If you’re reading this, it’s likely that you’ve just stumbled upon a street vendor in Oaxaca City selling a chocolatey-frothy liquid and wondered to yourself, “What the heck is that?”
I thought the same when I first stumbled upon a woman pouring tejate (pronounced te-hah-tay) and serving it to her customer in a cute gourd bowl (a jícara) painted in bright red.
Turns out, this drink can make you a god — just kidding! It is considered a super-powerful drink, though, as it was only reserved for Aztec royalty in pre-Hispanic times.
And while the white clusters of who-knows-what floating on top might put you off from tasting it, this guide will convince you otherwise. (The foamy white stuff is actually just the fat (or grasa) that occurs naturally from the mamey seed and the rosita de cacao).
Tejate is a staple of Oaxacan culture, so you would be missing out if you didn’t try it at least once!
Read more below to learn more about tejate and where to find it in Oaxaca City.
Tasting Tejate in Oaxaca, Mexico
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What Is Tejate?
Simply put, tejate is an ancient Zapotec cacao and corn-based drink.
But in truth, tejate is much more than that; it’s the culmination of a deeply-rooted tradition combined with an influence of ancient civilizations and techniques.
As Amy Trubek argues in her essay Tejate, Tejateras, and the Taste of Place, tejate is primarily made up of freshly ground maize, or gruel. However, tejate differs from other maize gruels thanks to several ingredients and techniques.
Tejate contains cacao beans, toasted maize/corn, the seed of the mamey fruit, and rosita de cacao from the flower of the Q. funebris tree which is native to Mexico. Nowadays, tejate is also sweetened with sugar or syrup and served with ice.
Tejate isn’t just about what’s inside. As writer Susannah Rigg mentions in this article, as well as Trubek, tejate goes beyond flavor and texture; tejate is also about technique.
Between the grinding, toasting, and hand-mixing, there is an art (and apparent secret recipe) at play.
What’s more, the tejateras—the name given to the women artisans of San Andrés Huayapam—are the only ones allowed to make this ancestral drink. But sadly, with modern society, that’s changing too, and women outside of the village, the birthplace of tejate, are making the drink (but badly, according to one tejatera).
Where to Try Tejate in Oaxaca City
Here are a few places where you can find and drink tejate in Oaxaca City. The cost is only about $20-25 MXN pesos, so there’s no excuse not to give it try!
La Cosecha Organic Market
There is a lovely little tejate stall inside the La Cosecha market where you can try tejate. Again, don’t shy away from the foamy white paste floating on top — it’s actually quite buttery and oddly satisfying!
Here, they’ll serve your tejate in a painted gourd with ice unless you ask for it to-go. Since this is an outdoor food market there are plenty of benches to plop down on, so take your time savoring the ancient terroir and texture of tejate.
La Cosecha is open from around 9am to 4:45pm, but the tejate stall may have its own hours. Check for updates on their Instagram.
Tip: This market is a popular stop on the touristy walking tour of Oaxaca, so get there before 11am or after lunch to avoid a giant crowd.
Plazuela del Carmen Alto
At the back of the Plazuela del Carmen Alto—the same location as the jewelry/crafts market in Oaxaca’s historic center—is another place you can get good tejate in Oaxaca. This is actually where I tried my first tejate (but I prefer the one at the market mentioned above).
The vendor at this stall will typically serve it to you in a plastic cup unless otherwise asked. You can also ask for no sugar or just a little. I am not sure when she sets up or leaves, but we went around mid-day!
Fería del tejate Y De Tamal
The Festival of Tejate and Tamal takes place annually in the Plaza de la Danza in Oaxaca City.
Here, the women of the Huayapam set up their tejate stands for a state-wide celebration of indigenous food, culture, art, and more.
When to go: End of March, beginning April.
If you’re in Oaxaca during this period, there’s no better place or time to try authentic, traditional tejate!
I hope you enjoyed learning a bit about tejate! Below are several other suggestions on typical Oaxaqueño drinks that you should try before you leave Oaxaca.
Other Must-Try Drinks in Oaxaca
Mezcal is Oaxaca’s ultimate spirit. There is so much that goes into making an artisanal mezcal, which I detail more in my mezcal tour and tasting review, but I’ll just say this for now: you have to try it!
This alcohol is distilled by cooking the hearts of the agave plant. The cooking process (in an underground oven heated by volcanic rock) is what gives mezcal its unique smokiness.
Pulque is another drink you should know! Pulque, similar to mezcal, comes from the agave plant (but the agave pulquero instead of the cultivated agave espadín widely used for mezcal, among dozens of other wild agave types).
In short, pulque is the sap that is found inside the heart of the agave piña (the same hearts cooked in the mezcal-making process).
Unfermented, the sap is naturally sweet and is commonly called aguamiel (honey water). Once fermented, however, aguamiel turns into pulque.
Pulque does have a small alcoholic percentage, so be careful! It’s so sweet and easy to drink it can quickly go to your head.
Oaxacan Chocolate (Hot/Cold)
Chocolate in Oaxaca is as essential as a piece of thread in a beautiful tapestry. In nearly every restaurant and cafe, you will find hot chocolate on the menu.
But don’t go just anywhere; visit the chocolate bar that’s just off the Templo Gúzman square (to the left of McCarthy’s Irish pub).
Here, you can try delicious, authentic Oaxacan chocolate with mezcal or coffee. You can even have it served cold, like tejate (just without all the extra tejate ingredients!)
During your travels around Oaxaca, you might come across other interesting drinks like:
- Tepache — fermented drink made from pineapple rinds
- Aguas frescas — fresh water-based juices made with various fruits
- Chilacayote — type of agua fresca made from the Mexican fig-leaf gourd
There’s no doubt that you are going to see some of these drinks on display when strolling Oaxaca’s bustling markets or streets. Oaxaca’s craft beer scene is also budding (see what I did there), so if you enjoy visiting and supporting local breweries, head to Oaxaca Brewing Co. or La Santisima Flor de Lúpulo.
- Unmissable Tours & Day Trips From Oaxaca
- 8 Best Coffee Shops & Cafes (With Wifi) in Oaxaca City
- How to Visit Monte Albán Near Oaxaca City (Zapotec Ruins)
I hope you get to try tejate and some of these other staple drinks of Oaxacan culture during your trip! Let me know how you find the taste (and foamy texture of tejate) in the comments below. Happy tasting!
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