Tequila is no longer a mere shot for a night you won’t remember. Across the world, and closer home, fine-dining restaurants and award-winning bars are recognising the depth and complexity of agave spirits, and (re) introducing it to diners through innovative cocktails. If you’ve only ever tasted tequila as a shot, but are curious to get to know the spirit, here’s a great way to start. We spoke to the tequila experts in India: Rahul Kamath, the Beverage Head at Pune’s first tequila bar JUJU, and Vicky Singh, cofounder of Mumbai’s vibrant Mexican food and drink restaurant Mezcalita, to put together an essential glossary of all things tequila.
The origins of tequila
Agave tequilana: Commonly known as blue agave, this is the source of tequila. For the spirit to be called tequila, it needs to be made with a minimum of 51% blue agave. It should also be produced within the regions of Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacan, Nayarit or Tamaulipas. The Jalisco region is the highest producer of tequila amongst these regions.
Jimador: The farmer who is responsible for cultivating and harvesting the agave plant for the production of tequila and mezcal. Agave plants can take anywhere from 8 to 12 years to mature and a jimador has a keen eye for perfectly ripe agave. These skilled artisans, with hands weathered by agave, carefully select and harvest the ripest piñas, ensuring that every drop of tequila carries the essence of their dedication.
Tahona: Beyond the machinery, the tahona is the heartbeat of traditional tequila production. Its stone wheel, grinding the agave with a rhythmic cadence, imparts a rustic charm to tequilas, making them a testament to time-honoured craftsmanship.
Piña: The piña, resembling a giant pineapple, is the heart of tequila alchemy. It undergoes a transformative journey from field to still, where its sugars are coaxed out to craft the liquid gold that is tequila.
Abocantes: These are “mellowing” agents—like caramel, glycerin, wood tincture—that are legal additives to mimic the effect of ageing. They do not necessarily need to be included in the spirit label.
The types of tequila
Blanco: Translating to “white”, this type of tequila can be bottled directly after distillation or rested in stainless steel or neutral oak barrels to allow oxidisation for up to two months. This style of tequila is mostly used in cocktails or mixing.
Joven: Translating to “young”, joven sometimes blends unaged and aged tequilas. This is more commonly an unaged tequila produced in the same way as blanco but is typically given a golden hue by adding colour & additives for flavour.
Reposado: Reposado means rested and this type of tequila must be aged in oak barrels for a minimum of two months and up to 12 months. It’s recommended for mixed drinks & sipping.
Añejo: Aged in oak casks with a maximum capacity of 600 litres for between 1-3 years, this type of tequila often has a toasty, vanilla & citrus flavour. This style of tequila is best for sipping.
Extra Añejo: This must be aged at least three years in oak barrels with a maximum capacity of 600 litres. These generally have more of a smoky flavour & can be compared to fine French Cognacs with similar price tags.
The tequila cocktails to know
Margarita: Probably the most well-known tequila cocktail, a Margarita is a simple combination of lime, triple sec and blanco tequila, served with a salt rim on the glass. It’s typically served shaken or blended with ice, or with no ice.
Paloma: This cocktail is a mix of tequila, lime juice, and a grapefruit-flavoured soda, served on the rocks with a lime wedge.
Cantarito: Though lesser-known around the world, this is a Mexican street-side special, typically served in chilli-salt rimmed terracotta glasses. Ingredients include fresh grapefruit and orange juice, tequila and lime.
Tequila Sunrise: The Tequila Sunrise is not just a cocktail; it's a sunrise in a glass. The vibrant hues mimic the dawn sky, and each layered sip is an invitation to revel in the visual and gustatory spectacle—a true masterpiece in mixology.
Jalapeño-Infused Tequila: For those who crave a fiery twist, jalapeño-infused tequila is a revelation. It's not just about heat; it's a marriage of tequila's earthy warmth and the bold kick of jalapeño—a daring fusion that elevates the tequila experience.
This story originally appeared on Conde Nast Traveller India