As the name of this beverage implies, it is made from the deep crimson or magenta calyces (sepals) of the roselle flower: Hibiscus sabdariffa. It is drunk either hot as a tea or cold as a beverage pretty much worldwide, though the name varies from region to region. In Mexico and Latin America it is known as Flor de Jamaica, Rosa de Jamaica or just plain Agua de Jamaica. On the other hand, in Jamaica, where it likely originated as a beverage, it is known as Sorrel. In Australia, Roselle. It is equally popular in much of Asia, the Middle East and Africa. To a lesser degree it is drunk in Europe and the US, though in California it is sold as an Agua Frescas in Mexican restaurants. I first had it in Mexico and later, Guatemala and it has been one of my favorite go-to summer beverages ever since.
You can find the dried sepals in health food stores, Asian and Latin American stores and often even mainstream markets in the ethnic foods section.
Hibiscus does have some medicinal properties and is used in traditional medicines worldwide. Depending upon the country or region, ginger, mint, lemon juice, citrus peel, cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices are added. I like mine with a little vanilla — either a bean added with the flower petals in the preparation or extract added at the end. I sometimes add citrus peel when making it, and I often make it into a punch similar to sangria but with rum or white wine. And this is the best part about hibiscus refreshers — it welcomes all kinds of additions to the basic tart, cranberry-like base. Best of all, it’s an inexpensive beverage to prepare and nearly everyone will enjoy it!
You will need to add sweetening of some sort unless you really like mouth-puckering tart flavors. The type and amount of flavoring is up to you. You use sugar, agave, honey, or coconut sugar, it will accommodate all equally well. In the recipe I have used a blend of vanilla sugar and added some extract. Vanilla does seem to add a refreshing component to the flavor of this beverage.Print
A Very Refreshing Beverage
1/2 gallon water
3/4 cup Hibiscus flower petals
3/4 cups sugar, or more to taste*
1 vanilla bean, sliced open vertically
Ice, mint and lemon slices, if desired
In a stock pot, bring water to a boil. Stir in hibiscus flowers and remove from heat. Add sugar and stir until sugar dissolves. Allow mixture to stand until cool, then decant mixture into a large container. Don’t strain the petals! Refrigerate overnight.
Before serving, remove the vanilla bean, rinse and dry it and save for another use. Strain the Jamaica mixture into serving container using a fine mesh strainer, pressing on solids gently to extract liquid. Discard solids — throw them in the garden or compost, if you have one.
Taste for sweetness. Hibiscus flowers are extremely tart—add a little simple syrup to adjust sweetness, if needed.
Serve over ice and garnish with lemon and/or orange slices and fresh mint sprigs, if desired.
Make a simple syrup (1 part sugar : 1 part water) to keep on hand for sweetening. Once the beverage is cooled, added sugar will not dissolve. Place sugar and water in a saucepan and stir to combine. Bring mixture to a boil, boil one minute, and allow to cool. Decant into small pitcher.
In a glass filled with ice, fill halfway with hibiscus cooler. Top with sparkling water and stir. Or, add rum or vodka for a spiked version.