Tequila’s Rich History at a Glance


by Melissa Jimenez

“When you have a drop of tequila on the tongue, it is like a concentrated universe. Not everyone can sense that universe enclosed within tequila’s fiery flavor, but it is there waiting for anyone able to decipher it.” –Novelist Alberto Ruy-Sànchez of Tequila and Artes de México

Tequila’s taste is bold and rich in complexity that many find irresistible like the Mexican culture itself. With October 22nd quickly approaching, The Monterey Tequila and Mezcal Expo continues to highlight the nationally historic drink of Mexico. Now is a great opportunity to review some of the surrounding components that make up this wonderful event that is filled with culture and history.

The distilled spirit is derived from the blue agave plant known as Agave tequilana Weber, which is one of 136 species that are grown in Mexico.  The Arabic distillation invention that originated it was used by several alcohols, including tequila, and was introduced to Mexico by the Spaniards. There are still existing distilleries that date back to the late 1700’s, where a local patron was granted licensing.  It wasn’t until 1997, when Mexico reached an agreement with Europe to respectfully have tequila maintain its origins by only using Agave tequilana Weber.

The beginning stages of tequila begin by harvesting the blue agave that can take anywhere between seven to ten years to mature, depending on the region. The long, spiky leaves are cut away to the reveal what is left, apart from the root, which is the heart of the plant and also known as the piña. Don Cerefino, who is an agave farmer or jimador, states that some piñas can weigh over a staggering 300 pounds. The piña is then taken to the factory by farmers so that it is cooked by ovens or autoclaves and then pressed by crushing mills to a juice. The juice is then put in large vats where yeast is added in order to start the fermentation process. The juice is then transferred to stills where the juice is boiled at exceedingly high temperature to transform the liquid to what we know as tequila. If the tequila is not considered to be 100% agave, additional ingredients such as other sugars are added during the fermented process making the tequila, also known as a mixto .  The majority of higher quality tequilas are 100% agave, as well as all the premium tequilas manufactured.

There are four types of tequilas that are manufactured: blanco, reposado, añejo, and extra añejo. The blanco tequila is clear and typically distilled two or more times. The reposado favors a light, woody hue and often a takes a two month rest in oak or holm barrels for a smoother taste. The third type of tequila is the añejo. This tequila is darker, like a caramel, and is also matured for at least a year in barrels. The last tequila that rests the longest with the most flavors is the extra añejo. The extra añejo rests in barrels for a minimum of three years and its color may also vary, depending on the type of wooden barrel that is used. Depending on the tequila manufacturer, these types of tequila can vary in color and taste, as well as length of distillation time inside barrels.

Some individuals may not associate the distinctive differences between tequila and mezcal. The signature maguey worm at the bottom of the bottle often rings a bell when people automatically think of tequila. This is false! The worm is only featured in some bottles of mezcal and never tequila because the worm feeds on the plant that the mescal is produced from and can also be bottled to act as an enhancer to the flavor of the mescal itself. Mezcal is produced by using several varieties of agave and ready for consumption after a single distillation unlike tequila, where it only uses the blue variety and requires a minimum of two distillations. The mezcal tends to have a more pronounced flavor and color than tequila.

There are well over 1,100 brands of tequila that are sold on the market today. The list continues to grow, but what is unique is how manufacturers still continue to use the same distillation techniques as they had in the past. Tequila can be enjoyed alone, in cocktails, soups, main dishes, and desserts. Despite the many possibilities with tequila and mescal, it can be guaranteed that it will be thoroughly enjoyed for more years to come.

Please stay tuned for next month’s Modern Latina Newsletter where you will find more upcoming information regarding the Monterey Tequila and Mezcal Expo in the fall, an interview with a tequila judge, and how to appropriately drink tequila like a connoisseur!

Melissa Jimenez is a native of Monterey Bay, CA. She served in the United States military for six years and currently works for a non-profit organization. She has a deep love for baking, writing, music, and art. Melissa received her Bachelor’s degree from Saint Leo University of Florida in psychology.


Alberto Ruy-Sànchez and Margarita de Orellana, Tequila, (2004). Smithsonian Books in association with Artes de México, México, D.F.

All About Tequila and Mezcal. (n.d)Retrieved from ETastings.com: http://www.tastings.com/spirits/tequila.html=


Tyson, Joseph A. (n.d)Tequila Source. Retrieved from Tequila Source: http://tequilasource.com/tequilabrands.htm