There’s nothing like a vacation to open up your tastebuds to new flavors. Look beyond the familiar name of Coca-Cola – incidentally, Mexico’s favorite soda – and you’ll find there’s an abundance of local drinks for you to sample. Some aren’t immediately thought of as Mexican, Kahlúa, for example. Some you’ll only find in Mexico, and others are specific to the Mexican Caribbean.
Agua de Jamaica
This non-alcoholic red-hued drink is found everywhere in the Mexican Caribbean. Water is infused with hibiscus flowers to make agua de jamaica, a slightly tangy tea, with a flavor reminiscent of cranberry. It’s unsurprising, given the tropical weather in Cancun, that this drink is usually enjoyed cold.
Often sold in markets or taquerias as an ‘agua fresca’ (fresh water), this inexpensive drink is enjoyed all over Central and Latin America. It even has health benefits, having been proven to reduce high blood pressure.
Chaya, also known as ‘tree spinach’, is native to the Yucatán and a favored plant of Mayans, who use it as a food source, as well as a medicine. It’s packed full of nutrients and is high in protein, iron, potassium, and calcium.
You may assume something so healthy couldn’t be appealing, but chaya juice is surprisingly tasty and very refreshing in the Mexican Caribbean heat.
Often mixed with water, and tropical fruit juices, such as pineapple, orange, and lime, it’s a flavorful drink that works well to revive and rehydrate your body – perhaps after one too many beers at Isla Brewing Company?
When we think of Mexico, most of us think of tequila. And while it’s a great drink, Mexican-produced mezcal has recently been enjoying a surge in popularity in the USA. Both tequila and mezcal are distilled spirits made from the agave plant. But while the two alcoholic drinks are very similar, there are distinct differences.
First, the type of agave plant it’s made from: mezcal can be produced from around 40 different agave plants, whereas tequila can only be made using blue agave.
Secondly, the region of production is important: 90% of mezcal is distilled in Oaxaca, whereas tequila is mainly produced in and around Tequila, in Jalisco state.
With the growing interest in mezcal, why not visit one of the best mezcal bars in Cancun ‘La Sabina Mezcaleria’, which is located downtown. Perhaps combine it with a visit to the impressive street art in the area?
Another drink worth trying on your trip is Henequen, an agave-based liquor that’s similar to mezcal, but produced exclusively in the Yucatán Peninsula.
Another alcoholic drink produced only in and around the Mexican Caribbean is Xtabentún. Made by blending anise seeds and fermented honey then adding to rum, this is an ancient drink thought to derive from a Mayan ceremonial liquor called balché.
Similar to pastis or Pernod in taste, but with the added sweetness of honey, Xtabentún can be used to create delicious drinks. Mix it with coffee and tequila and you have a Mayan coffee. For an unusual combination, try an ‘olhombre’, which mixes wine with xtabentún in a drink that fittingly means ‘clashing’ in Yucatec Mayan.
You can sample each of the ‘big three’ – xtabentún, mezcal, and tequila – on this food and drinks tasting tour in Cancun.
Dating back to the 13th century, horchata is a drink enjoyed in many countries and cultures, with considerable variations in its base ingredients and flavorings.
In Mexico, and especially in the Mexican Caribbean, horchata often contains coconut. It’s made by boiling white rice with water, cinnamon and sugar, and adding coconut water. It’s a delicious, gentle, and nourishing drink that’s usually served cold – and because it contains no dairy, it’s a great option for vegans.
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