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Guide to Mexican Drinks

Mexicans know how to drink. The evolutionary forces of a searing climate and Mexico's testosterone fuelled cantinas have combined to produce such a variety of drinks as to slake the fussiest of thirsts.

Beer is the national favourite, and whether you are a fan or not it provides the perfect culinary antidote to the ubiquitous fiery chillies. Mexico produces 25 or so brands of beer( cerveza) many with familiar names such as Corona and Sol(both lagers) and Dos Equis (dark beer). A thirst-quenching alternative is michelada - pale lager with a squeeze of lime served in a glass with a salted rim. There are some vineyards(in Baja California) but wine isn't drunk often.

For something a little stronger Mexicans look towards the cactus-like maguey plant. Distilled, the plant's sap is the main ingredient in tequila and mezcal.

Tequilla is the more refined version of mezcal and is generally served straight, as a shooter, with a pinch of salt and a bite of lime. A bottle of mezcal is easily recognised by the pickled worm that lingers on the bottom, said to be proof of the drink's alcohol content. Another concoction from the maguey plant is pulque. Fermented, rather than distilled, this frothy brew is a favourite with blue-collar workers, presumably because of the price.

Refrescos, canned fizzy drinks, are available everywhere. All the international brands are present as well as some interesting home grown ones, such as apple Sidral. Much more interesting are the endless possible permutations of fruit juices using local papaya, watermelon, prickly pear and banana. Mexican's also do a good line in shakes( licuados), blending chocolate, fruit, water, milk and the occasional raw egg. As with the juices care should be taken where these are bought.

Hot drinks, especially tea, are something of a moot point but they do excel at hot chocolate. Filter coffee is popular, but typically weak. For but for an authentic Mexican flavour try café de olla, flavoured with cinnamon and sweetened with muscavado sugar. Another unique offering is atole, a blend of cornmeal, milk and fruit that has more in common with a meal than a drink.

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