In modern times, Mexican cuisine is one of the most popular types of food on the market, with many enjoying the wholesome, comforting, and rich flavor palettes that have become synonymous with the style.
Tequila is perhaps the most famous alcoholic drink to come out of Mexico, popular for its sharp taste, excellent pairing options, and reputation as a party drink.
There are countless ways tequila can be prepared and served, ranging from straight up, to any number of fruity concoctions.
One of the most popular tequila cocktails is the Tequila Sunrise, a distinctly Mexican taste of summer that has become a classic amongst cocktail enthusiasts and mixologists alike.
Despite tequila being more famous, mezcal has a much deeper lineage within Mexican history, spanning back to before the 15th century Spanish conquest, when mezcal was considered the ‘elixir of the Gods’, and agave plants would be cooked, have their juices fermented, and be consumed for ritualistic practices.
In modern times however, mezcal has risen to global popularity, with many enjoying the smoky flavors, and its versatility in terms of cocktail mixing.
A popular choice is the Mezcal (or Oaxaca) Old Fashioned, a Latin twist on the classic bourbon cocktail (see also ‘Bourbon Cocktails: 30 Of The Best‘), combining angostura bitters and sugar to create a powerful take on a traditional New York beverage.
Horchata (see also ‘What Does Horchata Taste Like?‘) is a classic Mexican beverage that can be enjoyed by all the family.
Similar to the modern iced beverages popular in coffee culture, Horchata involves cinnamon, sugar, milk, and rice, combined with hot water, and served over ice, to create a truly original and traditional sweet treat.
While difficult to describe, it could probably be compared to the British rice pudding, albeit in liquid form, and the nature of the ingredients make it an equally viable and popular choice at seasonal holidays and for summer consumption.
Also known as Mexican hot chocolate, champurrado is a chocolate-based atole – a sweet, hot corn soup-like liquid of sorts, which has been prevalent in Mexican culture for centuries.
Very popular during holidays, such as the famed Day of the Dead, and the Christmas festival Las Posadas, champurrado is often served with tamales, and can be either alcoholic or regular.
A traditional Mexican fruit punch, Ponche Navideno is a hot drink served during the Christmas season, which can be served both with or without alcohol.
Used at family gatherings, where the punch will be simmer atop the stove where guests can ladle themselves a glass, this traditional Christmas drink is reminiscent of the hot mead served throughout Europe, and is a great, hot, winter warmer to be enjoyed with loved ones.
Translating to ‘cool waters’ (or more literally, ‘fresh waters’), Agua Frescas is a light non-alcoholic beverage often made with cereals, fruits, flowers, seeds, sugar, and water.
Commonly sold by street vendors, as well as being available in juice bars, cafes, and bodegas, aguas frescas is thought to have a history stretching back to before the Spanish conquest in the 15th century, with pre-Spanish Mexicans utilizing their naturally abundant ingredients to create a sweet treat that could be enjoyed by all.
Perhaps one of the most well known and famous Mexican drinks, Margaritas are tequila cocktails, often served in pitchers during the summertime – especially popular because of their refreshing, light consistency and flavor.
While its true origins remain unknown, there are several stories that have been woven into Mexican folklore, all of which have been widely rebuked by historians.
As far as the truth goes, writings on margarita cocktails seemed to originate around the late 1930s, where the drink was referred to as a tequila replacement for the Brandy Daisy – a 19th century brandy-based drink originating in the United States.
But whatever the true origin, the popularity of the margarita remains, maintaining its place as a popular summertime drink enjoyed by cocktail enthusiasts around the world.
Considered one of the oldest drinks in Mexican culture, originating long before the Spanish influence on the culture, pulque is an agave-derived drink – created from the fermented sap of the maguey plant.
Many historians consider this to be the natural predecessor of mezcal – representing the drink prior to the Spanish conquest, when their knowledge of the distillation process saw the creation of the more highly alcoholic, mass produced mezcal spirit.
However, interest in this traditional Mexican drink has remained, offering a rustic, historic treat for mixologists and cocktail enthusiasts alike.
Distinctly Mexican, both in taste and attitude, the Michelada is a beer based cocktail – made with beer, lime juice, and spicy, chili sauces – commonly drunk in the summer as a spicy alternative to traditional beer.
Usually served with chili powder around the rim of the glass, the michelada supposedly draws its origins from the 1960s, when a man named Michel Esper would attend the Club Deportivo Potosino (in San Luis Potosi) and order his beer with lime, salt, ice, and a straw, as if it were a glass of lemonade.
Gradually, members of the club would ask for their own beers in the style of ‘Michel’s lemonade’, with the name being shortened more and more over time, until the term ‘Michelada’ stuck.
One of the more contemporary traditions within Mexican culture is the ‘Kalimotxo’ – that is, red wine mixed with Coca Cola.
This has become a popular, yet simple, cocktail consumed in bars and in people’s homes, and remains especially popular amongst students and younger people.
Cheap, strong, simple, and accessible, the drink has very much become a part of working-class culture within Mexico, utilizing only two cheap ingredients that are easy to come by and consume.
Whilst this might not be steeped in history, the popularity of this combination earns the drink a place on this list – if only for its distinctly Spanish feel and fruity flavor palette.
A famous cocktail in its own right, the Paloma is both a Mexican tradition, and a global favorite amongst cocktail lovers and mixologists alike. Known for its delicate, pink color, its light taste, and versatility, the Paloma remains a distinctly summer drink.
Translating to ‘dove’ in Spanish, the Paloma is tequila-based, and can be paired with any number of citrus fruits, depending on the flavor palette you are looking for.
Traditionally though, the tequila is paired with pink grapefruit juice, which gives the drink its refreshing flavor, and subtle pink coloring that it has come to be associated with.
Following in the rich Mexican tradition of hot alcohol, the Carajillo is hot coffee served with a shot of alcohol.
Usually tequila or mezcal, but sometimes with alcoholic liqueur, the Carajillo is very much the Mexican version of the traditional Irish coffee, replacing the distinct bite of Irish Whisky with the complex yet distinctive taste of Mexican spirits (find more Mexican coffee recipes here).
13. Cafe de Olla
Another traditional Mexican coffee beverage, Cafe de Olla literally translates to ‘coffee of the cooking pot’, and is traditionally served in a traditional earthen clay pot – which gives a distinct flavor to the coffee itself.
Typically consumed in rural communities, this Mexican tradition has a long and rich history, used as a means of staying warm and nourished in the colder regions since before the times of the Spanish conquest.
A sweet and spicy type of ‘shaved ice’ beverage that is both popular throughout Mexico and the United States, the Mangonada is as vibrant in taste as its rich, yellow-orange-red color scheme suggests.
Typically containing mango, chamoy, lime juice, and chili powder, the Mangonada is a summertime favorite for many people, and very much pays homage to the historical Mexican relationship between fruit and spicy chilis.
This combination of mezcal and citrus juice is another popular summertime cocktail consumed in Mexico and by cocktail lovers everywhere.
Somewhat reminiscent of the Margarita, the Mezcalita takes this smoky Mexican favorite, combines it with a distinctive lemon taste, and gives it that every important spice – thanks to a combination of salt and Mexican spice mixes.
16. Mexican Mojito
Having a somewhat linked history with Cuba, it is no surprise that the distinctive Havana drink has found a kindred home in Mexico.
This popularity stems from the fresh, clean taste of the drink, and has led to several Mexican variants – including the Mexican Mojito, which removes the traditional white rum, and replaces it with Mexican tequila.
While not as traditional as other drinks on this list, there is something distinctly Gulf Coast about this drink, combining the rich heritage of two different cultures and creating something truly memorable and unique.
A cold Mexican beverage made from fermented corn, the Tejuino is popularly consumed in the Mexican states of Chihuahua and Jalisco.
Usually made from corn dough (the same used in tortillas) mixed with water and piloncillo (cane sugar), the mixture is then boiled until it becomes thick and rich – similar in texture and taste to a milkshake.
Thought of as the ‘drink of the Gods’ by the Pre-Columbian Nahua people, the drink remains a popular sweet treat in many parts of Mexico today, where it can be purchased from street vendors in cups or small plastic bags.
A different take on the classic Aguas Fresca, this drink takes the historically significant beverage and gives it a distinctly modern twist – substituting the summer fruits for fresh, cool, cucumber and tangy limes – creating a truly refreshing, light summertime drink.
One of the most famous Latin drinks, Sangria was introduced to Mexico during the Spanish conquest, and is a fruit-based wine punch served cold over ice.
Deriving its name from ‘sanguine’ (blood), sangria literally means ‘bloodletting’ in its native Iberian, taking its name from the distinctive blood red color of the wine.
Often combined with solid fresh fruit segments, as well as berries and citrus juices, sangria can also be combined with spirits such as brandy to create a richer flavor palette.
20. Bloody Maria
Last on our list, but by no means least, the Bloody Maria is an interpretation of the typical Bloody Mary, replacing the traditional vodka base with tequila, to create something so distinctly Latin that you’d swear was the original.
Finding its roots in the early 20th century, where it became a popular daytime drink, many variations of the Bloody Marys and Marias can be found all over the world, each with their own distinctive flavors and spicy kicks.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why Do Mexican Drinks Contain Chilis?
The chili pepper is one of the most important elements within Mexican cuisine, and has been a part of their culture for thousands of years.
On a chemical level, the chili pepper stimulates the release of dopamine in the brain, making their consumption a pleasant experience, but on a cultural level, chili peppers form a distinct cornerstone of Mexican food and drinks.
Are There Non-Alcoholic Equivalents To The Cocktails?
The beauty of Mexican cocktails is their complex flavor palettes, made of citrus fruits, rich summer fruits, and the above mentioned chili peppers.
This distinctive and strong combination of flavors means that you can easily swap the alcohol of any cocktail on this list with a clear soda (such as lemonade or tonic water), and still feel the benefit.
And there we have it, 20 traditional Mexican beverages, each of them steeped in history, culture, and most importantly, flavor.
From this list alone, and from the wealth of things to explore, it is clear why Mexican drinks and cuisine have become so popular around the world.
Why not give them a try? Something tells me you won’t be disappointed!