Tequila comes in three main types: the blanco, or pure white type, which is young; reposado (‘rested’), which has aged for a few months; and añejo, which has had a year in the barrel. Reliable brands include Sauza and Jose Cuervo, while the upmarket Cazadores from the Highlands in Jalisco make a particularly attractive blanco which is now more widely available in the UK.
For a better Margarita, try using the reposado blended with half that amount of lime juice, and a good splash of Cointreau. Another cocktail worth the mix is the Paloma (equal parts of blanco tequila, grapefruit juice and soda, over ice). For a sangrita chaser to go with a tequila shot, use equal amounts of orange, grapefruit, tomato and lime juice, with a judicious bit of finely chopped chilli for a fiery kick. The traditional slammer is a shot glass full mainly of tequila with some added soda or lemonade, banged firmly on the table a few times (one expert recommends using a business card to cap the glass – just don’t hand it out afterwards). And a surprisingly effective party drink, given the unlikeliness of the ingredients, is a punch promoted by Lourdes Nichols, the cookery writer who single-handedly first brought good Mexican dishes and ingredients to the UK:
one large bottle of tequila,
two litres each of American dry ginger and soda,
the juice of six oranges and six limes,
½ pound granulated sugar,
mixed and chilled for at least an hour, then served with ice cubes; stand well back.
Better places to drink tequila in the UK include the atmospheric Green and Red in Shoreditch, Wahaca in Covent Garden and Westfield, Casa Mexicana in Bristol and the Las Iguanas chain throughout the country; Wahaca under the inspired guidance of Thomasina Miers has the edge when it comes to the food, with huitlacoche mushrooms and sliced cactus dishes among the more usual tacos and quesadillas.
In the States, my heart belongs to Rosa Mexicana, which has different branches uptown and downtown in New York, as well as Washington, Miami and L.A.
In Mexico City, the Hilton put me up and mixed an old style Tequila Oil, which the barman remembered well as a 70s vogue. La Valentina on Insurgentes Sur (also with a branch in Polanco) served me fried worms soaked in tequila when I ate there many years ago, and is still good.
But for a musical backdrop for that perfect margarita, it’s still hard to beat the Plaza Garibaldi in central Mexico City where couples and families go to be serenaded by those prototypical Mexicans, the mariachis: the Tenampa bar is their Grand Ole Opry House, an eighty year-old shrine to the tradition, with pictures of old maestros like Agustín Lara on the walls and almost a mariachi band to every table. Not the place for a quiet drink, but heaven if, like me, you love the sentimentality and emotion of songs like ‘Adelita’. Last time I was there, I got a salmon-suited caporal and his full 10-piece band (the proper size: 3 trumpets, 3 guitars, 3 violins and a singer) to play ‘Mi Guajirita’, the great lament of the Mexican male whose ‘Guajirita’ loves him totally and would kill him if his own love wavered, with its swelling and desperate chorus: ‘Quiéreme, quiéreme más / quiéreme, quiéreme más, love me, love me even more / love me, love me even more.’ Another chelita with a tequila chaser please…
For more background, see ‘Tequila Tales‘ in the Financial Times.