Before moving to Mexico, I had no idea of the plethora of Mexican drinks that existed. Embarrassing as it is to admit, I pretty much just thought of tequila, margaritas, and Corona. Well, my friends, I’m here to share with you far more Mexican beverages that just those three.
For those that want something fresh and light, there are tons of simple non-alcoholic Mexican drinks, delicious Mexican beers that you’ve probably never heard of, and more liquors to sample than just tequila (although I still love tequila very much).
Traditional Mexican Drinks
Non-Alcoholic Mexican Beverages
There are so many options when it comes to non-alcoholic Mexican drinks. While it isn’t technically a Mexican drink, you will without a doubt find Coca Cola all over this country. You may be in a tiny town that has a tiny shop and if that shop only sells one thing, it will sell Coca Cola. Usually in a glass bottle.
However, you’ll also find a nice selection of other drinks around Mexico, especially at food stalls and little restaurants.
Agua fresca literally translates as fresh water, but this is so much better than just a refreshing glass of H2O. Agua frescas are a broader name for drinks that are usually made from different types of fruits mixed in with water.
It’s also worth noting that many have sugar added to them already. If you walk up to a stall that has huge jars of juices on the counter, you can bet that they’ve already added sugar to them. If you go to a stand that is making them fresh, however, you can usually ask for it to be made without sugar (sin azucar).
Some classic agua frescas that you’ll find in many places around the country include:
- Limon (often with chia) – basically a delicious limeade.
- Pepino – juice made from cucumbers
- Sandia – juice made from watermelon
- Fresa – juice made from strawberries
- Cebada – a drink made from barley
- Guayaba – juice made from guavas
- Maracuya – a juice made from passion fruit
Agua de Jamaica
This is usually referred to as an agua fresca in many places around the country. It’s basically an iced tea made with hibiscus flowers. The dried flowers are soaked in water and then they usually add sugar and serve it with ice. It’s one of my favorite non-alcoholic Mexican drinks that you can get and it’s crazy refreshing on a hot day.
If you order this in Mexico, just be sure to pronounce it “ha-mai-ka”
Traditional horchata, pronounced “or-cha-ta,” is rice milk that is also made with vanilla and cinnamon. However, I have seen it made all kinds of ways. Often when I order an Horchata from a street vendor who is making it fresh, it’s made with oats, water, coconut sugar, and cinnamon. I’ve even seen people add actual milk to it as well, so if you are vegan, be sure to ask for it without milk.
Licuados usually have the same flavors as agua frescas, but instead of being made with water, they are made with milk. It tastes quite rich and indulgent and if they blend it with ice it can taste something like a milkshake (I particularly recommend trying a strawberry licuado if you enjoy strawberry milkshakes!).
Atole is a popular drink to have with breakfast. Most vendors that sell tamales usually also sell atole. It’s a thick drink made with hot corn masa (the same stuff that’s used to make tortillas). Similar to horchata, it’s also more modernly made with oats and tastes a little something like a hot cup of oatmeal.
The best atole I had was in Oaxaca where all of the markets there seem to be making it properly with corn masa and plenty of sugar.
Champurrado is chocolate atole. It’s popular in Oaxaca and Chiapas where corn masa and cocoa seems to be in just about everything. I find this to actually be quite bitter compared to the delicious Oaxacan-style hot chocolate, but if you want a morning drink that doesn’t have much sugar, this is a nice pairing with your chilaquiles.
Hot chocolate has many names around the country, but I’ve found that simply chocolate or chocolate caliente seems to be the obvious name on most menus. Many people expect that Mexican hot chocolate is going to be thick and creamy, but the most authentic Mexican hot chocolates from Oaxaca and Chiapas are actually made with water.
Dairy wasn’t introduced in Mexico until the arrival of the Spanish, but cocoa was part of the native Mexican diet for a long time before the arrival of milk and cream. The thin Mexican hot chocolate is bitter, a touch sweet, and rich with chocolate flavor. Head to a market in Oaxaca City and order it up with a side of pan de yema.
Pan de yema is a touch stale and when you dip it into the rich chocolate the two marry together into a sweet, soft delight in the mouth. You can usually also order your hot chocolate with milk rather than water, but I highly recommend tasting the original before moving onto the creamier version.
Cafe de Olla
If you head to an old-fashioned cafe in Mexico or you see a vendor selling coffee on the street, it’s very likely that the coffee they are selling is cafe de olla. This deliciously sweet brew is black coffee mixed with cinnamon and piloncillo, or pure cane sugar. The coffee tends to be made slightly weaker than a strong Americano, so you really enjoy the flavor of the cinnamon and sugar.
Pozol is the a drink made from the fermented corn dough of the same name. It’s a drink that has been around since before the arrival of the Spanish and is most popular in the states of Chiapas and Tabasco. The fermented corn dough is mixed with water and usually cocoa or a little bit of sugar. It’s usually quite thick and I’ve had it both warm and cold (when it’s warm it is particularly delicious and thick).
If you thought there were enough corn-based drinks on this list, well, you’d probably be right, but there are still more. Tejate is perhaps one of my favorites of the corn-based drinks in Mexico because of the texture and because of the fact that it’s usually served over ice, making it a very refreshing drink on a hot afternoon.
Tejate is made with a combination of maize and cocoa. It’s thick and a little chunky, which sounds not at all appetizing, but I promise the flavor is unique and delicious. You’ll find it all over the streets from vendors in Oaxaca City as well as some of the smaller cities in Oaxaca (like Puerto Escondido). You can also buy it in powder form and make it at home by mixing it with water.
I didn’t know whether to put this down as a non-alcoholic Mexican drink or to add it in with the booze, but I think it belongs here mostly because you can simply buy it from vendors off the street and I’ve even seen kids drinking this stuff. It is made from fermented pineapples and has such a low alcohol content that you’d have to drink the whole vat of juice to feel even a slight buzz.
Tepache is usually sweetened with piloncillo or with brown sugar in some places (although where is anyone is getting brown sugar because I have been searching for it since I moved to Mexico?) and usually, there is some cinnamon shaken on top. It’s super refreshing and usually served over ice and you can find it from many street vendors especially in the downtown area of Mexico City, Guadalajara and around the state of Sonora where it’s said to be from.
Like tepache, tejuino is a fermented drink that has a tiny little bit of alcohol, but really it’s not alcoholic. It’s made with corn masa, water, and piloncillo. Once mixed, it’s left to ferment for a couple of days so that it gets slightly fizzy. You’ll see it most often in Jalisco, especially Guadalajara where I saw it on almost every street corner.
They usually serve it with a scoop of shaved ice or nieve/sorbet plus a squeeze of lime juice and sometimes with a salted rim.
Another corn-based drink to add to the list, Tascalate made from roasted maize, cocoa, achiote, ground pine nuts, and vanilla. You’ll find it most in the state of Chiapas, but I’ve also seen it in a few places around Mexico City. Sometimes it is just chocolate and maize, other times there is a lot of vanilla and sugar. I’ve tried it a few different times and each time it has tasted quite different.
More Mexican Drinks: Uniquely Mexican Liquors and Spirits
On your next trip to Mexico, look out for these different, sometimes delicious and sometimes very interesting Mexican drinks. Some you’ll no doubt have heard of before, but I hope some are new to you and you’ll be trying fun Mexican liquors on your next drink to the region.
Of course, no list about Mexican drinks would be complete without the country’s most exported beverage. Tequila is a bit like Champagne. It’s a drink that must be made with a specific plant (blue agave) in a specific place (Tequila, Mexico). The town of tequila is a beautiful place well worth visiting and is easy enough to get to from the city of Guadalajara.
There are so many different varieties of tequila and while I appreciated a margarita before moving here, I now regularly order a good tequila and sip it (good tequila should not be shot with lime and salt).
Just like champagne is a type of sparkling wine, tequila is a type of mezcal. Mezcal can be made from any type of agave plant and can be made in any part of the country (although many, including myself, argue that the best comes from Oaxaca). Mezcal is definitely becoming more popular around the world, but the best small-batch mezcals are barely making it out of Oaxaca state, nevermind out of the country.
If you order a mezcal in Mexico, it usually comes with a few slices of orange, not lime, and the oranges have a dusting of chili and salt.
This is a controversial drink because it’s, well, sort of weird. The first time I had it I did not like it at all. The texture of a mass-produced pulque is thick and kind of like phlegm. Pulque is made from the fermented sap of a maguey plant.
I’ve had it at places that everyone recommends, like Pulqueria los Insurgentes and I thought all pulque would taste that way. But then I had a cup of pulque made in small-batch by a local farmer and it was perhaps the most delicious of all Mexican alcohols that I’ve ever had. It’s refreshing and only slightly thick. It’s fizzy and has a nice almost citrus-like flavor. I highly recommend searching out a locally-made pulque and sampling that rather than going to a bar that buys it from somewhere else.
I was kind of nervous to try rompope when I heard what it was made of – eggs, milk, and vanilla. It’s popular enough that you can buy it from the grocery store in bottles, but I highly recommend going to a bar like La Pasita in Puebla that makes their own. It’s much more flavorful and much less like eggnog.
This is a delicious little liquor that you will find most in Puebla, in particular, from La Pasita. It’s made from fermented raisins and is sweet without being too sweet. It’s usually served with a piece of cheese and a raisin inside of it. Read more about La Pasita and things to eat and drink in Puebla here.
I first heard about Pox when I traveled to San Cristobal de Las Casas in Chiapas. Pox is an alcohol made from corn, wheat, and cane sugar. It’s a clear liquor that is very strong in alcohol flavor. It’s said that the Mayas used to drink pox, particularly for ceremonial purposes, so it is quite a special drink.
Although you can still try to original “pox” recipe, it is now made with a lot of different flavorings so that you actually enjoy the taste. The best ones that I tried were vanilla and coconut.
Sotol is the traditional spirit from the state of Chihuahua, in the northern part of Mexico. Sotol is actually the name of the plant that it comes from and is in the same family as the agave plant (what is used to make tequila and other mezcals).
It’s made similarly to mezcal, but it is double-distilled which I believe actually makes it smoother in flavor. It usually has a smoky flavor and is sometimes served with agave sweetener, fruit juices, or fresh herbs.
Raicilla comes from the state of Jalisco (the same state where tequila is made, so a pretty fun state!). Just like sotol, mezcal, and tequila, raicilla comes from the agave plant. Technically it is a type of mezcal, but it has been made in the state of Jalisco for over 500 years! For the most part, raicilla remains unregulated by the government and is made mostly as a type of “moonshine.”
You’ll find it in little cantinas or at your friend’s house and it’s usually incredibly high in alcohol content, so proceed with caution. If you want to try a more mass-produced version so that you can sample the flavor, there is one company that bottles it called La Venenosa.
Another drink that must be produced in one place in order to be called this, Bacanora is an agave spirit can only be produced in the state of Sonora. It’s only been technically legal to produce since the 1990s, but it’s no doubt been made in people’s back-rooms for several generations.
It’s made from the Agave Angustifolia that is between seven and ten years old. It’s a nice smoky drink that if blind-folded could be any mezcal that I’ve ever tasted to be honest, but if you visit Sonora, it’s nice to have it in a local spot.
Mexican National Beers
There are two main companies making what they call national beers here: Moctezuma and Modelo. Most shops and bars usually have one or the other.
If they have Modelo, you’ll find:
- Corona – a light beer
- Victoria – something in between a light beer and a dark beer (but not quite amber)
- Modelo Especial – a light beer, but more flavorful than Corona
- Modelo Negro – a dark beer with a sweet-ish flavor
- Pacifico – a very light beer perfect for hot days at the beach
If they have Moctezuma, you’ll find:
- Dos Equis – a light beer with nice flavor
- Tecate & Tecate Light – two very very light beers. The only difference between the two is Tecate light has less alcohol
- Bohemia Clara – the nicest light beer in the Moctezuma collection (in my opinion)
- Bohemia Oscura – a dark beer with nice nutty flavor
- Indio – an amber beer with a lager taste (quite nice when it’s hot outside and the beer is very cold)
- Sol – a very light beer with a very light flavor
- Carta Blanca – perhaps my least favorite national beer, this is very sharp tasting and usually the cheapest beer you can buy in a shop
- Superior – a very nice lager, light and crisp and best on a hot day by the beach
Mexican Craft Beer
I’ve written extensively about my favorite beers in Tijuana, which in my opinion, is the home of craft beer in Mexico. Most bars, even where I live here in Mexico City, stock their beers on tap because they are simply the best. However, there are also great craft beers coming out of Mexico City and other cities around Mexico.
The most popular Mexican craft breweries at the moment that you’re likely to see around the country are:
- Baja Brewing Co
Traditional Mexican Cocktails
Ordering a cocktail in Mexico can spin you into a dizzying place that you probably wish you weren’t. For the most part, beer-related cocktails here require a sort of breaking in period because it’s likely you have never had anything quite like a michelada or a clamada. It’s worth trying these new drinks at least once, you may be one of those rare foreigners who enjoys clams in their beer!
Micheladas, Cubanas, & Cheladas
Depending on where you are in Mexico, you may be ordering a Michelada when what you really wanted was a Cubana or you may have ordered a Michelada when what you really wanted was a chelada.
Let’s start with the definitives. A cubana is made with beer, Worchestershire sauce, hot sauce (usually Valentina), salt, and usually rimmed with salt and chili. Sometimes this has clam juice in it in some parts of the country, although I’ve never had that in Mexico City.
A chelada is just beer with lime juice in it and the glass is rimmed with salt.
However, some places call a chelada a michelada and other places call a cubana a michelada. The general rule of thumb is that if there is a cubana on the menu, then the michelada is just beer with lime and if there is a chelada on the menu, then a michelada is a cubana.
If all three are on the menu, god bless, because I have no idea what that would be.
Clamato Preperada/Clamato Michelada
This again has a few different names depending on where in the country you have it. Clamato is a tomato juice. If you get a Clamato michelada, you are asking for a beer with tomato juice and usually some hot sauce or Worchestershire sauce in it. It’s kind of like a beer bloody mary, which isn’t altogether that bad.
Some bars also put clam juice or other seafood-related bits in a clamato – this is especially popular if you are by the coast.
Of course, just like I couldn’t leave tequila off this list, I also could not leave margaritas off the list. However, it’s not entirely clear where margaritas came from, they are certainly a strong part of the bar culture here in Mexico now. I have had absolutely delicious margaritas in Mexico and also absolutely terrible ones (always ask if it’s going to be a blended margarita, because often in cheaper establishments, they just assume that’s what you want).
The best margaritas (in my humble opinion) are made with good tequila, triple sec, and lime juice and the glass is rimmed with only salt. That being said, there are lots of great cocktail bars around Mexico attempting to liven up this drink with different juices. I’ve had grapefruit margaritas, cactus fruit margaritas, and even margaritas rimmed with salt made from grasshoppers.
This is usually just a margarita made with mezcal rather than tequila. It’s the most common name, but you’ll also see bars making up their own names and using a very wide variety of mezcals.
This is my all-time favorite cocktail in Mexico. Why they name a delicious cocktail after a dirty old pigeon, I’m still searching for the answer on, but this cocktail is refreshing and found at pretty much every good cocktail bar around Mexico (and plenty of bad cocktail bars too, to be honest!).
It’s usually made with tequila, lime juice, and fresca – a grapefruit flavored soda. However, if you are at a nicer establishment, it’s no doubt made from fresh grapefruit juice and a dash of sparkling water instead. It’s usually finished off with a slice of lime and a salted rim.
This simple cocktail is just tequila, coke, and lime juice. It’s one of the most common mixed drinks and you don’t have to head to a fancy cocktail bar for this to be made right. It’s something you can have at pretty much any bar around Mexico and even if it’s not on the menu, the waiter and bartender will know exactly what you’re asking for it you order a charro negro.
What About Mexican Wines?!
I feel like I couldn’t make this post without briefly mentioning the growing wine region of Valle de Guadalupe. I visited a few months ago and fell in love with the wine, the valley, the views, and more of the wine.
You can read my thoughts on the best wineries to try in Mexico’s Napa valley here:
Unfortunately, Mexican wines aren’t as widely exported as they should be, which is all the more reason to visit Ensenada and explore the wine region for yourself. It’s producing some beautifully refreshing rosés and really delicious reds. I enjoyed some of the heavier whites as well, but the strength of this region lies in the red grapes.