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How to Make Agua de Jamaica or Iced Hibiscus Tea

Ms. Venegas experiments with Mexican foods under the critique of her Mexican husband. The recipes need to pass a "when I was a kid" test.

Iced Hibiscus Tea

Iced Hibiscus Tea

Cool Refreshment

Pronounced "hah-Mike-huh", iced hibiscus tea is a popular Mexican beverage. The ingenuity of the cooks south of the American border has always caught my imagination. Flavored waters or frescas are a Mexican staple that I've always enjoyed.

Frescas are displayed in tall barrel-shaped glass jars and served with long-handled ladles. It's a quick thirst quencher and excellent use of over-ripe fruit or as is the case with jamaica, dried hibiscus.

Jamaica uses hibiscus sabdariffa, misnamed hibiscus flowers by the marketplace. The petal-like dried "flowers" are the calyces, the growth after the flower dies.

Served in tall glass barrels

Served in tall glass barrels

Health Benefits of Hibsicus

We all have learned about the benefits of dark fruits, vegetables, and certain teas. There is no exception with hibiscus. It's high in Vitamin C and antioxidants and is a mild diuretic. There have been studies that show it lowers systolic blood pressure. Move over bottled grape juice; hibiscus tea can be made in your kitchen and has less impact on your grocery bill and carbon footprint.

Here is an easy way to make the drink using the infusion method.

Where to Get Dried Hibiscus

A few interesting facts about hibiscus tea.

  • The part of the plant used for the drink is the calyx, the cover around the fruit of the Hibiscus sabdariffa.
  • The flower will last a good part of the summer and after it fades, the calyx gets fleshy creating a sort of fruit. By harvest time the sepals covering the fruit are a very dark red. Farmers remove the fruit and spread the calyces on drying racks in the sun for the market.

Bulk hibiscus tea is not easy to buy in some areas of the U.S. Try these suggestions for locating it.

  • Mexican food markets are the first source to find bulk bin hibiscus.
  • Check out the swap meets that have a big Latino presence.
  • Health food stores.

If that fails, there are sites online.


  • 2 1/2 cups dried hibiscus, lightly rinsed
  • 1/2 cup sugar, adjust for taste
  • 8 cups water


  1. Rinse quickly in a strainer to rid of impurities.
  2. Put in container and cover with water.
  3. Let soak overnight or for four hours in the refrigerator. It can be sun-soaked, like sun tea, as well.
  4. After the soaking period strain half into a serving pitcher. Adjust for taste by adding fresh water.
  5. Add sugar to taste.
After the soak period

After the soak period

Homemade Agua de Jamaica Is Slightly Tart

The advantage of making your own Jamaica is that you control the sugar. All commercial establishments make it too sweet. Adjust sugar to leave just a little tartness, and not too much that it is sugary.

In the winter, drink it at room temperature.

In the photo above, notice the yellow soaker pitcher on the right. Add a couple of cups of fresh water after your first pour, continue the soak in the refrigerator, and you'll have a second drinkable pitcher the next day.

Hibiscus Tea

Hibiscus Tea

As with sun tea, there is no boiling with this method. The infusing allows for a thickened drink like coffee. There is a hint of cranberry, and without sugar, it is tart. It is deep red and very satisfying. Keep the infusion in the refrigerator. Prolonged warm temperature makes it bitter.

Agua de Jamaica

Agua de Jamaica

Worldwide Names for Hibiscus Tea

I learned about hibiscus tea through Mexico, but later found out it is a worldwide drink with many names. The areas where it is not common are in colder climates such as the U.S. and China.

  • flor de Jamaica or agua de Jamaica—Mexico
  • wonjo—West Africa
  • bissap—national drink of Senegal
  • sorrel—Tobago
  • carcade—Italy
  • zobo or tsobo -- Nigeria
  • dabileni—Mali
  • wanjo—Gambia
  • saril—Panama
  • red sorrel—the Caribbean
  • chai kujarat—Iraq
  • karkade—Egypt
  • gumamela—Philippines
  • omutete—Namibia
Hibiscus is called karkade in Egypt.

Hibiscus is called karkade in Egypt.

An International Refreshment

Hibiscus tea is a favorite in many countries. Enjoy a tall glass over ice when it is very hot. It is a welcoming drink in every hot locale in the world. On the island of Jamaica, they call it sorrel. Other Caribbean areas call it red sorrel. Each country makes it the same way. Either boil it or soak it.

If you soak it in a glass container in the hot sun, as in sun tea, you achieve natural pasteurization. The temperature needs to reach at least 113°F, and you are done.

Of all the years I have made Jamaica with the infusion soaking method, no one has had any ill effects.

Making Hibiscus Tea

© 2009 Sherry Venegas