For most people in the United States and Canada, Tequila is a very misunderstood drink.

Images of college spring-break kids shooting shots, chanting “one tequila, two tequila, three tequila, FLOOR!” and wet T-shirt contests—with a headache the next morning—usually prevent sophisticated people from pursuing the mysteries and finer pleasures that the National Drink of Mexico offers.

Let me help you with this, because there is so much to enjoy about this beverage. If you decide that you want to try tequila gently, and possibly include it in your cabinet of fine liquors, take advantage of our simple guide below.

Your world will open. Let’s dive in to your guide to drinking tequila!

Only choose 100% Blue Agave tequilas

Simply put, stay away from Mixtos and look for the 100% Agave denotation on the bottle.

A Mixto label might say “made from agave” but it won’t advertise 100% Agave. Mixtos have a lot of additives, other sugars, and impurities, and these are the things that will give you a hangover the next morning.

If it doesn’t say 100% Agave, move on to the next bottle.

Only use 100% pure agave tequila - your guide to drinking tequila - Frayed Passport

100% Pure Agave clearly marked on this bottle of Reposado tequila

Three main styles – Blancos, Reposados, Anejos

Next in our guide to drinking tequila: the three main styles of this delicious beverage.

Blancos: Generally, blanco tequilas are not aged, and have a fiery taste to them. Since all fine tequilas are meant to be sipped (like a fine cognac), if you are not inclined to a fiery POW! in the mouth, then for your initial purchase, we recommend that you move straight to the Reposados or an Anejo, for the smoother and sweeter flavor.

Reposados: These tequilas are aged in American or French white oak barrels for up to one year. Because of this aging, the intense fire of the drink has been somewhat mellowed, and you will taste the characteristics of the barrel. Most Reposados will have a golden color to them and a pleasing, slightly sweet flavor.

Anejos: Tequila that has been aged in a barrel for up to 3 years has been softened. It also will carry the distinguishing characteristics of the wooden barrel in the liquid and will be slightly sweet as well.

Many styles, many names, many bottles of tequila. All of these are premium 100% agave tequila - Tequila Drinking Guide - Frayed Passport

Many styles, many names, many bottles of tequila. All of these are premium 100% agave tequila

Sip—don’t shoot it down

Tequila is made from an indigenous plant unique to Mexico called agave. The soil in which the agave grows affects the taste of the end product. It can be sweet, spicy, fruity, earthy or woody. Also, if the agave has met with drought or weather variations, that can affect the plant and therefore, the taste. This is similar to grape production for wine making.

Producing tequila is a centuries-old tradition handed down from generation to generation, and each distillery has their own way of accenting the flavor of their particular brand.

If you shoot down tequila in one open-throated gulp, you miss all the delicious complexity of the agave flavor. You are also disrespecting the centuries of hand-crafted quality that the Master Distiller has brought to his tequila.

Sipping is recommended.

A typical tequila tasting at La Altena Distillery, Arandas, Mexico - Tequila tasting guide - Frayed Passport

A typical tequila tasting at La Altena Distillery, Arandas, Mexico

First find a small wine glass, champagne flute or a brandy snifter.

Pour about an ounce-and-a-half of the tequila of your choice into this “copa” and swirl it around. “Nose” your tequila and try to pick up aromas that have been released into the glass. Take a small sip and let it roll around your tongue, swallow, and then breathe out gently. The breathing out will also enhance your tasting of this fine essence, and it will disperse any “fire.”

The first sip might be a little intimidating and you could feel an alcohol burn. No worries. The original sip will coat your tongue and warm up your mouth.

The tequila will change flavor as you continue to sample, and as the air mixes with the drink. Swirl your liquid around in the globe again and from time to time. As you nip the liquid delicately, the aromas and sweetness will begin to reveal themselves to you.

Companions to your tequila

Of course, tequila can be enjoyed alone, without food or snacks. But sometimes when you are having a gathering, it can be fun to have some food to contrast with the flavor of the drink.

In the olden days, Mexicans would slice a certain fresh cheese and nibble on this as they sipped their tequila. Today, a glass of sangrita can be an accompaniment to your drink and there are various recipes you can find online.

Tequila aging in American white oak barrels - tequila drinking guide - Frayed Passport

Tequila aging in American white oak barrels

When we have visited quality distilleries, items like hot, spicy green olives have been recommended in between sips. Personally, we enjoy various sliced cheeses, dips, crunchy chips or crackers, and even fruit, chocolate or a favorite sweet can be an attractive partner to tequila.

Summing up our guide to drinking tequila

In general, we suggest that you savor this fine drink, swirling it around in your copa, looking for the “legs” on the sides of the glass. Take a bit of cheese, an olive or a slice of apple and enjoy the contrast. “Nose” your tequila and sip again.

You may find that the taste of the tequila will enamor you over time, and now that you know how to appreciate the National Drink of Mexico, this addition to your liquor cabinet will always be a topic of conversation.

If you want to know how your bottle of tequila rates with experts and serious tequila drinkers, download the Tequila Matchmaker app. It’s the most extensive tequila database to date, and you’ll meet others who are connoisseurs of this drink. You’ll never stop discovering new things about tequila and this makes it lots of fun!

Want to know more about other amazing drinks around the world? Have a look at our history of the pisco sour, and our guide to the mojito! 

About the Author

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance, medical tourism and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their award winning website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurer’s Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible available on their website bookstore or on Amazon.com.