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.

If you order this colorful drink in Mexico, don’t ask for  de Jamaica, as I once did, only to be corrected. Ask for agua de jamaica. Apparently, a tea is a hot drink, and an agua (water) is served cold.

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.


27 thoughts on “Jamaica iced tea

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

  1. granite countertops in dallas

    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!

    1. 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.

  2. 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.

    1. 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. 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.

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