5 Reasons Why You Should Try a Margarita Without Orange Liqueur

updated May 1, 2020
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Mexican margaritas are made with three ingredients: 100% agave tequila, fresh lime juice, and agave nectar
(Image credit: Sara Kate Gillingham)

What’s in a margarita — a good one? Tequila, of course. Agave syrup or another sweetener. Lime juice is critical. And triple sec, right? Not so fast. If you’ve never tried a margarita without Cointreau, triple sec, or another orange liqueur, may I gently suggest you do so?

When it comes to margaritas, I’m a minimalist. Here are five reasons why orange rarely touches my margarita.

This may sound like blasphemy to those of you who make your margaritas with a healthy slug of Cointreau or triple sec. But I didn’t actually enjoy margaritas very much until I had a very pure, very simple version: Sara Kate’s margarita recipe, given to her by Joanne Weir, the Bay Area chef and restaurant owner. Joanne argues that margaritas don’t need all the extra ingredients often found in them. She serves them with the orange left out.

I tried this recipe and was immediately converted. While I love Cointreau and Grand Marnier, here are five reasons why they never cross paths with my margarita.

  1. Margaritas should be simple. A good margarita is a very simple cocktail. It should balance carefully between sweet and tart, with the tequila the dominant flavor. Cointreau and other orange liqueurs don’t contribute much to this balance, in my opinion; they just muddy it up and cover the tequila. Which is fine if you are using a mediocre tequila, but if you’re not…
  2. It’s all about the tequila, so don’t cover it up. A good margarita starts with a good tequila. I prefer blanco, or silver, tequila in my margarita, and I balance the drink so the tequila comes through. It’s not just alcohol; Casa Noble, my favorite tequila, has notes of green mango, pepper, and papaya. Delicious, and I want to taste it all.
  3. Cointreau is expensive, so skip it! Many orange liqueurs, like Cointreau and Grand Marnier, are expensive. If you’re making a big batch of margaritas, a side benefit of leaving the orange liqueur out is cost savings.
  4. Limes are pricey too; let them shine! Limes, however, are non-negotiable in a margarita, and since they are way too expensive right now, why dilute or muddy them with an extra liqueur? Let them be the star!
  5. It’s just so good. The final reason for leaving the orange out of your tequila is that a pure margarita is just so good. This is subjective, I know — but drinking a pure margarita really changed my mind about both tequila and margaritas.

There are hundreds of ways to make a margarita; I’m just nudging you to try this way at least once and see what you think of it. I’ll be right over here sipping mine — cheers!

(Image credit: Nancy Mitchell & Chris Perez)

10 More Ways to Make a Margarita

While the “pure” margarita is my preferred recipe, hands-down, I do love some of the twists and variations our cocktail mavens have come up with over the years. So if you don’t care for my orange-less advice and want a more maximalist margarita, try one of these instead!