Agua frescas, or “fresh waters”, are one of my favorite types of drinks to cool down with on a hot day. The drinks are made with fruits, flowers, grains or seeds that are blended with sugar and water to create a refreshing beverage. Horchata is just one example of this type of beverage, and it is a staple at most of the Mexican restaurants I go to. During the hot summer months, however, I find that I like drinks that are fruitier and more refreshing than horchata and I end up ordering agua de Jamaica instead.
Jamaica is the word for hibiscus in Spanish, and agua de Jamaica is an agua fresca that start with dried hibiscus flowers. The flowers are used to infuse a thick, sweet syrup that is then diluted with water to make the finished drink. It has an intense pink-purple color and a very unique fruity, floral flavor to it. Hibiscus flowers are on the tart side of the spectrum on their own, so you may find that you need to adjust the sugar level in this drink to your own tastes. I prefer mine to be a little bit sweeter, so while this recipe originally comes from the show Mexico, One Plate at A Time (Rick Bayless’s show, which I am a fan of), I prefer to add a little more sugar to mine.
Dried hibiscus flowers are relatively expensive (if you can even find them) at many specialty markets, but once I discovered that they were plentiful and inexpensive at my local Mexican markets, I started to make agua de Jamaica at home on a regular basis, serving it as a colorful alternative to iced tea or lemonade on hot days. I will often make a double batch of the syrup because it keeps well in the refrigerator, mixing it with water to make agua fresca as I want to serve it. The syrup can also be used to craft some very delicious Jamaica Margaritas and other cocktails.
Homemade Auga de Jamaica
3 cups water
1 cup dried hibiscus flowers
1 1/2 cups sugar
To serve: approximately 5 cups cold water
In a large saucepan, combine the water and sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Add in the dried hibiscus flowers when the water reaches a boil. Cook for about 1 minute to ensure that the flowers are thoroughly saturated, then remove from heat and cover. Allow mixture to sit and infuse for 1 hour. Strain to remove the flowers, pressing the flowers down in the strainer to remove as much liquid as possible, and chill syrup until ready to use.
To serve, combine syrup with approximately 5 cups of water, depending on your taste preferences. I typically serve my jamaica with lots of ice, so I will often add a bit less water to account for ice melting in my drink.
Makes about 2 quarts