What Is Tequila Made From?

Ever sip on a margarita and wonder, what is tequila made from? We break down what you need to know about Mexico's most famous spirit.

In a cocktail, as a shooter or as a spirit to sip on, tequila in all its forms remains super popular. It’s not hard to find a good tequila, either. But there’s more to tequila than meets the eye. You might be surprised to learn how tequila is made and what types of tequila you can buy.

Mix yourself a margarita on the rocks—it’s time to learn all about tequila.

What Is Tequila Made From?

Tequila is a type of mezcal, a spirit produced from agave. Unlike mezcal, which can be made from a number of different agave varieties, tequila is only made with Weber’s blue agave or agave tequilana. Confused? It’s kind of like how all scotch is whiskey but not all whiskey is scotch.

The blue agave thrives in Mexico, in the highlands of Jalisco. It takes over seven years to reach maturity! Once mature, agave farmers (called jimadors) harvest the large succulents by removing the leaves and exposing the hearts (or piñas) which are sent off to a distillery.

How Is Tequila Made?

The process starts as the piñas bake in special ovens. This converts all the starch in the piñas into sugar—a must for fermenting into alcohol. The next step is shredding and pressing the piñas, releasing all the sugars. Many producers add yeast to kick off fermentation, though some allow native wild yeasts to get things going. This juice ferments for up to four days before being distilled to reach the minimum alcohol content required by law. From here, the tequila is either bottled or aged.

Tequila can only be produced in five states in Mexico: Jalisco, Michoacan, Nayarit, Guanajuato and Tamaulipas. Most tequila is made in Jalisco, where the sandy soil is ideal for growing blue agave. (It’s also where you’ll find the town of Tequila.)

Tequila Styles 101

There are several different styles of tequila to know. Below you’ll find the main types of tequila and the best way to enjoy them:

  • Blanco: If you’re mixing up a few tequila cocktails, blanco is your best bet. This is the youngest tequila style, which can be bottled immediately after distillation or rested for a maximum of two months. Doing a shot of tequila? Blanco is the way to go. They’re great for cooking with, too.
  • Joven: Joven is a mix of unaged tequilas (or occasionally aged and unaged). It’s made in the same way as blanco and gets its pretty golden hue from coloring. It’s inexpensive and is a winner in cocktails.
  • Reposado: Reposado and other tequilas that see aging are darker in color than their blanco and joven counterparts. They also have a richer flavor thanks to time spent in barrels. Tequila must age for at least two months to meet the requirements for reposado.
  • Añejo: Añejo is the next step up, with the spirit needing a year of aging to qualify for the classification. It usually spends between one and three years in barrel. This is a sipper, not a shooter, and makes a fantastic introduction to high-end tequila.
  • Extra Añejo: Like añejo, extra añejo is a sipping tequila, the same way you’d enjoy a glass of whiskey neat rather than in a cocktail. Expect a smooth profile and hint of toast and wood in a glass of extra añejo.

Editor’s Tip: Planning on pouring yourself a few ounces of reposado or añejo? Serve it neat or over ice to experience all the nuances in your glass.

When you’re ready to put a spin on a tried-and-true classic, try one of these next-level margarita recipe upgrades and other pairings for what to mix with tequila.

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Camille Berry
Part of the third generation in a family of restaurateurs, Camille was born with a passion for cooking and food. She embarked on a career in hospitality where she excelled as a sommelier and wine director. This hospitality experience has given her a wealth of first-hand knowledge about how to pair all manner of drinks with food—plus some serious kitchen skills. These days, she's hung up her wine key in favor of a pen and covers all aspects of food and drink.