A G A V E
Some people believe that agave is a cactus, but it's not; agave is a plant that belongs to the amaryllis family. It has long fiber lance-shaped leaves which are bluish-green colored, and the important part for the production of tequila is the heart (piña).
The agave plant is used also for:
Maguey is a word that comes from the Antilles. In our region and in different cultures, it's called by different names:
Even though the maguey is found not only in Mexico, in no other place of the world is it so much a part of the culture, the landscape and the people as it is in Mexico.
For the Náhuatl culture, maguey was a divine creation that represented Mayáhuel, a goddess who had four hundred breasts that fed her four hundred children. Mayahuel was married to Petácatl, who represented certain plants that helped in the fermentation of pulque, causing that drink to acquire magical powers. The people of those times considered maguey a very important plant in their diet.
The agave of pre-Hispanic times was considered sacred. The oldest records come from some pre-Hispanic codex like the Tonalmatl Náhuatl, which means "Aztec pilgrim's papyrus," and it tells the story of the Mexican people.
According to the codex of Nutall, Laud, Florentino and Mendocino, the native tribes found different uses for agave and its sub-products: food, threads, needles, shoes, roof tops, clothes, nails, weapons & paper among others. The Mexicans learned to cook the agave's heart (piña).
When the conquerors came to the states of Jalisco, Colima, Nayarit and Aguascalientes, the ticuila o tiquilinos (natives) made alcohol with agave, and they drank it at religious ceremonies and parties. When the Spaniards tasted it, they were conquered by Mayahuel, and they acquired the habit of drinking it from the tip of a cow's horn.
The blue agave plant beautifies the Mexican landscape with its pointed leaves. In some places in Mexico different alcoholic drinks are produced; these drinks receive the generic name of mescal, and they are given the last name of the region where they are "born". The most famous of all is the mescal of Tequila.
Several species of agave exist, and its juices can be fermented and distilled for the production of alcoholic drinks; however, only the blue agave Tequilana Weber is authorized for the production of tequila. The cultivation of this plant always requires numerous factors like:
Only one region, approximately 209 Km2 in the state of Jalisco, has the best conditions for growing the blue agave Tequilana Weber - that's the famous Tequila region.
The blue agave Tequilana Weber has specific features that make it different from others: it's a fleshy plant with rosette-shaped leaves which a1re fibrous, grizzly blue or green colored and coated by a high content of wax that prevents the plant from losing water. Their leaves are rigid, with marginal and apical thorns; it stores insulin in the shaft, and it produces fructose..
The breeding of blue agave Tequilana Weber can be done by seed or bulb, but for industrial productions those methods are useless, so the the rhizome method is used. It focuses on transplanting the sprouts from the root of the plant. When the agave reach 50cm in height, and when the heart is the size of a grapefruit, they are taken from the mother plant. The optimum age for agave to breed is between 3 and 5 years old. A mother plant gives one or two sprouts per year.
Once the sprouts are taken from the mother plant, they must be planted right before the rainy season. The new plant should be seated and buried in 75% of its volume, packing the ground.
When the ground is packed, the long process of agave cultivation begins; it will last from 8 to 10 years until the plants mature. During those years, they must be tended, and the soil must be weeded and fertilized, as well as providing growth control and disease prevention.
In order to achieve a high quality level, during the process there must always be a meticulous selection of the mother plants as well as the sprouts. During the plants' growth some tasks are carried out that help to produce and preserve the maximum level of starches in the heart.
When the plant is six years old, in order to help its maturation a low brush barbing is performed: that is to make horizontal cuts in the top part of the leaves, leaving a flat surface. When the agave is almost mature, the barbing is called "punished barbing".
Once the plant is mature, in the dry weather months, the agave plant starts to reduce its size in the center "cogol", becoming smaller and numerous by the growth of a flower called "quiote". The "quiote" grows rapidly and consumes all the sugars that were accumulated for years; that's why it's cut, and this operation is called "desquiote".
After the the agave has reached its full growth, the harvest is carried out. During this the "jima" is done because in the production of tequila only the heart (piña or head) is used. That's where the bigger amount of sugars is located.
In the "jima" process, a tool called "Coa" is used. It consists of a stick with a semi-rounded sharp blade to cut and remove the leaves of agave, leaving only the heart and root. The heart is taken from the ground and the roots are eliminated, leaving only the heart. Depending on the age, the species of agave and the kind of cut, the heart can weigh over 100 Kg (220 pounds). The person that performs this labor is called "jimador".
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