hell yeahs” (from the people who think they’re sober but definitely aren’t) and “urghhh, I hate tequila” (from the people who are actually sober), head to the bar.
  5. Ordering process: “[x number of] tequilas please.”
  6. Return to friends with tray full of evil clear liquid in shot glasses complete with a scattering of lime wedges and salt.
  7. Add salt to back of hand. Deep breath.
  8. Get a wedge of lime ready to drown out the tequila pain. Take another deep breath.
  9. Get beer bottle within grabbing distance, in case the lime doesn’t work. Double deep breath.
  10. Round of chanting with friends.
  11. “One…”
  12. “Two…”
  13. “Wait!!!!! Brian’s not ready.”
  14. Brian, who was trying to get out of the whole tequila drinking business, is forced by peer pressure to pick up his glass.
  15. “One….two…three.”
  16. Lick salt.
  17. Throw the tequila towards your mouth.
  18. Gag.
  19. Try to swallow as your throat closes in protest.
  20. Swallow harder while trying to breathe through your nose.
  21. Finally swallow the liquid which burns all the way down to your stomach.
  22. Shove a ridiculously large amount of sharp citrus into your mouth and suck on it like you’re a new-born given your first dummy/pacifier.
  23. Discard lime, take huge swig of beer and wipe tears from your eyes.
  24. Cheer at the round of empty glasses and breathe a secret sigh of relief that it’s over…
  25. Until some b@stard (who think’s they’re sober but really isn’t) shouts “Another round!”

Often, after the first tequila, this process is repeated until your memory turns blank in the way it would do if you were hit in the back of the head by a shovel – which actually feels as though it might have happened when you wake up the next morning, fully clothed, lying face down in the running position wondering why, why, why and swearing never again.

how to drink tequila like a Mexican Indiana Jo

“Tequila, it makes me happy. Tequila, I feel alright.” Lyrics from chart hit “Tequila” by UK band Terrorvision. The problem was tequila didn’t make me happy and it certainly didn’t make me feel alright…until I learned how to drink tequila like a Mexican.

The above is a formula I’ve seen played out in bars, clubs and even restaurants around the world. Hell, I’ve drunk tequila that way in bars, clubs and restaurants around the world.

So much so that when I went to Mexico, I was adamant I didn’t want to touch the stuff. No longer in my 20’s, the tequila hangovers were not worth it and I’d long disqualified this Mexican spirit on the grounds it simply didn’t taste good.

When I explained this to my Mexican friends there was a unanimous response – the reason I didn’t like tequila was because I was drinking it all wrong.

And, with that realisation, I was booked in for some intense re-education – I was sent to the town of Tequila, Jalisco; the town that is home to Jose Cuervo; the birthplace of tequila; and the town where I finally learned how to drink tequila like a Mexican.

How to drink tequila like a Mexican

How to drink tequila like a Mexican tequila tour from Guadalajara
Beautiful blue agave plants decorating the city of Guadalajara.

If I had to identify where us non-Mexicans go wrong in our tequila drinking, I’d say right at the very first step. Because, for the most part, tequila is a drink we use to accelerate the D in Drunk (or P in Pissed if we’re being really British about it).

But there’s a more fundamental reason why people drink tequila as a quick shot – because tequila outside of Mexico simply doesn’t taste good.

The stuff that we guzzle down in bars or pick up in supermarkets is low-grade, filthy booze that does nothing other than give tequila a bad name (and us a bad head).

The good news is that with online purchasing opportunities ever expanding, it’s not so difficult to get your hands on good tequila (it’s even easier in the USA which already imports a much broader range of tequilas than we get in Europe).

And with a good tequila in your glass, the drink completely transforms from something you might throw down your neck with a wince, to something you can sip and savour like you might a fine whisky.

So, how do you choose a good tequila?

How to drink tequila like a Mexican choosing a tequila

Most people un-schooled in tequila give very little thought to to what they are buying, opting for either the “fun” bottle (the one that features a plastic sombrero on the top together with an offensive caricature of a Mexican man) or, for a more serious occasion, a generic bottle of Jose Cuervo.

However, much the same as a brandless bottle of whisky off the supermarket shelf isn’t going to taste as smooth as a 25 year Talisker, choosing a good tequila involves quite a bit more understanding and thought.

Here are the two main things to look for when choosing a good tequila.

Always buy 100% Agave

How to drink tequila like a mexican

Agave (pronounced agar-bay), is the plant that tequila is made from and is the very foundation of a good tequila. Yet, despite growing in abundance in Mexico, not all tequilas are made using 100% blue agave.

Why is that a bad thing? Well, let’s think for a moment about a packet of pork sausages that only contain 50% pork. Did you shudder? I did too. The same kind of applies to tequila (minus the pig eyeballs). The non-agave ingredients are usually lower quality, less natural, affect the taste of the drink and can often contribute to those tequila hangovers that are so hard to handle (because the blend includes sugar as an additive).

In short, if you make only one change in your tequila drinking habits, then make it this: only ever drink tequila that is made from 100% agave.

Pro Tequila Tip: some brands may state they are made “with blue agave” but unless they say 100%, you are still getting a blend.

Taking a Tequila tour in Mexico

How to drink tequila like a Mexican tequila tour

Guadalajara in Jalisco state is a great, affordable base for visiting the town of Tequila.

Guadalajara is around 6 hours (by road) northwest of Mexico City and the town of Tequila is around a further 1 hour (by road) from Guadalajara.

Click here to find flights to Guadalajara using Skyscanner.

The two main choices for a tequila tour are:

Of course, you can drive too, but you’ll need a designated driver.

The coach tour will generally include a visit to a distillery to see the tequila making process from the harvesting and trimming down of the agave plant to the entire distillation process.

Afterwards you will visit three or four additional distilleries for tastings as well as stopping in the sleepy town of tequila where Jose Cuervo has a significant presence.

During the day you will learn about agave and the tequila ages. You will also be introduced to something we simply don’t get in the UK – cream based tequila blends. For the record, strawberry cream tequila is both real and divine.

Expect the day to be long and get ready for some insanely early tequila tasting (I had my first tequila in hand way before midday).

If you’re looking to explore more of Mexico check out Intrepid Travel. They offer several small group tours through Mexico and you’re guaranteed to get a cultural experience. Click here to check trip details and prices.

Where to stay in Guadalajara

On a budget: Hostel Hospedarte Guadalajara Centro – I stayed here and it was fantastically social (think: regular Tequila parties) with good options for booking tours.

Click here for reviews and prices on HostelWorld.

Mid-range: The Westin Guadalajara – clean, well-kept, modern rooms with a great location, The Westin offers reliable service for great prices.

Click here for reviews and prices on TripAdvisor.

Luxury: NH Collection Guadalajara Providencia – located in the financial district of Guadalajara, expect modern rooms in a good location, surrounded by a good choice of restaurants.

Click here for reviews and prices on TripAdvisor.

Hotels in the town of Tequila: If you’d rather stay in the town of Tequila itself, there is a handful of hotels to choose from.

Click here for reviews and prices on TripAdvisor.

Drink the oldest tequila you can find (and afford)

How to drink tequila like an expert reposado

Like a fine whiskey, tequila is one of those drinks that improves with age. And, the longer tequila has been aged, the more mellow and, yes, the more drinkable, it will be.

The clear tequila that we most commonly slug back in bars is usually fresh out of the vat and as a result is pretty rough to drink – even in Mexico. Hence the need to chase this baby brew with lime and salt.

However, drink a tequila that is even a little bit older and the taste and drinkability increases dramatically.

Tequila usually falls into these categories:

Blanco – completely unaged tequila that has spent less than 2 months in steel or neutral oak barrels

Joven – as above but is often gold coloured (see below)

Reposado – aged more than 2 months but less than 1 year in oak barrels

Añejo – aged 1-3 years in oak barrels

Extra Añejo – aged more than 3 years in oak barrels

A word on golden tequila

As tequila ages in the barrel, the colour of the liquid changes, creating the difference between white tequila (blanco) and gold tequila (oro). However, don’t be fooled – unless the tequila is añejo (aged), then any golden colour has been added artificially to give the illusion that you’re drinking a premium (older) product. Some joven tequila may get its gold colour from being blended with añejo tequila – read the label.

If you’re looking for a drink that can be sipped instead of taken as a shot, but without spending a huge amount of money then look for tequila that is “reposado”. In Spanish that translates as “rested” meaning the tequila has sat in the barrel a little while allowing the sharpness to dissipate, the flavour to develop and the drinkability to enhance.

If you can, try añejo or extra añejo for a smoother taste.

Want to try it at home? Click here to buy tequila online.

A word on the worm

How to drink tequila like a Mexican tequila worm

Photo by: mugley

Most people are familiar with the concept of the worm in tequila bottles. Reputed to be hallucinogenic, the tequila worm is a trademark for daring drinkers. And yet, there are two common misunderstanding when it comes to tequila worms:

i) the worm is actually associated with Mezcal (a sister drink of tequila), not tequila; and

ii) in any case, the worm concept was a marketing ploy dreamt up in the 1940s to rebrand and enhance excitement about the drink.

Tequila is not produced from worms. Worms play no part in the flavouring or colouring of tequila and if you want to drink to tequila like a Mexican, you’ll steer clear of any worm based products (which have been put on the shelves for clueless tourists).

Tequila quality scale

How to drink tequila like a Mexican blanco tequila

To recap, here is what tequila looks like on the quality scale from low to high grade.

Tequila (no statement about it being 100% agave)

100% agave tequila (blanco or joven)

100% agave tequila reposado

100% agave tequila añejo

100% agave tequila extra añejo

In addition to all of this, there are obviously different tequila brands that offer different tastes. Whether you prefer one to another will always come down to personal taste, so you have full permission to experiment.

How do Mexican’s drink tequila

how to drink tequila like a mexican

Photo by: Bobbymond

Until I tasted good tequila, the idea of sitting and sipping tequila, as Mexican people commonly do, seemed like an absurd activity. Yet the truth is that good tequila is to be savoured, not slugged down at speed.

Here’s how to drink tequila like a Mexican.

Pick a tequila that is 100% agave and at least reposado.

Fill a shot glass in the normal way (the Mexican shot glasses tend to be taller and thinner than the squat, stubby versions in the UK and the USA and are called caballito, meaning little horse).

To drink, simply take a small sip of tequila straight and enjoy.

If you feel the need as a new tequila drinker, you can try your tequila with some lime (called limon in Mexico) and  some (finely ground) salt. After every sip or two, dip your wedge of lime into a small amount of salt and suck on it. However, don’t use too much as you will drown out the flavour of the tequila.

Ideally, try to buy the tiny limes that are light green because they are sweeter and juicier than their larger, darker counterparts.

And there you have it: how to drink tequila like a Mexican.

Is there room for the lick, swallow, suck style of tequila drinking in Mexico?

The westernised way of drinking tequila where you lick some salt off the back of your hand, swallow an entire shot of tequila in one go and finish off with a quick suck on a lime wedge does actually originate from Mexico – it is how Mexican people drink very young tequila i.e. not reposado or añejo.

However, this style of tequila drinking in Mexico has a party vibe to it and is more common amongst younger drinkers. As smoother tequilas are more readily available and affordable, this white, rougher tequila seems to be drunk less frequently.

A word on hangovers

How to drink tequila like a Mexica distillation
There is something very beautiful about the tequila distillation process.

The day after my tequila tour I was hangover free and I was absolutely staggered by that fact.

The tequila tasting had been liberal and the drinking period extended, however I’d (largely) stuck to the tour guides tequila tasting rule: never mix tequila with sugar. Long island ice teas (laden with coke), orangey tequila sunrises, sugary margaritas… our westernised tequila consuming ways are intrinsically linked with the one substance that should be avoided to keep a clear head the next day.

If you want to keep the hangover at bay, don’t feed your body sugar and tequila in the same sitting.

For now, tequila tours haven’t hit the stage of mass tourism outside of Mexico (but see below). For that reason, I was one of only two non-Mexicans on a 52-seater coach tour. Don’t worry if your Spanish isn’t great – the guide on the bus and the tour guide at the distillery could speak good English. Plus, drinking tequila with 50 Mexicans is the perfect time to learn some new words.

I stayed at Guadalajara Centro Hospedarte Hostel and booked my tour through them at a cost of $400MXN (around £20/$30 including transport and tastings).

A word on Guadalajara

Guadalajara is a beautiful and lively city north of Mexico city where Mariachi bands still play for the enjoyment of the locals (not just as a tourist attraction), the street food is stomach expanding, the salsa clubs are packed, and the prices are noticeably lower than other parts of Mexico.

Guadalajara is also know as the “gay capital” of Mexico if you’re looking to experience Mexico’s gay scene.

The town of Tequila and the changing face of tourism

How to drink tequila like a Mexican town of Tequila

Occupying little more than two dusty streets, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the town of tequila retained a sleepy, small-town vibe. Of course, the peace was interrupted each day when a coach load or two rolled a bunch of tourists into town, but Tequila was otherwise absent the mass tourism that has bulldozed through other parts of Mexico (I’m looking at you: Cabo san Lucas and Cancun).

Taking pride of place and owning much of the main street in tequila is Jose Cuervo..and boy do they have some big plans.

Before leaving the town of tequila I tried to burn the image of the street into my memory because Jose Cuervo has announced its intention to pump around USD$25 million into developing the town of Tequila with the intention of driving international tourism to the town.

Of course, it has to be a good thing that more people visit tequila and taste this drink in its home location, but I fear it will be at the expense of the town’s authenticity.

So, if there were ever a place to visit sooner than later, tequila is it. And why not – because there is no better place to learn how to drink tequila like a Mexican?

What’s your relationship like with tequila? Love it? Hate it? Prepared to give it a try the Mexican way?

Article written by

Jo Fitzsimons is a freelance travel writer who has visited over 60 countries. is the place where she shares destination details, travel itineraries, planning and booking tips and trip tales. Her aim: to help you plan your travel adventure on your terms and to your budget.

38 Responses

  1. Karin
    Karin at | | Reply

    Thank you!!!!!!!!!!’
    I had my first “American” shot of tequila (with my Scottish friend 😂) about 8 years ago. I’m fairly new to Margarita’s, as well! But I must have been a Mexican in a past life, because I really love a Tequila straight, to sip (with lime and salt, no ice, though). I’m thrilled to find out I’m really right about something, for once!!!
    By the way, I am 61 years young!

  2. Gary Drechsel
    Gary Drechsel at | | Reply

    Blanco is beautiful and great for sipping. Also no aging means it’s more pure so better for hangover. I recommend Fortaleza.

  3. Mark
    Mark at | | Reply

    Great article – searched for info as had been given a bottle of Tequila Ley ,925 Añejo.
    Will sit and sip some later and see how I get on.

  4. CJ
    CJ at | | Reply

    Really informative and well-written. Just put a debate with my husband to rest. Cheers.

  5. Lu
    Lu at | | Reply

    I was in Mexico City last week and I would have loved to google “how to drink tequila” before I went because I did exactly what you wrote at the beginning lol. My boyfriend looked at me horrified (he is Mexican) and said “you’re supposed to sip it and swish it in your mouth and then swallow it so it doesnt burn your throat” but alas he told me this the day after while I was dealing with a massive hangover (I’ve been living in Canada for 11 years, so I’ve been drinking tequila the non-Mexican way). Very informative post! And now I know how to do it the proper way without being embarrassing👌🏽

  6. Uwe Rutenberg
    Uwe Rutenberg at | | Reply

    Here is another way we drink tequila in Mexico like Mexicans. It’s called the flag: one shot glas with white tequila, one red one with sangrita, and one green one with lemon. You sip a part of each, keep it in your mouth and saver the combination. Salud!

  7. Dubravko
    Dubravko at | | Reply

    You not explain, tequila must be cold or rooms temperature?

  8. Susan
    Susan at | | Reply

    Was in Isla Mujeres last week and had a shot (or 3) of a tequila I did not recognize and it was terrific. Was told to be sure to buy 100% Agave as you mention in your article. I purchased Don Agustin Reserve Anejo and will be drinking it like a Mexican now that I have been educated on this fine art! Thank you for the lesson!

  9. Leo Ortega
    Leo Ortega at | | Reply

    The best tequila I ever had was from a plastic gallon milk jug. A banking friend of mine, who’s main clients were tequila producers would sometimes be gifted these old milk or water containers full of tequila from them. He was told it was what they drank from the distilleries. No pretentious bottles, just outstanding tequila. Nothing store bought has ever come close to the smoothness and taste of this tequila.

  10. Christina
    Christina at | | Reply

    Thanks for the tips! The beginning of your post had me cracking up SO MUCH! Man have I seen that played out 1000 times….and maybe was involved a few times (usually the one calling for another round)! LOL!!!!

    Have you ever tried it with cinnamon and an orange instead of lime and salt? Put the cinnamon on an orange slice, suck the cinnamon off, drink the tequila, then suck on the orange. Much better for the flavor than salt and a lime!

  11. Cynthia Peacock
    Cynthia Peacock at | | Reply

    Thank you and the commenters on excellent tips. I always enjoyed the slammed tequilas for the burn right up and through my ears. That’s why I requested the house tequila, not just for the savings. Luckily I’m not prone to hangovers but then I get the buzz I want with just a few. By chance I bought an 100% blue agave reposado and am enjoying it like a Mexican now, or like my Mexican-American neighbors (USA).. Can’t wait to go on the tequila tour, just hope I make it before it becomes commercialized. Will try tequila with sangrita soon. Thank y’all (Texas 🙂

  12. MIke
    MIke at | | Reply

    Thanks so much for this article. I too was a victim of hot poppers at bars in TJ. Boy what a hangover. I tried Costcos Extra aged Anejo tequila. I sipped it. I enjoyed it. I am off to Mexico tomorrow for some Tequila sampling thanks to you.

    Cheers, Mike

  13. Robin Boyd
    Robin Boyd at | | Reply

    Just a couple of things to comment on an otherwise nicely done article to help clueless gringos, such as I once was, learn to enjoy a really great spirit. I have found a few very nice blanco tequilas that retain the sweet and fruity flavor of the Weber blue agave. Patron, which is becoming more and more familiar in U.S. bars, is one that I like. I also like 901, which is now owned by Sauza and Justin Timberlake, is also very smooth and tasty for an unaged tequila.

    Not all reposados and anejos are aged in oak barrels. One of my favorites is El Tesoro Paradiso, which is an oak barrel anejo blended with a blanco which is then aged additionally in cognac barrels. It is a very smooth and very tasty drink. One anejo I’ve tried is aged in some type of wine barrel, giving the tequila a rose color and an after taste of chocolate covered cherry. I’ve tried over a hundred different tequilas and have quite a bottle collection of the ones I found more decorative. Because of the different flavors from different aging barrels, not every tequila is to my liking and some of the lesser costly ones I prefer over some of the more costly. My current go to is Adictivo, which is good in a different way regardless of the aging.

    While I don’t drink tequila that requires a chaser, I do prefer to have either water or a spicy tomato juice to cleanse the pallet for the next sip of tequila.
    Keep sipping and keep enjoying.

  14. Jack
    Jack at | | Reply

    I have been in Mexico many times and lived there on three occasions. Have tasted many tequilas, mezcal or pulque. While the better tequilas are made from the blue agave, all essentially are made from many verities of the agave plant which also includes maguey. Pulque is made from fermented maguey and mezcal (the one with the worm in the bottle) is made from the mezcal plant. Seen all and tried different ways of drinking the spirits. I would say that the style of drinking; straight, on the rocks, with salt and limon or other way is all acceptable and only depends on ones taste buds. Among my friends, where some are very sophisticated Mexican people, some would drink fresh tequila and will not touch reposado nor anejo and there are others who are vice versa. In another words, drink to your content and pleasure and experiment to see what you like the best; the style, brand and type.
    Want to add another way of drinking tequila that was not mentioned an is very popular and not necessarily only with the “young, gold” or ‘silver” tequila. It is to alternate sip of tequila with a sip of sangrita.

  15. Peter DeRoche
    Peter DeRoche at | | Reply

    I do not usually drink hard liquor but I discovered small batch tequila while down in Mexico a few years ago. I am now a convert but don’t buy it up here in Canada because it just isn’t very good. Sipping is the way to go, hands down!

  16. Fernando Gomez
    Fernando Gomez at | | Reply

    In the photo by bobbymond, the guys are drinking several things, and each guy has two caballitos: one with tequila, and anotherone with a red stuff. The red stuff is called sangrita (from sangre, blood, because of the colour, I guess), and it is a very good sidekick to tequila; it is made out of orange juice and small chili extracts. Tequila CAN be used as an appetite stimulant with this combination: tequila, sangrita and a lime. My father used to drink it this way.

    Another way to drink tequila is with submarines. You fill a caballito with tequilta and place it upside down (carefull not to spill!) within a glass. Then you fill the glass with beer (the caballito now being the submarine) and keep the caballito from floating using a finger. Then you drink the hole thing, one zip at a time, as you let float the caballito from time to time, so as to release small portions of tequila into the beer.

  17. Lindsey J. Angell
    Lindsey J. Angell at | | Reply

    I found 100% blue agave tres generations anejo an awesome sipping tequila. Smooth and very nice tasting with a really nice but light aftertaste. On one evening I had 7 shots and it literally did not affect me any more than a single bottle of Corona beer does. Unreal. Now I am going to look for the 100% blue agave extra…

  18. Santiago Asís Jr
    Santiago Asís Jr at | | Reply

    I am mexican too, and I found this usefull to share with a russian friend. Thanks)

  19. Ale
    Ale at | | Reply

    Absolutely loved your post! It is all true. I am mexican and went to the tequila tour, it was an amazing experience!

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