Just as with wine, tequilas vary greatly in quality and price. While the Mexican government mandates that true tequila contain at least 51% sugar from the blue agave plant found in the Tequila Region of Mexico, Tapatio only serves pure 100% blue agave tequilas. There are now five types of tequilas:
This un-aged tequila comes directly from the still and has a strong agave taste it's kept in metal tanks for no longer than 60 days. These tequilas, mellowed by the addition of caramel coloring, oak tree extracts, glycerine, or sugar syrup are often called Suave or Joven.
This more gentle tequila is aged between two months and one year in oak tanks
or barrels. Aging in the oak barrels gives tequila a more mellow taste, and the
varying types of oak used allow for subtle nuances that differentiate one tequila
This is tequila aged in oak barrels from one to three years. The longer aging
darkens the tequila and gives it an even smoother and more sophisticated taste
than Reposado tequilas.
Extra añejo tequila must be aged a minimum of three years in oak barrels. That's nothing for whiskey — but it's too long for a lot of tequila fans.
For an aged product, extra añejo (XA) is a relatively new category, only established in 2006 as a fourth tequila aging category (after blanco, reposado and añejo). But it's gaining popularity quickly: while tequila itself has seen a nice average growth of about 6% in volume per year since 2002, the super premium categories have grown as much as eight times faster, according to the Distilled Spirits Council.
Cristalino, which means "crystalline" in Spanish, is oak-aged Tequila that's filtered with charcoal. It's generally crystal clear, as the name suggests, although some have faint tinges of color. The process is akin to many white rums, which can also be barrel-aged and have the color filtered out.
That matured Tequila may be classified anywhere from a reposado to an extra-añejo. This means it may spend as little as two months in a barrel, or it may be multiple years old. Cristalino just can't be a blanco, which is aged fewer than two months. Some bottlings have sweeteners, usually agave nectar.