Drinks in Mexico – refrescos & bebidas
How to know what to choose from all the drinks in Mexico – in Mexico drinks are known as refrescos and bebidas – thirst quenching is an art in Mexico, from cerveza to agua frescos the creation of fresh and interesting beverages has been elevated from the simple to the sublime.
Refrescos or drinks in Mexico are generally speaking soft drinks or pop. Most soft drinks here are made with cane sugar and have a very different taste than those from North of the border made with high fructose corn syrup. Coke is the most popular refresco in Mexico other refrescos include Manzano a light bubbly apple based soda, Limon a sparkling drink with Mexican limes and Naranja an orange sparkling soda.
10 Popular Mexican Drinks to try
There is a huge variety of street food in Mexico and the accompanying beverages can be very confusing. We can divide these Mexican drinks into categories which are “beers”, alcohol-based, fruit and flower based, Coffee and Atole. The Mexicans have a talent for creating beautifully refreshing non-alcoholic drinks from fruits and flowers that are indigenous to the various regions. Of course, they are also masters of tequila and mezcal.
Authentic drinks in Mexico
1. Agua Frescas – Mexican water-based drinks
Aguas Frescas (cool waters) are a combination of fruits, cereals, flowers, or seeds blended with sugar and water to make light non-alcoholic beverages. Some of the more common flavours include tamarind, hibiscus, and agua de horchata.
You will see many signs across the Yucatan offering a variety of jugos, licuados, and aguas frescas. Licuados are refreshing smoothies of fresh fruit (or juice), evaporated milk, and ice. Aguas Frescas (“fresh waters”) are lighter drinks made by adding a small amount of fresh fruit juice and sugar to water. Hibiscus, melon, tamarind, and lime are common, but rice, flowers, cactus fruit (tuna), and other indigenous ingredients find their way into these juices.
You can order your jugos, licuados and aguas frescas (chico, grande, medio litro, etc.). If you’re ordering straight juice, specify whether you’d like it with pulp (con pulpa) or without (sin pulpa, orcolado, strained).
2. Jamaica Pronounced Ha Mai Ka this is the result of steeping the deep purple flowers of a type of hibiscus in sugar syrup and allowing the flavour and colour to develop into a deep sweet and tart tea or “juice” that tastes best when made fresh but can also be purchased pre-made here in the Yucatan. Hibiscus tea is also known as ‘sour tea,’ ‘roselle’ or ‘rosella,’ ‘sorrel’ or ‘red sorrel,’ ‘flor de Jamaica’ or simply ‘Jamaica,’ ‘karkade,’ or ‘Sudan tea.’
3. Horchata is a traditional Mexican beverage made with rice. It is flavoured with lime and cinnamon and sweetened with sugar. Originally, horchata was made with the chufa nut and sometimes melon or squash seeds. The rice, nuts or seeds are ground and mixed with water to make a milky looking drink. This drink can be found in most Mexican restaurants and is often sold by street vendors in Mexico. Since it does not contain milk, it will not spoil as easily as a dairy-containing beverage.
4. Cafe de Olla and coffee in Mexico
Coffee is one of Mexico’s most important exports, and Chiapas grows some of the best in the world. Most Mexicans like their coffee pure with no fancy syrups or whipped cream. The basic choices are Café Americano, espresso and sometimes cappuccino, served in cafes; and the widely popular café con leche, or “coffee with milk” but more accurately described as milk with coffee.
Cafe Leche also comes available in tetra pack style containers available in all major grocery stores. Café de olla is a favourite and it is traditionally brewed in a clay pot with raw sugar (piloncillo) and cinnamon.
Traditional drinks of Mexico – Atole
5. Atole and masa-based drinks have been served in the Yucatan for hundreds if not thousands of years. Atole (sa’ in Mayan) – This standard atole is made by dissolving masa in water; then it is cooked and served hot. Many people add sugar but I prefer a savoury version with chopped or mashed chile Verde (green chile de arbol) and a pinch of salt.
6. Pozole con coco – The standard refresco de pozole is put into a blender and liquefied with the meat of a whole coconut. Add sugar to taste and serve over ice. This beverage is so popular that Maya women have turned it into a cottage industry, chopping the coconut and pre-mixing it with masa. Balls of this mixture are plentiful in the Mérida market, always obvious with its white colour and protruding flecks of coconut. Just dilute in water and add sugar to taste.
7. Maíz seco (dried maize) cooked without cal. The resulting beverages are:
Sakab – Another pozole version, this one is typically served on Viernes Santo (Good Friday) and also for certain agriculture ceremonies. Farmers fill three jícaras (drinking gourds) with the pozole and leave them in the field to invite the spirits to drink so that they will bring a fertile harvest. Because the pericarp is intact, the masa and therefore the beverage has a slightly different texture and flavour.
8. Maíz Tierno (fresh maize) is cooked for less time, with just a smidgen of cal, before being ground into masa. The resulting beverages are:
9. Pozole nuevo – This beverage is naturally sweet, but most still add some sugar. Also known in Maya as this Áak’ leesh (áak’ means fresh or young).
10. Atole nuevo(áak’ sa’ in Mayan) – Cooked and served hot like standard atole – usually with sugar and a pinch of salt – this is the atole typically served with Yucatán’s Tamal Colado and also at harvest festivals.
This is similar to a raspado chamoy is mixed with fruit and chillies. Chamoy is a pickled fruit sauce of a kind and the usual fruit that is used is mango.
12. Ponche Navideño
Is a simple fruit punch which is usually sold by the street vendors. The punch itself is a great mix of different fruit and it is usually served warm and at Christmas time.
More Mexican drinks
13. The Michelada was first created in Mexico during the Mexican Revolution of 1910. As legend has it, the infamous military leader El General, Don Augusto Michel, would lead his battle-hardened soldiers to his favourite cantina in San Luis Potosi to enjoy Mexican beer with lime and added hot sauce for character.
Michelada roughly translates as “my cold beer”. The spicy concoction is a beer with tomato juice or clamato, lime and peppery seasoning. Tajin is the preferred salt, lime and pepper condiment that rims the cup and surrounds the straw of the Michelada. This salsa en polvo consists of chiles, salt and dehydrated lime it is a great way to not only use on your michelada but it is also used to enhance the flavour of fruits and vegetables. You will see it used on the cups of fruits and veggies that are often served in restaurants and street food booths.
14. Cheladas are very popular in Merida. Chelada is made with either light or dark lager, although the local dark lager, Leon Negra, was more common, lots of fresh Mexican lime juice and the glass is rimmed with either Tajin or salt.
15. Tepache, also known as pineapple “beer” is a Mexican drink made from fermenting the fruit, peel and juice of pineapples. It is very common in the Yucatan as it is pretty easy to make It’s fairly easy to make and you can find a recipe here at Saveur.
Alcohol-based Mexican Drinks
16. Xtabentún is a Yucatecan liquor made of rum, fermented honey and anise. Its name comes from the Mayan legend of two beautiful women: Xtabay, who had a good heart and Utz-Colel, who was cold and proud. When Xtabay passed away, her tomb was filled with aromatic flowers, which are the source of the honey that is fermented to make the liquor. Its name means “vine that grows on stone” or “morning glory” the xtabentun flower, comes from its seeds, which have a psychotropic effect that can cause euphoria and sleepiness.
17. Tequila and Mezcal are the true drinks of Mexico but they are often confused and it is true they both are created from the blue agave but that is where the similarities end.
Tequila is made from a single agave the “agave tequilana” or “blue agave” and it can only be produced in the state of Jalisco and in small sections of four other states. The Mexican government strictly regulates the making of tequilas, and four categories are recognized: white (silver/plata), Joven abocado, which is silver with color and/or flavor added; reposado, aged from two months to one year, in wood tanks; and anejo, aged at least one year in sealed oak barrels.
18. Mezcal traditionally has a very unique, smoky flavour that makes it fairly easy to distinguish from tequila. It also tends to taste sweeter, or richer, than tequila. You should never buy a bottle of the liquor if it contains a worm—those mezcals are for tourists and contain cheap alcohol.
Mezcal, like its cousin tequila, is made from agave, which is actually part of the asparagales botanical order, making it a relative of the yucca plant and Joshua tree. While tequila can only be made in the Tequila region, mezcal is usually produced in Oaxaca (it can legally come from anywhere in Mexico) and can be made from many types of agave, some of which only grow wild. Historically, producers used whatever agave they found locally.
The other big difference between the two types of Mexican drinks is that mezcal distillers traditionally slow roast the agave by burying it in pits with hot rocks, which infuses the final product with its signature smokiness. (Tequila’s agave is generally baked in stone ovens or autoclaves.)
In North America, tequila has become increasingly more popular with many folks learning how to drink tequila properly. Tradition has it that you “slam” back a shot of tequila and this was primarily because the alcohol sold as tequila was nasty. These days tequila drinking is an art and you should be sipping and tasting tequila just as if you would an aged Scotch or Rum.
Like the refreshments in the Yucatan, the street food is quite a bit different from the usual Mexican and you can read more about street eats here
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