This is not just a blog about tequila – the delicious, potent elixir that soothes whatever ails you – it is also a blog about the tequila lifestyle, or more accurately, the Mexican lifestyle. Some of us in the U.S. may have a limited view of Mexico from what we’ve see in border towns or at Disneyfied beach resorts, but in the heart of the country, in the real Mexico, there’s a real passion for life, for music, for family and for laughter. This is the tequila lifestyle – taking time at the end of the day to appreciate what really matters. And what better way to do it then with a caballito of fine tequila?

Tequila (right), in Mexico, is often sipped along with Sangrita (left).

Tequila (right), in Mexico, is often sipped along with sangrita (left).

Of course, it took me a while, and some unique circumstances, to learn this. I studied English literature in college and the job market after graduating was less-than exciting. About a year out of school I decided I was going to take a job at an English-language newspaper in Mexico City called The News. Even though I had never been to Mexico before and didn’t speak a word of Spanish, I bought a one-way ticket to the Mexican capital, packed up a suitcase and left.

Upon arriving at my new job, the first thing my co-workers did was take me out for a tequila. I had had tequila in college, mixed in margaritas or tequila sunrises, but never straight. After all, the U.S. version of drinking straight tequila isn’t all that appealing – some college kid drunk in a bar, slamming shots of Cuervo at the prompting of friends, inevitably making a sour grimace while putting the empty glass down. Or, worse, some poor American at a border town Señor Frog’s having tequila poured down their throats by a scantily-clad, bottle-wielding waitress who encourages them to lick salt off her arm, or stomach, or … elsewhere. If that’s drinking tequila, I’m not interested.

But as soon as I walked into my first Mexican cantina, I knew this experience was going to be different. After all, everyone in the bar appeared calm and civil (no hooting or peer pressure) as they slowly sipped on shots of tequila while nibbling on bar snacks. Some patrons had more than one shot glass in front of them containing a bloody Mary looking drink and they would take turns sipping between that and the tequila. What was this?, I asked. My new colleagues informed me that Mexicans actually sip tequila, not slam it, and that it frequently comes accompanied by a chaser of “sangrita,” a concoction typically made with tomato juice, orange juice, lime juice and Worcestershire sauce, among other ingredients. (More on this later.) Tequila and sangrita can be also served with a shot glass of lime juice, making the trio a “bandera” since it resembles the red, white and green of the Mexican flag.

So, at my coworkers’ suggestion I tried a shot of Cazadores reposado with sangrita. I took a tiny sip of the golden Cazadores (still a favorite) and then a tiny sip of the tart sangrita. Then I sat back and felt the tequila warm my throat and stomach. My limbs began to relax and my shoulders dropped. Over the next few hours, we continued to sip shots. I felt a relaxed warmth toward my companions, conversation flowed easily, as did laughter, and when the music was right, when it was bold and filled with emotion, happy tears came easily too. And the most amazing part was, there was no price to pay the next morning. Because when you are sipping good tequila, made of 100% agave, and not mixing drinks, hangovers are unheard of. That’s when I knew I was in love.