Tequila was consumed primarily by Mexicans until the 1970s when it began winning acceptance on the international market. Ten years later, exports constituted nearly half of annual production levels. Today, as in the past, the United States is the largest foreign customer of the brew, but sales have expanded to include more than 50 other countries, including Germany, Belgium, France, Canada, Scotland and Japan (famous for buying the best aged varieties which fetch about $60 per bottle).
The invention of the margarita more than 20 years ago proved a boon for Mexico's tequila industry, and to this day it remains a big favorite with North Americans. Real aficionados, however, usually take their tequila straight, prefaced by lemon and salt and sometimes followed by "sangrita," a chaser made of orange or tomato juice, onion and chilies. Still, there are dozens of ways to enjoy tequila. Try it on the rocks, mixed with tea, coffee, juices or tonic, or with canned milk in a drink they call "media de seda," or silk stockings. Or follow the lead of the best Mexican chefs and add the drink as a flavoring to fish, chicken or shrimp dishes.