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