Jamaica iced tea

Jamaica iced tea is tea is everywhere in Mexico — in almost every restaurant, offered by many street stands, in large, glass jars in the markets. The grocery stores sell jamaica (ha-MY-ka) by the bag full, and bulk herb and grain stores sell it loose. It is always served cold with plenty of ice, and in Mexico it is also served overly sweet, like red liquid candy. If we order it with a meal, we only order one and a glass of ice water. A few tosses back and forth between the two glasses, and we have two ruby drinks that are half as sweet, but still refreshing.

Known as hibiscus in English, and flor de jamaica in Mexico, jamaica/hibiscus is the herb that gives some Celestial Seasonings teas the bright red color and a slightly bitter flavor. If you drink Red Zinger tea, you are drinking hibiscus flowers.

The stronger the brew, the more noticeable the bitter flavor, which leads to more sugar added to mask the bitterness. This recipe uses less jamaica, but it needs less sugar because the bitterness is minimized. Iced jamaica tea can be mixed with fruit juice, like mango nectar, though I have never seen it served with juice in Mexico. In Mexico, don’t ask for té de jamaica — ask for agua (water) de jamaica.

Hibiscus tea is made from one particular plant, Hibiscus sabdariffa. It doesn’t grow in our yard, but another hibiscus blooming outside (below) is just as red, though not for used for tea. The tea is not made from the petals, something I used to think until I learned that it is the part of the flower around the petals, the sepals, that are used for tea .

Jamaica Iced Tea — Agua de Jamaica

  1. Bring two cups of water to a boil.
  2. Add 1/4 cup of lightly packed jamaica/hibiscus.
  3. Turn off  heat and brew for 3-5 minutes. Strain, discarding jamaica.
  4. Stir in 2 tablespoons of sugar, or to taste.
  5. Add 2 cups of cold water or fruit juice.
  6. Pour over ice and serve.

Makes one quart.

Post Script: As my readers have reminded me in their comments below, this tea is also delightful without sugar.

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  1. #1 by Paolita@BerryHaute on September 28, 2011 - 3:53 pm

    I absolutely love “Jamaica” probably one of the things I miss most from Mexico, just recently I was able to find some organic jamaica at a small place that specializes in Tea, they mix it with dry berries which is nice because it makes it a little sweet, I don’t even add sugar to it when I drink it hot, and for a cold, more authentically Mexican version a little agave nectar does the trick. Now all I’m missing is one of those big glass jars with a big ladle to pour it.

    • #2 by Cooking in Mexico on September 28, 2011 - 5:52 pm

      Great! Someone else who doesn’t add sugar. Obviously, I misjudged my audience.

  2. #3 by Pat on September 28, 2011 - 4:52 pm

    The agua de jamaica I make has a very zingy flavor and no sugar. My Mexican friends love it! I add slices of fresh ginger (for this quantity maybe two) and a few sprigs of fresh yerba buena with the jamaica. Que rico! And so refreshing.

    • #4 by Cooking in Mexico on September 28, 2011 - 5:51 pm

      I make it without sugar, too, Pat, but thought the readers would like some sweetness. Thank you for making this comment, so that others can see it does not necessarily need any sugar, especially if mixed with fruit juice. I like your idea of adding ginger.

  3. #5 by Lyndsey ~The Tiny Skillet on September 29, 2011 - 5:17 am

    Mmmm…I love agua de jamaica and it is actually one of my top posts in popularity. I like making it my self so it is not very sweet. You are right it is so refreshing, and beautiful color!

    • #6 by Cooking in Mexico on September 29, 2011 - 11:08 am

      Agua de jamaica is so popular in Mexico, but not well known north of the border. I hope your post and this one encourage others to make it. It’s is so easy to make and so good. And a is such a bright color on a dining table.

  4. #7 by granite countertops in dallas on September 30, 2011 - 6:51 pm

    Hi There Cookinginmexico,
    On a similar note, If you have ever visited the Carolinas then you have probably enjoyed at least a few glasses of the “wine of the south” otherwise known as ice tea. If you order it in a Charleston restaurant it will in all likelihood come sweetened without you asking. If you complain about that the wait person will give you a “what’s wrong with you boy?” look but return with an unsweetened glass of tea for the poor dumb Yankee.
    Good Job!

    • #8 by Cooking in Mexico on October 1, 2011 - 7:31 pm

      I know very well the sugary iced tea served in Texas; I don’t order it anymore. This is the beauty of making your own — you get to sweeten it just the way you like it.

  5. #9 by Michael Beyer on October 1, 2011 - 7:22 am

    Hi Kathleen. I’m happy to see you are back again. Great photo. I love the glasses and jar you used to style your beverage.
    - Michael

    • #10 by Cooking in Mexico on October 1, 2011 - 8:47 am

      Thanks, Michael. This was my second post after my “summer vacation”. It was just too hot to cook if I didn’t have to, so I gave myself time off. But I’m glad to be back now.

  6. #11 by timethief on October 1, 2011 - 7:09 pm

    Fall is just around the corner but we are still having some fine days with warm weather, so I’m going to be making some Jamaica Iced Tea real soon.

    • #12 by Cooking in Mexico on October 1, 2011 - 7:20 pm

      We are still having very hot days — hotter than usual, I think — so the iced jamaica tea is appreciated. I mixed some of the tea with mango juice and made popsicles. Very cooling.

      • #13 by Michael Beyer on October 11, 2011 - 6:36 pm

        I would love to see your popsicle recipes. (or smoothies!). I bet you have all sorts of interesting ideas. One of these day I’m going to pick up some popsicle molds. The last time I checked for them in a gourmet shop the best I could find was a popsicle maker that was its own stand alone kitchen appliance. I was like, really?! I just want the plastic molds.

        • #14 by Cooking in Mexico on October 12, 2011 - 8:43 am

          Here is a recipe for mango popsicles, Michael. Popsicles almost don’t need a recipe — use chopped or pureed fruit, juice, yogurt, sweetened or not. The proportions aren’t important. I have made popsicles with only one ingredient — pureed bananas — and they were a hit. Here in Mexico, fruit such as watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, pineapple, and exotic tropical fruit like cherimoya and guava are used. The fruit is roughly pureed, sweetened, and poured into metal molds.
          I saw an ad for the Zoku popsicle maker in a Williams-Sonoma catalogue for about $50. Another unnecessary gadget.

  7. #15 by Zia Elle on October 3, 2011 - 2:29 pm

    Never tasted before but I really like that red color! To have some, may be I have to look for hibiscus tea around here……I’ll go!!

    • #16 by Cooking in Mexico on October 3, 2011 - 2:42 pm

      Hi Zia Elle. Yes, it is an impressive color, and really adds to a nice table at lunch or dinner time. I hope you can find some in Italy.

  8. #17 by Laura @ SweetSavoryPlanet on October 4, 2011 - 9:36 am

    I have a bag of Jamaica that I have been making tea with. I am resistant to too much sugar so my has been on the bitter or tart side which I like. Adding chopped fruit like apple, pineapple, orange and banana is nice.

    • #18 by Cooking in Mexico on October 4, 2011 - 2:58 pm

      Adding fruit is a good idea — something to sweeten it without adding sugar, or at least, just a little bit.

  9. #19 by Cindy Bouchard on October 4, 2011 - 12:44 pm

    I really don’t like sugar so don’t use it, Chris likes a little. Kathleen, do you ever dry your own hibiscus leaves and use them?

    • #20 by Cooking in Mexico on October 4, 2011 - 2:57 pm

      No, I don’t dry them, Cindy. I don’t grow that particular variety of hibiscus. Maybe I’ll come across the seeds or a plant someday at a nursery and can add it to my garden

  10. #21 by Vianney Rodriguez (@sweetlifebake) on October 14, 2011 - 1:41 am

    Hola!! Glad you’re back!! We missed you and your delish plates of home cooking!! I adore jamaica we live off this wonderful drink all summer and well into the winter. You know here in South Texas not much of a winter, lol Take care!!

  11. #22 by lauranazimiec on November 7, 2011 - 9:33 am

    This tea is one of my favorites! I actually prefer miel de agave to sugar. Adding fruit sounds like a good idea too, I’ll have to give that a try. :)

    • #23 by Cooking in Mexico on November 7, 2011 - 9:41 am

      Yes, agave syrup, made from the blue agave, is a good sweetener also, and widely available.

  12. #24 by Birgit Nazarian on June 7, 2012 - 3:37 pm

    I have got to try this!! I didn’t know Jamaica was hibiscus! It sounds even more delicious now that I know what it is. :-D

    • #25 by Cooking in Mexico on June 8, 2012 - 10:05 am

      Yes, jamaica/hibiscus flowers are very common in herbal tea blends. It is a very refreshing drink on a hot day. Jamaica popsicle are good, too.

      • #26 by Birgit Nazarian on June 10, 2012 - 10:20 am

        For sure I am trying it. It’s so beautiful, I am always drawn to foods with pretty colors, meaning natural color, not food coloring! And I like the flavor. I recently wrote about horchata on my Spanish language blog. The horchata of course different in Spain than Mexico.

        • #27 by Cooking in Mexico on June 10, 2012 - 4:20 pm

          I know what you mean about pretty colors. Big glasses of iced jamaica tea really add to a table’s appearance. I like horchata, but in Mexico, it is overly sweet unless you make it yourself. Maybe a topic for the blog when and if I return.

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