Mexico has a rich culture of traditional beverages that are an important part of the country’s cuisine and heritage. From aguas frescas to atole, Mexican drinks showcase unique flavors and ingredients. Keep reading to learn more about some of the most popular and iconic Mexican beverages.
Aguas frescas, Spanish for “fresh waters,” are non-alcoholic fruit-based drinks that are served chilled. They are immensely popular in Mexico and other Latin American countries. Aguas frescas are made by blending fruits, flowers, grains, or seeds with water and sugar. They provide a refreshing drink that quenches thirst in Mexico’s hot climate. Some of the most common aguas frescas flavors include:
- Horchata – Made from rice, cinnamon, and vanilla
- Tamarind – Made from the pulp of tamarind pods
- Jamaica – Made from dried hibiscus flowers
- Limonada – Fresh lemonade
- Sandia – Made from fresh watermelon
Street vendors called aguas frescas sell these drinks from large jugs and provide plastic cups to customers. They are very affordable, with a cup usually costing around 10 pesos (less than $1 USD). Aguas frescas are the perfect drink for quenching thirst on a hot Mexican afternoon.
Atole is a hot corn-based drink that has been consumed in Mexico since pre-Hispanic times. It is made by boiling ground corn with water or milk. Atole can be left with a thick, porridge-like consistency or thinned out into a drink. It is commonly flavored with ingredients like cinnamon, vanilla, chocolate, fruit, or seeds. Some popular varieties include:
- Champurrado – Atole flavored with chocolate
- Atole de fresa – Strawberry flavored
- Atole de vainilla – Vanilla flavored
- Atole de almendra – Almond flavored
Atole is traditionally served warm in the morning for breakfast or as a nighttime drink. It provides a thick, comforting, and nutrition beverage that can be flavored to taste. Atole vendors, known as atoleros, sell their goods from large jugs in markets. It remains a popular cold weather drink that provides energy.
Cafe de Olla
Cafe de olla is a traditional Mexican coffee made with cinnamon and raw cane sugar. It is served warm in an earthen clay mug, known as an olla de barro. To make cafe de olla:
- Coffee grounds are brewed with cinnamon sticks
- Piloncillo, unrefined cane sugar, is dissolved into the coffee for sweetness
- The drink is served warm in an olla de barro mug
The clay mug helps retain heat and add to the flavor and aroma. Cafe de olla is often made at home but also served in restaurants for breakfast. The cinnamon and sugar give it a special sweetness and aroma that is quintessentially Mexican. It provides a comforting start to the day.
Chocolate caliente is Mexican hot chocolate, a thick, rich chocolate drink. It is made by blending cocoa powder and sugar with hot milk or water. Authentic recipes call for the chocolate to be hand-frosted and blended using a molinillo. A molinillo is a traditional Mexican wooden whisk. Additional flavorings like cinnamon, vanilla, chile pepper, and almond are also common.
Chocolate caliente has a thicker, more viscous consistency than hot chocolate made in other countries. It is often described as having a “foamy head.” The drink is served warm, often with churros for dipping. Mexican chocolate contains cinnamon and almonds which provides a unique taste. Chocolate caliente is popular for breakfast, with churrerias and cafes known for serving excellent versions.
Jamaica water is a non-alcoholic beverage made from dried hibiscus flowers. The bright red hibiscus provides both color and tart, cranberry-like flavor to the agua fresca drink. To make jamaica water:
- Dried hibiscus flowers are boiled in water
- Sugar is added to taste
- Once cooled, the flowers are strained out
- The vibrant red liquid is served over ice
Sometimes additional ingredients like lime, cinnamon, or ginger are also added. The flowers contain antioxidants, vitamin C, and minerals. Jamaica water has a refreshing, tart taste that makes it perfect for enjoying with Mexican food. It provides a lighter alternative to sugary sodas and juices.
Licor de Cafe
Licor de cafe is a traditional Mexican coffee liqueur. It is made by infusing 100 proof alcohol with coffee beans and sugar. The beans are roasted, ground, and soaked in the alcohol for several days to extract the coffee oils and aromas. Once strained, sugar is added to sweeten and balance the intense coffee flavor.
This Mexican coffee liqueur is thick, syrupy, and intensely coffee flavored. It often contains vanilla, cocoa, or cinnamon as well. The resulting liqueur has a higher sugar and lower alcohol content than many European coffee liqueurs. Licor de cafe is commonly added to coffee drinks or poured over ice cream. It can also be sipped as an after dinner drink or added to cocktails.
A michelada is a Mexican cerveza preparada, or “prepared beer” drink. It is made by mixing beer with lime juice, chili sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and ice. The ingredients are combined and poured over ice into a chilled glass. Micheladas are often rimmed with chili-lime salt or garnished with lime wedges. Popular beer choices include Pacifico, Modelo, Tecate, or Victoria.
Micheladas add a savory, spicy edge to refreshing beer. The lime juice balances the salt and chili pepper. It makes for a great summer drink that goes well with Mexican food like tacos or ceviche. Micheladas are very popular at sports events, picnics, and barbecues in Mexico. They provide a nice change from margaritas or daiquiris.
Pulque is an ancient Mesoamerican alcoholic drink first made by the Aztecs. It continues to be popular in parts of Mexico today. Pulque starts with fermenting the sap from certain agave plants. The sap, known as aguamiel, ferments into a cloudy, fizzy, mildly alcoholic drink.
Pulque often has fruit, grains, nuts, or spices added to it for flavor. Common varieties include pulque curado con guayaba (with guava) or pulque curado con tunas (with cactus fruit). The drink has a tart taste and fizzy mouthfeel. Traditional pulquerias in Mexico serve it straight from barrels. Pulque is lower in alcohol than tequila or mezcal which are distilled spirits also made from agave plants.
Pozol is a pre-Hispanic fermented corn drink popular in southern Mexico. It was traditionally consumed for its nourishing properties. To make pozol:
- Dried corn kernels are cooked in limewater, creating hominy
- The hominy is ground into a dough and fermented for several days
- Water is added to the fermented dough to make the pozol drink
Pozol is whitish and has a thick, doughy texture. Chili powder, salt, garlic or other flavorings are often added. The fermentation process gives it a tangy flavor and probiotics. Pozol provides important nutrients like amino acids, minerals and vitamins. It continues to be an important traditional drink in regions like Chiapas.
Raspados are a popular Mexican shaved ice dessert drink. They start with blocks of ice that are shaved to create a fine, powdery snow. Sweetened fruit syrups, fruits, condensed milk, nuts, grains, and other toppings are added on top to flavor and color the ice. Some of the most popular raspados flavors include:
- Chamoy – chili-lime seasoning
Vendors called raspadores sell raspados from push carts in markets, plazas, and beaches. The shaved ice makes for a cooling, refreshing snack. Kids especially enjoy the bright colors and sweet flavors. Raspados are also commonly sold with plastic bags of crunchy Japanese peanuts called cacahuates japoneses that you pour on top.
Tejuino is a fermented corn drink that originated in the state of Colima. It has spread to Jalisco, Nayrit, and Michoacán. To make tejuino:
- Corn is cooked with lime, creating hominy
- The hominy is ground and combined with water to make masa
- The masa dough is left to ferment for several days
- Once fermented, the dough is blended with water and strained
The resulting tejuino beverage has a thick, foamy texture with a sour taste. Vendors flavor it with salt, chili powder, lime, or other ingredients. When served with shaved ice, it is called tejuino con nieve. Tejuino provides vitamins, protein, and antioxidants. It makes for a light and refreshing drink on a hot day.
Tepache is a fermented pineapple drink with pre-Hispanic origins. It remains popular in many parts of Mexico today. To make tepache:
- Pineapple rinds are mixed with piloncillo sugar
- Water is added and the mixture ferments for several days
- Once fermented, the liquid is strained and served chilled
Tepache has a slightly cloudy appearance and sweet-tart flavor. It provides probiotics from the fermentation. Chili powder or spearmint are sometimes added to create different flavors. Tepache can be enjoyed on its own or mixed with beer or carbonated water. It makes for a refreshing and healthy alternative to sodas.
Tuba water is made from the fermented sap of various species of palm trees. It is produced and enjoyed in parts of the Yucatan Peninsula and South Eastern Mexico. The sweet palm sap, known as tuba, is collected from the trees and fermented. It naturally ferments into a lightly effervescent, mildly alcoholic beverage within a few hours.
Tuba water has a cloudy white color and subtly sweet taste. It provides nutrients like amino acids, vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, and carbohydrates. Tuba water is often consumed as an energy drink by workers. It remains an important traditional beverage in rural Mayan communities in the Yucatan today.
Mexico has a diverse heritage of flavorful traditional beverages. Drinks like aguas frescas, licor de cafe, pulque, and chocolate caliente showcase unique ingredients and preparation methods. Fermented drinks like pozol, tejuino, and tuba have ancient, pre-Hispanic origins and remain popular today. While alcohol consumption is part of Mexican culture, non-alcoholic options like jamaica water and horchata are also favored. These traditional drinks promote cultural identity and provide natural sources of nutrition.
Mexico’s array of flavorful beverages are thirst-quenching, nourishing and delicious. From icy raspados to warm atole, you can discover drinks for any occasion. Trying traditional Mexican drinks provides a refreshing and authentic taste of the country’s culture and cuisine. The next time you visit Mexico or a Mexican restaurant, expand your horizons beyond margaritas and piña coladas. Order some agua de tamarindo, tejuino, or chocolate caliente instead to experience the wonderful diversity of Mexican beverage culture.