Agua de Jamaica is perhaps one of the most confusing beverages that people will encounter. The drink is popular in Mexico where it’s known as Agua Fresca de Jamaica and there are dozens of theories as to why a Mexican drink has the name Jamaica in it. The answer is simple – it originated in Jamaica.
The beverage is hibiscus tea. A large part of the confusion about the drink comes from the different names for the hibiscus plant. West Indians call hibiscus sorrel or sorrel, Africans call the plant Roselle, and it’s known as hibiscus in other locales. It’s the exact same plant, Hibiscus sabdariffa, an edible species of hibiscus.
Agua de Jamaica literally translates into the term Jamaica water. Agua de Flor de Jamaica in Mexico translates into Jamaica flower water. Made with dried hibiscus petals, the tea is consumed around the world and those living in colder climates tend to drink it hot. In Europe it’s known as Italian tea or carcade. In Egypt, it’s traditional to have a toast of hibiscus tea at weddings.
Jamaicans and Trinidadians serve it cold and sweeter than in Mexico. Hibiscus tea can often be found in the Mexican food section of supermarkets. The tart, non-alcoholic herbal tea is typically consumed after a mid-day meal in Mexico. The following is a traditional recipe for Agua de Jamaica.
Agua de Jamaica Recipe
- 1 ½ cups of dried hibiscus flowers
- 4 cups boiling water
- 4 cups cold water
- 1 cup sugar
- Whenever possible, choose hibiscus petals that are soft and pliable rather than hard and brittle.
- The four cups of boiling water can be poured over the dried flowers to steep them for an hour. The petals can also be placed in the 4 cups of water in a saucepan and brought to a boil.
- When the petals sink to the bottom of the container, it’s time to strain the concentrate to remove the dried flowers.
- Add 4 cups of cold water to the remaining mixture and stir thoroughly.
- Sweeten to taste with sugar or honey. Cooks may use more or less sugar to accommodate varying tastes.
- The tea can be served over ice.
- Garnish with a lime if desired.
- It’s best to store Agua de Jamaica in a glass container, as plastic can affect the taste and the rich, reddish purple color of the tea can stain plastic.
- It makes about 16 servings.
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