Where Does Tequila Come From?

Tequila is a type of strong drink that is made by distilling a plant called blue agave. It is mostly made in an area close to the city of Tequila, which is northwest of Guadalajara.

farmers are cutting and harvesting the agave balls that will go to the tequila factory

It is also made in the mountains of the state of Jalisco in Mexico. Although tequila is often associated with Mexico, it can only be produced in certain areas of the country. These places are called Jalisco, Michoacan, Nayarit, Guanajuato, and Tamaulipas.

The blue agave plant, which is used to make tequila, originally comes from Mexico. The plant thrives in the special soil found in the Jalisco highlands, which comes from volcanoes and has lots of iron and other minerals. The plant needs about 8 to 12 years to grow fully, and people collect it manually. The green parts of the plant are taken off. Then, the main part of the plant, called the piña, is cooked and mashed to get the juice out. The juice is fermented and turned into alcohol to make tequila.

Tequila has been around since the 16th century. The drink was first made near the city of Tequila, which was built by the Spanish in 1530. The Spanish people brought a process called distillation to Mexico. They started using it to make a drink called tequila by distilling the juice from a plant called the blue agave. Nowadays, tequila is a well-liked beverage that is enjoyed by many people worldwide. It is commonly consumed in mixed drinks like the margarita.

Origins of Tequila

Tequila is a distilled alcoholic beverage that is made from the blue agave plant and is primarily produced in the area surrounding the city of Tequila, 65 km (40 mi) northwest of Guadalajara, and in the highlands (Los Altos) of the central western Mexican state of Jalisco.

two man working in a tequila farm or factory

The origins of tequila can be traced back to the pre-Columbian era when the Aztecs fermented the sap of the agave plant to make a drink called pulque.

The Olmecs, who lived in the Gulf of Mexico region around 1000 BCE, were the first to cultivate the agave plant. They used it for food, clothing, and medicine. The Aztecs, who came later, used agave for medicinal purposes and to make pulque, a fermented drink. The Spanish invasion of Mexico in the 16th century led to the introduction of distillation techniques, which were used to create the first tequila.

The first large-scale distillery in what is now Tequila, Jalisco was built by the Marquis of Altamira in the early 1600s. The production of tequila in the region was further boosted by the opening of a trade route between Manila and Mexico by the Spanish government in the mid-1500s. This led to an increase in the importation of Asian goods, including sugar cane, which was used to sweeten tequila.

Today, tequila is a recognized Appellation of Origin (AOC) and can only originate from an officially delimited region, which includes 181 municipalities in five Mexican states, including the entire state of Jalisco, and specific bordering areas of the surrounding states of Guanajuato, Michoacán, and Nayarit.

The production process of tequila has remained relatively unchanged since the 17th century, with the agave being harvested by hand and then cooked, mashed, fermented, and distilled to create the final product.

The Agave Plant

Tequila is made from the blue agave plant, which is a succulent in the lily family. The blue agave, also known as Weber blue agave, is the only agave used in tequila production. The plant grows in the highlands of Jalisco, Colima, Nayarit, and Aguascalientes in Mexico, where it can reach over 2 meters (7 feet) in height.

Blue Agave

The blue agave is the most important ingredient in tequila production. It takes about 8 to 12 years for the plant to mature before it can be harvested.

a man harvest a agave plant to make a tequila

The plant has thick, fleshy leaves that are bluish-green in color, and it is the piña, the heart of the plant, that is used to make tequila. The piña can weigh anywhere from 40 to 200 pounds, depending on the age and size of the plant.

Agave Harvesting

Harvesting the blue agave is a labor-intensive process that requires skilled workers known as jimadores. They use a special tool called a coa to remove the leaves from the piña and then extract it from the ground. The piñas are then transported to the distillery, where they are cooked to convert the starches into fermentable sugars.

Tequila Production

Tequila is a distilled spirit made from the blue agave plant, primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila in the Jaliscan Highlands of the central western Mexican state of Jalisco. The production process of tequila involves several steps, including the fermentation process, distillation process, and aging and maturation.

Fermentation Process

The fermentation process is a crucial step in tequila production. It involves converting the fermentable sugars found in the agave plant into alcohol.

fermentation process to make tequila in Jalisco, Mexico.

The agave plant is first harvested and cooked to extract the juice. The juice is then mixed with water and yeast to begin the fermentation process. The yeast consumes the sugars in the juice and produces alcohol. The fermentation process typically takes 3-5 days and is closely monitored to ensure consistency in quality and pH levels.

Distillation Process

After fermentation is complete, the resulting liquid is distilled twice to produce tequila. The first distillation produces a clear spirit called “ordinario,” which is then distilled a second time to produce tequila.

The distillation process removes impurities and concentrates the alcohol content. The tequila must be distilled to a minimum of 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof) and a maximum of 55% alcohol by volume (110 proof).

Aging and Maturation

After distillation, the tequila is aged and matured in barrels for a period of time. The aging process gives the tequila its color and flavor. The longer the tequila is aged, the darker and more complex its flavor becomes. The different types of tequila are categorized based on their aging and maturation time.

  • Blanco: unaged tequila that is bottled immediately after distillation
  • Reposado: aged for a minimum of 2 months and a maximum of 12 months in oak barrels
  • Añejo: aged for a minimum of 1 year and a maximum of 3 years in oak barrels
  • Extra Añejo: aged for a minimum of 3 years in oak barrels

The type of barrel used for aging also affects the flavor of the tequila. American oak barrels impart a vanilla and caramel flavor, while French oak barrels give a spicier flavor.

Tequila production is a highly regulated process in Mexico, and only certain regions are allowed to produce tequila. The production of tequila is overseen by the Mexican government, and only distilleries that meet strict regulations are allowed to produce tequila.

Tequila Varieties

Tequila is a distilled spirit made from the blue agave plant, primarily in the area surrounding the city of Tequila, Mexico. There are several types of tequila, each with their own unique characteristics and production methods.

Blanco Tequila

Blanco tequila, also known as silver or white tequila, is a clear spirit that is bottled immediately after the distillation process. It is the purest form of tequila and has a strong, earthy flavor with a hint of sweetness. It is often used in cocktails and is a popular choice for shots.

barman pours blanco tequila from a bottle in five shots - Where Does Tequila Come From?

Reposado Tequila

Reposado tequila is aged for a minimum of two months and up to one year in oak barrels. This aging process gives the tequila a golden color and a smoother, more complex flavor. It is often used in cocktails but can also be enjoyed on its own.

Joven Tequila

Joven tequila, also known as gold or young tequila, is a blend of blanco and reposado tequila. It is often used in cocktails and has a smoother flavor than blanco tequila.


Mixtos are tequilas that are made from a blend of blue agave and other sugars, such as cane sugar or corn syrup. These tequilas are often cheaper and lower in quality than 100% blue agave tequilas.

Premium Tequilas

Premium tequilas are made from 100% blue agave and are often aged for longer periods of time. These tequilas have a smoother, more complex flavor and are often enjoyed on their own or in cocktails.

Craft Tequilas

Craft tequilas are produced by smaller, independent distilleries and often use traditional production methods. These tequilas are often made from 100% blue agave and can have unique flavors and characteristics.

Please drink responsibly, be fully accountable with your alcohol consumption, and show others respect.

Written by Rocco

Rocco is a Florida State University alumnus with years of bartending and hospitality experience. From slinging hundreds of vodka sodas a night in jam-packed college bars to serving carefully crafted cocktails in upscale restaurants, there’s not much he hasn’t done behind a bar. Now, Rocco shares his knowledge and passion for all things alcohol-related here on My Bartender for bibulous readers everywhere to enjoy.

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