Walk in to practically any taqueria in California and you’ll likely find supersized containers of agua frescas, right next to the soda dispenser. The usual flavors are horchata (a sweet rice drink), tamarindo (from tamarind, and agua de jamaica (pronounced hah-MY-kah), an infusion of dried red hibiscus flowers. I almost always go for the ruby red jamaica, I think just because I love the color. The taste is slightly tart and refreshing. If you’ve ever had red zinger tea from Celestial Seasonings, it’s a little like that. Or a little like cranberry juice. With a squeeze or two of lime juice it becomes almost punch-like.
Hibiscus tea (an infusion actually) is popular all around the world. The hibiscus flower grows in tropical and semi-tropical climates. I remember hibiscus trees all over Los Angeles where I grew up. You can find the dried hibiscus flowers at almost any Mexican market (look for “flor de jamaica”), or you can order them online.
By the way, the tea is a natural diuretic and has lots of Vitamin C. There’s also at least one government study that shows that hibiscus tea lowers blood pressure.
Agua de Jamaica (Hibiscus Tea) Recipe
- 2 quarts water
- 3/4 to 1 cup sugar (depending on how sweet you would like it to be)
- 1 cup dried hibiscus flowers
- 1/2 cinnamon stick (optional)
- A few thin slices ginger (optional)
- Allspice berries (optional)
- Lime juice (optional)
- Orange or lime slices for garnish
1 Put 4 cups of the water and the sugar in a medium saucepan. Add cinnamon, ginger slices, and/or a few allspice berries if you would like. Heat until boiling and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat. Stir in the dried hibiscus flowers.
2 Cover and let sit for 20 minutes. Strain into a pitcher and discard the used hibiscus flowers, ginger, cinnamon, and/or allspice berries.
(At this point you can store ahead the concentrate, chilled, until ready to make the drink.)
3 Add remaining 4 cups of water (or if you want to chill the drink quickly, ice and water) to the concentrate, and chill. Alternatively you can add ice and chilled soda water for a bubbly version. Add a little lime juice for a more punch-like flavor.
Serve over ice with a slice of orange or lime.
Yield: Makes 2 quarts.