One of the most popular aguas frescas in Mexico, agua de Jamaica (pronounced like hah-MY-cah) is actually a tea made from the sepals of the roselle flower, hibiscus sabdariffa. The color and flavor of this drink is similar to tart cranberry with a subtle tea flavor in the background that is almost imperceptible when served cold. It is loaded with vitamin C, so in addition to the “coolness factor” of drinking a flower, hibiscus tea is actually good for you!
Did you know?
- Although strongly associated with Mexico and the Caribbean, hibiscus tea is known and loved in much of Latin America and in places such as Italy, Thailand, and northern Africa, where it is known as karkady. It is also said to have been consumed by the Pharaohs in ancient Egypt.
- Its festive ruby-red color has led hibiscus tea to be associated with the Christmas season in Panama and parts of the Caribbean. Some cooks in Mexico include agua de Jamaica as an ingredient in the traditional Christmas Fruit Punch, which is usually served hot
- Hibiscus flowers are not only used to make tea. Gelatins, jellies, salads, ice creams, alcoholic beverages, and even tacos are created from this versatile ingredient.
- 2 ounces (about 60 grams) of dried hibiscus flowers *
- 3 cups boiling water
- 6 cups room temperature water
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 1-2 cups ice (if you need to serve it immediately)
*Flor de Jamiaca or hibiscus flowers can be found in bulk bins or cellophane packages in most Hispanic stores or ordered online.
Bring 3 cups of water to a boil and pour over hibiscus flowers. Let the flowers soak in the water for about 20 minutes. Pour through a strainer into a large pitcher. (Discard flowers or save for another purpose.) Add the sugar and stir for 1-2 minutes or until sugar is dissolved.
Pour in remaining water and taste for sweetness. Add more sugar or water if necessary.
If planning to serve immediately, add only 5 cups of water and stir in the 1-2 cups of ice; stir until it is very cold.
Variations on Hibiscus Tea
Enjoy your hibiscus tea hot, if you prefer, sweetened or unsweetened.
Add a little fresh-squeezed lime (or other citrus) juice when serving.
Sweeten your tea with honey, agave nectar, piloncillo, or some other alternative to white sugar.
Add diced fruit (pineapple, cantaloupe, apple, etc.) to a pitcher of agua de Jamaica, similarly to how sangria is served.
Mix your hibiscus tea with some other agua fresca (limeade, pineapple water, chia drink, etc.) in equal proportions.
If those who will be drinking the tea are all adults, spike it with a bit of rum.
Add a little ground spice to your hibiscus tea, stirring very well so that it dissolves into the liquid. Try this with a bit of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, or nutmeg- or with a combination of two or more of these. Alternatively, use leaves of fresh herbs (basil, mint, or rosemary, for example); blend leaves with liquid, then strain before serving. Or try this hibiscus tea recipe with fresh ginger.
Edited by Robin Grose