We get it, when you sit down at a bar, you’re presented with a menu full of drinks, half of which you’ve never heard of and the other half you aren’t fully sure how they’re made. It’s confusing.
Two of the most confusing are the Mojito and Margarita. Both are clear drinks, typically enjoyed in the summer months and both are garnished with lime.
So they’re practically identical, right? Nope! The Margarita and Mojito are miles apart, despite their apparent similarities.
Don’t fret though, we’re here to clear up all confusion and give you a definitive explanation of what these cocktails are, how they’re different, and, most importantly, which one you’d prefer. So let’s not waste any more time and get stuck into the difference between these two classics!
Mojito vs Margarita: What’s the Difference?
The short answer: pretty much everything except the lime.
Starting with the origins of each, the Margarita comes from lively Mexico, where the locals have taken their trademark love and passion for the Agave plant and made a drink of lime, orange liqueur, and, of course, Tequila.
The Mojito owes its heritage to a time and a place in Mexico’s gulf: pre-revolution Cuba. No prizes then, for guessing that the Mojito is composed primarily of White Rum. Add a bit of mint, sugar, and soda, and you’ve got one of the most timeless and iconic cocktails you could imagine.
Margarita vs Mojito – Recipe
There are actually quite a few differences between how you make these cocktails beyond just using different base spirits.
For a Margarita, you’re going to be adding Tequila, Orange Liqueur, lime juice, and Agave syrup to a shaker, then shaking and straining it into a Margarita (or sometimes a rocks) glass with a salted rim. Ingredients that you can find easily in any department store, and all native to Mexico, as expected.
On the flip side, everything you need to make the Mojito is native to Cuba. Mint, Lime, and Sugar are muddled in the bottom of a highball before White Rum (a spirit distilled from sugar cane) and soda water are added over ice.
While mint and orange are obviously going to make different drinks, the majority of the difference is going to come from the spirits.
While the process for making any spirit is somewhat similar, the sugar cane and agave plants yield totally different tastes when distilled.
Both are naturally sweet (agave syrup is often marketed as a replacement sweetener for sugar), which is likely where much of the confusion around these two cocktails arises.
But make no mistake, these two are not like-for-like substitutes and that’s a great thing! How boring would cocktails be if every spirit could be swapped for another without making a significant difference to the taste?
Isn’t the Margarita frozen? Nope! Forget everything you know about those boozy slushies served in red solo cups at frat parties.
The Margarita is a classy, elegant drink that does not need to be blended to be enjoyed. As mentioned earlier, the Margarita is a shaken drink, resulting in a beautifully consistent, clear mix which can be enjoyed for its smooth palate and texture.
The Mojito, on the other hand, is a built cocktail. A truly fine art. The mint leaves, sugar, and lime wedges need to be muddled at the base of your glass into a consistent mix to which the rum can be added. Following that, fill your glass with crushed ice and top with soda water before stirring and garnishing.
So why is one shaken and strained but the other built and stirred? Isn’t there just a best way to make a cocktail?
The answer to that depends entirely on the cocktail. Shaking is going to break up the ice more, leaving the drink more diluted than one which is stirred.
Don’t take dilution to mean bad, however. The ice breaking up and melting in the shaker or stirring glass is actually a key ingredient to the balance of a drink!
Apart from the obvious issue with filling your shaker with soda water, the Mojito is simply best when built and stirred all in one glass. This way, you get to keep all the mint and lime which you used to dissolve and flavor your sugar, and it continues to add flavor to your drink.
With the glass being filled with ice (a difference from the Margarita) and topped with soda water, you really don’t want to dilute the Mojito anymore by shaking it up.
Mojito vs Margarita – Taste
Now that we’ve covered the recipe differences, let’s get onto the important bit: taste!
Since both contain a base spirit, a sour, and a sweetener, the Mojito and Margarita actually have similar profiles. They both fall into the sour cocktail family, and both have a hint of sweetness to balance out that aggressive lime juice.
However similar their profiles are, their flavor and taste are totally different.
If you’ve ever drank Tequila straight, you’ll know it can be a brutal drink. Tequila’s flavor is intense, and it gets its signature taste from the agave plant, from which it’s distilled.
However, whilst it might tickle the back of your throat on its own, the agave flavor can flourish in the Margarita with its blend of balancing ingredients.
The lime adds a sour note, which pairs well with the agave and is balanced out by the sweetness of the orange liqueur.
Rum, on the other hand, is distilled from sugar cane, and so has a much more familiar sort of sweetness about it. The Mojito is excellent for putting the rum front and center of its palate, with the lime, mint, and sugar only adding accents of flavor to the drink.
The first and most obvious difference you’ll taste is the soda. The Mojito is a slightly bubbly, carbonated drink whereas the Margarita is not. This is going to give a totally different drinking experience as you’re going to be forced to slow down and enjoy the drink a little more.
So, the big question: which one is better for you?
If your only experience of Tequila is shots, and your only experience of Rum is just mixing it with coke, then they’re both for you.
Both are classic cocktails that are worlds away from those common and easy ways to serve the spirits. Agave sweetness is a different kind of sweetness to sugar so, although the drinks have a similar palate, the taste of the cocktail is going to be different.
There’s no advice that we can give apart from giving both a go: they’re both timeless classics on any cocktail menu.
If you already think you don’t like one of the spirits, then we’re still going to suggest you try the cocktail. The Mojito and Margarita are all about showing Rum and Tequila in their best light, with their best flavors.
Maybe rum has never been your thing, but if you get a beautifully crafted Mojito from a skilled bartender, then you might just have to rethink that whole idea.
Margarita vs Mojito – How They’re Served
One of a few key differences in how to serve a Mojito vs a Margarita is whether you build it over crushed ice or not.
As mentioned earlier, the Margarita is a shaken and strained cocktail served as a chilled liquid that you can sip gradually and enjoy the flavors of Tequila, lime, and orange over the salt on the glass rim (more on that later).
The Mojito is a different beast entirely, served over crushed ice and drank traditionally through a straw rather than sipped from the glass. This is going to add a bit of dilution to the drink, along with keeping it chilled for the whole time you’re enjoying it.
The next difference between these two cocktails is the glass in which they are served. Margaritas have their own special Margarita glass (or sometimes a rocks glass) and a Mojito is served in a traditional highball glass.
The highball glass is perfect for the Mojito. It makes it easy to muddle the mint, lime, and sugar on the bottom of the glass before adding the rum.
You’ve got a small surface area to muddle all the ingredients together and make the lovely mix to add the rum too. The highball also makes it easy to add crushed ice and top with soda.
Once crushed ice is added, the glass will fill up very quickly due to the small diameter, meaning you don’t overdo it with the soda and you’re left with a perfectly balanced drink.
The story goes that a bar in Los Angeles ordered a batch of champagne glasses, and received some oddly shaped ones with a wider rim by accident. They decided to serve Margaritas in them because they could hold a bit more volume and the rest is history.
Margaritas are also served in rocks glasses. This is an equally great choice of glassware as rocks glasses make it easy to salt the rim (something we’ll get onto in the next section about garnishes). Both are great options and neither is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ when it comes to serving up a Margarita.
The final difference between how a Mojito and a Margarita are served is the garnish. Since both include lime juice, both are garnished with a lime wheel. But that’s where the similarities stop.
For a Mojito, you’re going to partner the lime wheel with a sprig of fresh mint. Not only does this serve a beautiful aesthetic purpose, but the sprig will add the final touches of freshness to the drink.
Think about it, can you really imagine a Mojito without that mint sprig poking out of the top? I certainly can’t.
You’re going to want to drink your Mojito through a straw rather than sipping it like the salt-rimmed Margarita. Doing so will give you the full flavor of the drink (providing it’s properly stirred), with the muddled lime and mint resting towards the bottom of the glass.
Another great plus of the straw is you’re much less likely to spill it with the glass being full of liquid and ice.
For a Margarita, the lime wheel is accompanied by a salted rim. For this, you’re going to want to use kosher salt to keep it as authentic as possible. If you can’t get a hold of kosher salt, then pink Himalayan or coarse sea salt will do just as good a job.
Just steer clear of finely ground table salt as that’s going to downgrade the quality of your drink severely. The salt on the rim adds that final touch to a Margarita that the cocktail would otherwise be missing. Let’s be honest here: salt, lime, and Tequila are a brilliant trio.
That’s the Difference Between a Margarita and a Mojito!
So there you have it. Those are the differences between a Margarita and a Mojito. Without a doubt the best way to enjoy Tequila and Rum.
If you’re a rum fanatic, then hopefully this article has encouraged you to try the Margarita and give Tequila a fair crack at the whip. If you’re a fan of Tequila, then you now have a reason to give a nice, crisp White Rum a try.
The only thing left to do now is to get out there and give them a try. While getting dressed to the nines and hitting up the local cocktail bar is a great choice, you can always perfect these recipes at home.