When most people think of Mexican drinks, they think of margaritas. But, did you know that there is a whole world of authentic Mexican beverages to try on your next trip to Mexico? From ponche to pulque, we’re going to explore the most popular drinks in Mexico.
As a Mexicana, one of my missions in life is to get tourists in Mexico to lay off the Coronas and margaritas. Mexico has so many traditional beverages, but people obsess over those two drinks! And so, the idea for this article was born.
Mexico is a diverse nation with cultures, languages, foods, and drinks that vary in each region. It’s impossible to list every regional beverage, but I’ve done my best to list the most popular drinks.We’ll start off with non-alcoholic beverages, then move on to beers, wines, and spirits.
After that, you’ll learn how to order drinks in Spanish. Consider this your ultimate guide to traditional Mexican beverages!
- WATER IN MEXICO
- NON-ALCOHOLIC MEXICAN BEVERAGES
- MEXICAN HOLIDAY DRINKS
- BEER & WINE
- WHERE TO DRINK
- ORDERING DRINKS IN SPANISH
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WATER IN MEXICO
Let’s begin with the most basic of beverages: water. Unfortunately, agua de la llave (tap water) is not safe to drink throughout the majority of Mexico.
So where do Mexicans get their agua purificada (purified water) water from? They buy 20 liter garrafones (water jugs) for their homes and businesses. The jugs are available at convenience stores, super markets, and via delivery.
If you pay attention as you walk around any town in Mexico, you’ll see just how common purified water and ice delivery services are. There are ice stores throughout Mexico that only sell bags of ice made from purified water.
So please don’t be one of those tourists ordering everything sin hielo (without ice). Of course, use your best judgement, but remember that most restaurants and hotels don’t want to make their customers sick by using unsafe drinking water. That’s why they use both purified water and ice.
The easiest way to stay healthy and avoid buying one-time use plastic water bottles while traveling is to use a water purification bottle or UV pen.
The Grayl Geopress is the best water purification bottle we’ve found to date. With it, you can drink from the tap in Mexico (and other countries with sketchy water). Not to mention rivers, lakes, and puddles while camping or hiking. Simply fill it up and press down on the filter to remove viruses, bacteria, and protozoa, and filter out particulates, chemicals, and heavy metals.
If you worry about getting sick from drinks get a UV water purifying pen, like Steripen. It’s a small handheld pen that you can stick into any beverage (including alcoholic) to inactivate viruses, bacteria, and protozoa. It’s perfect for those times you’re concerned that unsafe water or ice is in your drink.
NON-ALCOHOLIC MEXICAN BEVERAGES
Now that you know you shouldn’t drink the tap water, let’s move on to the stuff you SHOULD be drinking in Mexico.
Next, we’ll describe the most popular Mexican beverages without alcohol and list common flavors with translations.
Agua fresca (fresh water) is a refreshing, cold drink made from fresh fruit, flowers or seeds blended with water and sugar. Large glass jars with ice are used and displayed in colorful rows at local markets.
Restaurants usually have a different agua fresca each day and it’s common for households to make a pitcher of agua fresca to go with meals.
The availability of aguas frescas changes because they use whatever is in season or most ripe to make them, but there are 3 types that are the most common throughout Mexico and well-known in the US: horchata, jamaica, and tamarindo.
- Horchata – made from rice, cinnamon, milk, and vanilla
- Jamaica – made from cooked hibiscus flowers
- Tamarindo – made from tamarind pulp
- Limón y chía – lime and chia seeds
- Tuna – prickly pear
- Guayaba – guava
- Melón – cantaloupe
- Maracuyá – passion fruit
- Pepino y limón – cucumber and lime
- Cebada – barley
TIP: If you want your agua fresca without sugar, order it “sin azúcar.” If you want a little sugar, say “con poca azúcar.”
A limonada is one of the most refreshing drinks for beating the heat in Mexico. It’s made with freshly squeezed lime juice, sugar, ice and either agua natural (flat water) or agua mineral (sparkling water). It’s basically a lemonade, but made with deliciously tangy Mexican limes.
I guess it’s technically an agua fresca, but it deserves its own category because it’s usually available in places where agua fresca isn’t, like bars and airports.
Juices & Licuados
Freshly made jugos (juices) are huge in Mexico and it’s something I really miss when we’re in the US. In Mexico, it’s realtively easy to find juguerias or fruterias selling fruit and vegetable juices made to order.
Jugos verdes (green juices) are very popular and, depending on the state, they might add in nopal (prickly pear cactus) or chaya (a spinach-like leafy green from Yucatán). They also sell licuados, which translates to “blended.” These can be anything from healthier fruit smoothies to shakes made with fruit, milk, and sugar.
Refrescos (sodas) are very popular beverages in Mexico and they have some unique flavors you can try.
- Coca-Cola – Mexican coca is made with cane sugar and considered by many to be superior in taste to US formula made with high fructose corn syrup.
- Jarritos – a popular brand of Mexican sodas with flavors like tamarind, lime, and hibiscus
- Sangria Señoral – a non-alcoholic sangria flavored Mexican soda
- Sidral Mundet – a cider-flavored Mexican drink
- Jumex – fruit juice (not a soda) in a can that comes in delicious flavors like guava and mango.
The use of té (tea) as medicine in Mexico stems from the ancient indigenous tradition of using plants as medicine. People commonly turn to teas to make stomach aches disappear or for help with insomnia.
At Mexican markets you’ll see stalls selling a variety of herbs, tree bark, roots, and leaves in large bins. These stores function like pharmacies, providing a combination of plants to reduce the symptoms of and cure many types of illnesses.
In general, herbal teas are far more common than those with caffeine, but green tea and Lipton black tea are also available in Mexico.
- Manzanilla – chamomile
- Yerbabuena – peppermint
- Verde – green
- Negro – black
You can find great coffee in Mexico, but since it wasn’t introduced until the late 18th century, it’s a pretty new beverage here. Mexico does have its own coffee growing regions – in Veracruz, Oaxaca, and Chiapas – and you will find coffee shops scattered throughout towns. But the majority of people are just fine drinking instant coffee. Which they refer to by its brand name: Nescafé.
I’m just saying, coffee plays a tiny role in traditional Mexican beverages when compared to the corn- and cacao-based drinks that people have been consuming for thousands of years.
Café de OllaDon’t leave Mexico without trying café de olla! Meaning “coffee from a pot,” it’s made in a traditional Mexican clay pot with ground coffee, cinnamon and piloncillo (unrefined cane sugar).
I’m going to be honest here. I don’t like coffee. But for some bizarre reason, I really like café de olla. Especially enjoying a hot cup of it in cold mountain towns like San Cristóbal de las Casas.
Mexican Hot Chocolate
Cacao (what chocolate is made from) is Mexico’s gift to the world. Cacao is native to Mexico and has been consumed since pre-hispanic times. It was considered more valuable than gold and even used as currency.
The indigenous groups of Mexico were the first to drink cacao and they believed it to be the drink of the gods and royalty. It was a bitter drink, made from pureed cacao beans, corn, honey, and chile. Similar to modern-day atole (more on that below).
Oaxaca is known as having the best chocolate in Mexico. It’s often sold in tablets for use in hot chocolate and contains Mexican-grown cacao, sugar, almonds, and cinnamon. In Oaxaca, there are chocolate mills on every corner and the city’s markets sell absolutely delicious hot chocolate served in traditional hand-painted clay bowls.
Chocolate de Agua
Mexican hot chocolate made with water. This is the more traditional version and it’s dairy-free.
Chocolate de Leche
Mexican hot chocolate made with milk.
Corn-based Mexican Beverages
If cacao is the food of the gods, maíz (corn) is the food of the people. Corn was first domesticated 10,000 years ago by the indigenous people of Mexico and was believed to be where humans came from.
Nowadays, it’s still a huge part of people’s lives, and it’s commonly eaten three times a day in different forms, including drinks.
There are many different variations of pre-hispanic corn drinks in Mexico, and I haven’t had them all because they are very region-specific, but here are the ones I’ve tried so far, along with the states they’re popular in.
A thick beverage made from corn that’s common throughout Mexico. There are tons of different versions of atole, but the most basic form is just sweet corn and water. The pre-hispanic version was made with corn, cacao, honey, and chiles. Served hot.
Made with corn, cacao, water, sugar, and cinnamon. Found in Chiapas and Tabasco. Served cold.
Like pozol and also from Chiapas, but made with achiote (annatto seeds) which give it a reddish tone. Served cold.
A frothy blend of corn, cacao, mamey (a local fruit) pit, and rosita de cacao (a dried flower). Found in Oaxaca. Served cold.
A fermented corn drink sometimes served over lime-flavored shaved ice drizzled with chile. The pineapple version of this fermented drink is called tepache. Found in Jalisco and served cold.
MEXICAN HOLIDAY DRINKS
Mexicans love food, drinks, and celebrations – and the holiday period from Dia de Muertos (November 1) all the way to Dia de Los Reyes Magos (January 6) is no exception.
During the holidays, you’ll find all kinds of seasonal foods and drinks being prepared in homes and sold at festivals across the country.
Ponche de frutas is a traditional Mexican fruit punch prepared during the month of December. It’s commonly sold at winter festivals in huge vats and served hot with chunks of fruit, and sometimes spiked with liquor. The best ponche we’ve had so far was in Comitan.
Champurrado is another authentic Mexican drink. It’s made with corn, piloncillo, chocolate, water, and cinnamon, and served hot.
Rompope is Mexico’s version of eggnog. It’s usually spiked with rum or brandy.
BEER & WINE
We’ve discussed the most popular non-alcoholic beverages in Mexico, but what about the boozy ones?
If you’ve made it this far in the article, you can probably already tell that Mexico probably has more to offer than just tequila, and…you’re right!
So, on behalf of Mexicans everywhere I once again
ask beg that you forget about the Coronas and margaritas, and start opening up your palate to the full arsenal of alcoholic beverages available in Mexico.
The most popular types of beer in Mexico are clara (light) and obscura (dark). Although the majority of Mexicans stick to the classic light or dark lagers, there is actually a growing interest in the quickly expanding Mexican craft beer scene.
Some of our favorite microbreweries in Mexico are:
• Insurgente (Baja California)
• Mamut (Baja California)
• Fauna (Baja California)
• Agua Mala (Baja California)
• Santisima Flor de Lupulo (Oaxaca)
• Tzotzil (Chiapas)
Not only does Baja California have some of the best craft beer in Mexico. It’s also home to Mexico’s biggest wine country: El Valle de Guadalupe.
Two of our favorite vineyards in the area are La Lechuza and Monte Xanic.
Mexico’s spirits are as varied as its corn-based drinks. Each region has its own specialty. Some are hardly known outside the production area and are on the verge of being considered moonshine.
I’ve only included the ones we’ve actually tried during our travels in Mexico. And, I’ll add to this list as we continue exploring the country.
Mexico’s most famous spirit. It’s made exclusively from Blue Weber Agave plants and comes in 4 different stages of aging: joven, reposado, añejo, and extra añejo. To be labeled as Tequila, it can only be made in the state of Jalisco (and small areas within 4 other states).
Depending on the tequila, it may be served with lime slices and salt and is always served at room temperature.
The town of Tequila in Jalisco, is THE spot to go tequila tasting in Mexico. Tequila is widely available throughout Mexico. Make sure to always get 100% agave.
It may not be as well-known as tequila, but it’s just as good (or even better). Mezcal is made from over 30 different types of agave plants which can be harvested in the wild or grown in farms.
Depending on the mezcal, it’s sometimes served with bitter orange slices and chile powder or sal de guzano (agave worm powder with salt). Mezcal should be sipped.
The agave plants vary greatly in taste. Which means that mezcals can have much different flavors than a tequila can, since tequila is only made from one type of agave and its technically a type of mezcal itself.
If you’ve ever had mezcal, you might think they all have a strong smoky flavor, but they don’t. It’s just that most exported mezcals are from the same agave, Espadin, and produced in a similar style.
If you want to see just how different each agave’s flavor can be, head to Santiago de Matatlán in Oaxaca. Better known as the Capital of Mezcal. Mezcal is available throughout Mexico, but not as easy to find as tequila.
A fermented beverage made from agave plants produced since before the Spanish arrived. It’s thick, milky, and popular in central Mexico.
A Mexican coffee liqueur commonly used in white russian cocktails and desserts. From Veracruz.
Pronounced “posh”, this liquor is made from corn, sugar cane, and wheat. It’s typically used for indigenous ceremonies in the state of Chiapas, especially in the mystical town of San Juan Chamula.
This drink is made in Comitan, Chiapas, from the fermented sap of the comiteco agave, which is then distilled. It’s used to spike the ponche during winter festivals.
This is one of those spirits that used to only be sold in plastic bottles straight from the source – sheds in the jungle on the outskirts of Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco. It’s basically moonshine made from agave. Some years, a company started bottling a legal version of it and it’s now being exported to the US
An anise liqueur made with honey from Xtabentun flowers. Not my favorite, since I’m not a fan of anise, but if you are, you can find it in the Yucatán Peninsula.
I’m keeping this section simple by sticking with the classic Mexican cocktails that are imbibed throughout the country.
A basic margarita is made with tequila, simple syrup, and lime juice and served in a salt rimmed glass with ice. Chances are you’ve probably had one before, so let’s move on to something new, but if you’re stuck on these, at least try a different flavor than you usually order, like tamarind or passion fruit.
This is my favorite tequila cocktail. It’s made with tequila, grapefruit soda, and lime, and served in a salt or chile rimmed glass with ice. It’s usually made with Squirt – pronounced eh-square in Mexico – or Fresca, but sometimes prepared with fresh grapefruit juice with soda water (tastier and better for you).
This is the most entertaining drink on this list. Although it’s not really a cocktail, it’s more of a line of three shots: lime juice (green), tequila (clear), and sangrita (a red tomato and citrus juice concoction). It’s called banderita (flag) because together the three shots resemble the colors of the Mexican flag: green, white, and red.
Mexico’s version of a cuba libre. Made with tequila, coke, lime, and salt.
Another tasty cocktail made with…you guessed it…tequila! It also has sangrita, a hint of lime juice, and grapefruit soda, served in a salt rimmed glass with ice.
I’ve saved the best for last! This is Mexico’s favorite refreshing beer cocktail and hangover cure. At its core, it’s a refreshing mix of cold beer, lime juice, and ice, served in a salt rimmed, cold tarro (beer mug). That basic version is called a chelada, while a michelada has sauces like Tabasco, Maggi, soy and/or Worcestershire added in for extra flavor.
You should know that micheladas are a touchy subject throughout Mexico because the exact names and ingredients vary according to the region and each city swears their version is the correct one.
For example, you might order a michelada in one area and get what I described above, but when you order a michelada in another state, you might get some Clamato juice thrown in there too. Or vice a versa. Just know that there are many different versions and names for micheladas, but they are all equally delicious!
WHERE TO DRINK
Finding places to try some of the Mexican beverages described above may seem like common sense, but you shouldn’t assume things will be just like home when traveling and Mexico is no exception. Mexico has its own unique culture and traditions, and as a traveler, it’s important to be in the know.
A perfect example of this is the classic Mexican cantina. They’re bars that usually serve botanas (snacks) with each round of drinks. Similar to saloons in the Wild West era, cantinas began during the Mexican Revolution and are traditionally bars exclusively for males where ladies and children are not welcome, but “ladies of the night” are.
Luckily for me, this attitude has changed in recent years. With cantinas in some cities, like Merida, welcoming women to enjoy micheladas and botanas, just like men do.
But, this is not the case throughout all cities and especially not true in rural areas. There are usually signs outside the door announcing who is and isn’t allowed. It’s also common for cantinas to prohibit entry to men in uniform.
Fruterías and Juguerias
The best place to grab a huge freshly pressed green juice or breakfast shake.
Street Food Carts
The carts that gather in and around central plazas in Mexican cities have a great selection of local drinks. Depending on where you are this can be everything from fresh orange juice to aguas frescas to atole.
Meaning “brewery”. This is the spot to enjoy craft beer.
Local markets are often lined with stalls selling the full array of local beverages. Go here if you want to try a little bit of everything.
ORDERING DRINKS IN SPANISH
Remember that even if you studied some Spanish, it’s most likely the type spoken in Spain, which can be different from what’s spoken in Mexico. I’m a native Mexican Spanish speaker, so leave me a comment below if you have any questions or want anything added to this list!
Here are some basic words and phrases to help you out when ordering drinks in Mexico.
Useful Words in Spanish
Cup = vaso
Wine glass = copa
Beer mug = tarro
Bottle = botella (bo-teh-ya)
Shot glass = caballito (ca-ba-yeeto)
No straw = sin popote (po-po-teh)
With ice = con hielo (yeh-lo)
Without ice = sin hielo
Straight = derecho
Cold = frio (free-oh)
Room temperature = al tiempo (tee-em-po)
Hot = caliente (ka-lee-en-teh)
Beer = una cerveza (sehr-veh-sa)
Red wine = un vino tinto (vee-no teen-to)
White wine = un vino blanco (vee-no blahn-co)
Phrases in Spanish
If you want to fit in or make your server smile, use Mexican slang terms for beer, like chela or cheve.
Tráeme una cerveza bien fría, por favor.
Bring me a very cold beer, please.
Dame otra cerveza.
Give me another beer.
Queremos una botella de vino tinto con dos copas, por favor.
We want a bottle of red wine with two glasses, please.
TRADITIONAL MEXICAN BEVERAGES
Well, there you have it! Our Ultimate Guide to Mexican beverages, covering everything from limonadas to micheladas. I hope this helps you get a better idea of what to drink in Mexico and how to order in Spanish.
What are your favorite Mexican drinks? Let us know in the comments below.