How to Make Agua de Jamaica or Iced Hibiscus Tea

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

Iced Hibiscus tea

Iced Hibiscus tea

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 hibsicus.

Jamaica uses hibiscus sabdariffa, misnamed hibiscus flowers by the market place. 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 foot print.

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.

Fruits develop after flower drops.

Fruits develop after flower drops.

Dried Hibiscus Sabdariffa

Dried Hibiscus Sabdariffa


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


  1. Rinse quickly in strainer to rid of impurities.
  2. Put in container and cover with water.
  3. Let soak overnight or for 4 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 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 room temperature.

In the photo above, notice the yellow soaker pitcher on the right. Add a couple of cups of freshwater 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

World Wide 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 the 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

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 degrees, 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


goo2eyes lm on March 26, 2012:

can you please add GUMAMELA? this is the filipino (philippines) word for hibiscus. originally, i come from the philippines but i live in austria, europe now.

flycatcherrr on January 23, 2012:

Jamaica is one of my favourite beverages - cold in summer and hot tea in winter, it works both ways. Lots of Vitamin C, too, as you've mentioned. Good stuff all round.

Othercatt on January 22, 2012:

I absolutely love hibiscus tea! I sweeten mine with a bit of cinnamon and honey and then add some orange rings and lemon rings. It's so refreshing and the health benefits are amazing. My mother-in-law has been drinking it daily for the last couple months and it's lowered her blood pressure enough so that her doctor stopped worrying.

anonymous on January 20, 2012:

something new I haven't read about, liked the different photos of before and after too.

Sherry Venegas (author) from La Verne, CA on January 11, 2012:

@anonymous: Hi,

So, you want to get out of Texas? Oh yes, the pineapple drink. He puts about 3 cups chunks of pineapple in a gallon jar with a lid. Fill with water, add 2 1/2 cups brown sugar and about 1 cup beer. Cover. Let it set five or 7 days at room temperature. Start tasting to see if it is fermenting. You might Google Tepache to get additional tips. Thanks for stopping by.

Sherry Venegas (author) from La Verne, CA on December 06, 2011:

@joanhall: Yes, making it yourself is very easy. I like it more concentrated than most vendors offer and, yes, with less sugar. Latin markets sell it from bulk bins. I have thought to go to the produce market in LA, but it is a bit of a trip for me.

Joan Hall from Los Angeles on December 05, 2011:

I'd never thought about trying to make my own Jamaica before. This is a super idea because at the places where I have bought it before, it usually has SO much sugar that I can hardly taste anything else.

Thank you for sharing!

anonymous on July 07, 2011:

Jamaica Tea Co. makes Fresh, Organic Agua de Jamaica available in all Whole Foods Markets. Enjoy the fresh taste of Organic ingredients and health benefits already brewed for you.

miaponzo on February 06, 2011:

Thanks! Great information! I live in Kuwait and here this tea is called KARKADAY :)

Sherry Venegas (author) from La Verne, CA on August 27, 2010:

@kohuether lm: Haha Kohuether, koolaid takes one whole cup! Remember adjust to your liking and this is a whole pitcher. I like to taste a little sugar in my iced tea.

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