Agua de jamaica, hibiscus tea, is a wonderfully refreshing drink that’s so easy to make. Slightly floral, with hints of pomegranate and cranberry, it’s as delicious as it is beautiful.
Hibiscus tea is made in a few cultures, but particularly as iced hibiscus tea, it’s firmly associated with Mexico. Agua de jamaica is one of the most popular non alcoholic drinks and you’ll find it everywhere. It’s often classed as an agua fresca, like cantaloupe agua fresca and watermelon coconut agua fresca and has those same qualities of being slightly sweet and wonderfully refreshing.
For me, I have one particular memory of agua de jamaica from my first trip to Mexico.
The first time I went to Mexico I was volunteering at a residential center that hosted teens and adults from across the world. Part of the program included some voluntary work in the area. Many of these were in partnership with Habitat for Humanity, that you may know of from their work across the world helping to build homes for people who may not have one otherwise.
One day’s work involved helping to build a home in a small village. The new home was slightly up the hill from an existing house. The new home was for the son of the lower house’s owner and his pregnant wife. It wasn’t going to be big, but it would be their own home.
Members of the family were doing the main building, with some Habitat staff, while we did much of the prep work. This included digging and carrying bricks up the hill in the searing heat.
It was hard, but rewarding, work, and we worked in shifts given the heat. During breaks, we got through plenty of water and were also treated to some agua de jamaica from the family. It was exactly what we needed.
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What is agua de jamaica made from?
Agua de jamaica is simply water infused with hibiscus flowers that is then slightly sweetened. Hibiscus is a very popular plant in Mexico and I saw it growing all over. If you have your own plant, you can dry the flowers yourself to make this drink. But you can also buy ready-dried flowers.
What kind of hibiscus tea should you buy?
You can get hibiscus tea bags, but generally I’d recommend the loose flowers. You’ll find these – often labelled by their name in Spanish “Flor de Jamaica”, in some supermarkets and in most Hispanic grocers. You can also buy them online such as these hibiscus flowers on Amazon.
For one, loose flowers are almost certainly better quality and infuse better being loose. Plus, many tea bags combine hibiscus with other things. These can be good, but personally I prefer to add flavors myself in most cases.
How do you make agua de jamaica, hibiscus tea?
In Mexico, it will often be made as a “sun tea” where the dried hibiscus flowers are left to soak in cold water in the sun for a day or two.
However for both speed and when you don’t have strong enough sun, the easier way is to simmer the hibiscus flowers in water for a few minutes then leave them to cool and infuse a bit more as they do.
I’d recommend you start with cold water for best results. You’ll see the flowers start to seep out color almost immediately, as in the picture above.
Once it comes to a boil, simmer a few minutes, then leave to cool. Personally I add the sugar while it’s still warm, but you can add later.
Once the concentrate is cool, strain to remove the flowers, add more water then serve over ice. You can adjust the strength up or down, to taste.
Is hibiscus tea sweet?
You don’t have to add sugar, but hibiscus is pretty tart without any sugar so I would recommend some. I also feel like it brings out the flavors a little.
In Mexico, agua de jamaica is generally quite or very sweet. I’d rather have it only slightly sweetened so I have made it less sweet here. Of course, you can adjust it to be as you prefer.
Can you serve hibiscus tea hot?
Yes, you can enjoy hibiscus tea both hot and cold. In Mexico, it’s rarely served hot but then climate-wise, that’s probably not so surprising. But in colder climates, a mug of warm hibiscus tea makes a great caffeine-free alternative.
Can you store hibiscus tea?
I’d recommend you store the hibiscus concentrate rather than fully made tea. For one, it will take up less space, but it also lets you make it more or less strong to taste. Additionally, you can use the concentrate for cocktails. The concentrate will keep for a week or two in the fridge – just keep an eye on it in case it goes moldy and discard if it does.
A glass of cold agua do jamaica is a wonderfully refreshing drink that’s perfect any time, but particularly on a warm day. Hibiscus tea has such a great gently floral, gently fruity and sweet-tart flavor the whole family will love. So make this easy drink soon!
Agua de jamaica - hibiscus tea
- 1/4 cup dried hibiscus flowers 7g
- 1 cup water 240ml
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 1 1/2 cups water 360ml (or less if you prefer stronger)
- ice, to serve
- Put the hibiscus flowers and 1 cup of cold water in a small pan and bring to a boil. Simmer for around 10 minutes then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
- I usually add the sugar while the concentrate is still warm to help the sugar dissolve, but you can also add it along with the additional water later.
- Once the concentrate has cooled, strain and either store for later or make up drinks. Add the rest of the water (and sugar, if not already added), pour over ice and serve.
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