The blue agave is not a cactus as rumored, but belongs to the lily family and has long spiny leaves (pincas). The specific plant that is used to make tequila is the weber blue agave which is native to the town of Tequila in Mexico. More than 100 million agaves cover the hills of the Sierra Madre, west of the city of Guadalajara. The agave has a high sugar content making it an ideal ingredient for alcoholic beverages.
The agave plant grows in high altitudes of over 1500 feet in rich sandy soils and each plant produces thousands of seeds from yellow flowers which grow out of long stalks after around 4 or 5 years. These stalks are removed from the plant to allow the growth to be focused on the heart of the plant. The stalks can be replanted to increase cultivation of the blue agave.
The blue agave grows to around 5 feet tall and around 3 feet wide and has a blue cast to the leaves giving them the name of blue agave. The blue-green leaves grow up from the plant.
It takes 8-12 years for the agave to reach maturity. The agave plant is harvested by a Jimador, during harvest, the leaves are cut off leaving the heart of the plant or pina which looks like a large pineapple when the jimadors are done. The harvested pina may weigh 200 pounds or more and is chopped into smaller pieces for cooking at the distillery.
A Jimador is the name of the vastly experienced farmer who nurture and cultivate the blue agave plants. The Jimador is highly skilled at identifying when the agave is ripe and ready for harvest, if not harvested at the correct time it can result in a bitter or too sweet taste.