MEXICO CITY — Mexico has shipped its first load of blue agave tequila to China in hopes of turning the Asian nation into the biggest market for the alcoholic beverage after the United States.
The shipment of more than 70,000 bottles contains nearly 14,000 gallons of 100 percent blue agave tequila, considered the best quality.
A ceremony Friday in Guadalajara marked the departure of the $412,000 shipment for the Pacific port of Manzanillo. Mexico says the shipment will arrive in China in 25 to 35 days.
Chinese President Xi Jinping lifted the import ban on Mexico's 100 percent blue agave tequila in June. The methanol content was considered too high until Chinese authorities changed their mind after visiting with President Enrique Peña Nieto in Mexico.
If the Chinese take to tequila as Americans have, sales should soar. U.S. imports of tequilas have jumped 67 percent, increasing from 7.2 million cases in 2002 to nearly 12 million in 2011, according to industry figures. In that time, sales of super premium sipping tequilas have quadrupled.
Tequila comes from the blue agave plant that grows in the Mexican city of the same name and elsewhere around the state of Jalisco. Not all tequilas are 100 percent blue agave. If they are, they'll let you know on the label. There is no worm at the bottom of the bottle; that's mezcal, a sharper spirit made from the maguey agave.
There are dozens of tequilas, divided into three categories: blanco/silver/gold, reposado (rested) and anejo (aged). Blanco/silver/gold tequilas are unaged (any gold color comes from caramel), and reposado has been aged from two months to one year. Anejo tequila is aged more than one year.
As far as taste goes, the younger tequilas have more of a bite than their longer-aged siblings, which tend to be smoother, with more character.
Aged tequilas can even be described in similar terms as wines — smoky with citrus notes.
Information from Tampa Bay Times files was used in this report.