Tequila is one of Mexico's best-known contributions to the drinking world. It is a twice-distilled liquor derived from the blue agave plant and, while extremely popular for its essential role in margarita mixing, it is also a common shot.
Tequila comes in four varieties -- blanco, reposado, anejo and extra anejo. Blanco, the Spanish word for "white," is actually clear and most often used for margaritas. Reposado tequilas have spent at least two months in an oak barrel and are most often paired with food rather than consumed alone. They range in color from golden to deep copper. The anejo variety spends one to three years in an oak barrel, resulting in a rich amber color and a flavor that goes well with an after-dinner cigar. Extra anejo tequilas are aged in oak barrels for at least three years; they are most expensive tequila varieties and are best consumed by themselves.
Save the "good stuff" -- anejo and extra anejo -- for relaxed sipping. Blanco and reposado varieties are better suited for shots.
A standard pour in North America ranges from 1 to 1 1/2 ounces. The average shot glass -- what you're likely to be served in any given bar -- is 1 1/2 ounces, while a pony or short glass is just 1 ounce. If you're not using a shot glass, you can measure the amount of tequila poured by timing the pour. If you're using a pour spout (the uniform plastic "heads" on liquor bottles at bars and restaurants), the average pour will be about 1/2 ounce per second. If not, the tequila will come out closer to 1 ounce per second.
Shots, as the name implies, are intended to be consumed all in one go. A common practice is to toss back the tequila quickly, then slam down the glass, hence the protective thick glass bottoms on most shot glasses.
If you dislike the taste of straight tequila, arm yourself pre-shot with a slice of lime and a small amount of salt on the back of your hand. Lick the salt to bring saliva to your mouth, take the shot and immediately bite into the lime, the flavor of which should help soothe the tequila-inflicted "burn."
A chaser is a liquid intended to "chase" the liquor and remove some of the unpleasant aftertaste. Beer, fruit juice and cola are popular chasers, but in Mexico, tequila is always chased with sangrita. Meaning "little blood," sangrita is a mixture of varying ingredients, but generally includes orange juice, lime, chopped onions, salt and chili powder or chopped chili peppers. It's also common to mix in some hot sauce or pomegranate juice. A good tequila chaser brings out the liquor's sharp, peppery undertones, so you can also try mixing other combinations, such as pineapple, jalapeno and cilantro.