Everything You Need to Know About a Margarita’s Core Ingredients

The margarita has become a staple and classic for a reason. It’s refreshing, delicious, and it can be changed and transformed into limitless possibilities. But before you go making your own custom drink, it helps if you understand each of the basic ingredients that go into a margarita. It’s the best way to understand how to make a margarita and the first step in making a margarita that’s truly yours. Here is a breakdown of each of the core ingredients in a classic margarita to help you learn how to make the best one.

1. Tequila

Obviously, one of the first things you need to know about how to make a margarita is the tequila. Tequila is the driving factor for taste and alcohol content in any margarita, from the classic recipes right up to the fancier ones. In fact, a margarita without tequila is rarely a margarita. You can change limes to another fruit, swap the Triple Sec for another liqueur, you can even replace the salt with sugar; but when you switch out the tequila, you are no longer making a margarita.

So what kind of tequila makes the best ingredient when learning how to make a margarita? The answer is as complicated as the tequila itself. In general, there are broad categories of tequila, each of which have their own unique tastes and flavors. Most mixologists suggest using a high-quality tequila, generally a reposado or blanco.

Learning the difference in taste from one type of tequila to the next is key in learning how to make a margarita. Blanco tequila, for example, is clear and typically not aged in any way; instead it is stored in steel casks to ensure no outside flavors interfere with its taste. The result is an agave-forward flavor, one that is as intense as it is sweet. On the other end of the spectrum is reposado tequila. Generally aged for two to eleven months, this tequila has settled into its natural flavors, giving it a more robust flavor that also takes on the flavors of its cask.

Choosing which tequila to use is key to learning how to make a margarita. For more intense flavorings, try the blanco. For a richer, subtler flavor, you cannot go wrong with a quality reposado.

2. Orange Liqueur

The traditional pairing for the classic margarita is Triple Sec, a base ingredient everyone who is learning how to make a margarita should understand. Triple Sec is delicious and relatively low in alcohol content, giving it that distinct orange-heavy flavoring that provides a citrus refreshment to the margarita. But many mixologists also swear by Cointreau, another orange liqueur that contains a bit more bite. Choosing which works for you usually comes down to personal taste. Those who like the taste of stronger drinks generally pair blanco tequila with Cointreau. Those who want something fuller-bodied and flavorful will pair reposado tequila with Triple Sec.

3. Salt

Everyone knows there are different kinds of salt, but for some reason, many people think salt is inconsequential in making drinks. This could not be further from the truth. In fact, understanding the different kinds of salt is key to learning how to make a margarita. Essentially, it comes down to texture and taste: two things that are indistinguishable in salt. Generally, it’s best to avoid table salt, which makes for a terrible, unattractive rim and requires a lot to be noticeable, turning your margarita into a very salty experience. Most experts prefer, instead, to use kosher salt. The bigger granules look better on the glass and provide a tasty pop of salt, rather than overwhelming the flavors. It also sticks better, so less falls all over every time you take a sip.

4. Limes

The most important thing you need to understand about limes and margaritas is that freshness is key. Anyone who uses lime juice when teaching how to make a margarita is not giving you the fullest flavor. Always use fresh limes, not key limes, when making a margarita, and save a slice or two for the garnish. You can taste the difference almost immediately when using fresh vs. bottled juice, and when the season’s right, the cost is pretty negligible.

The key to learning how to make a margarita lies in understanding what you like about each ingredient and tailoring the recipe to your taste. Tequila has a wide range of flavors, as do every other ingredient on the list, which means you can experiment with each one until you find something that you love.

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