What is Agua de Jamaica, and why is it the MVP of LatAm summer drinks?
While mainstream social media influencers may have just discovered the magical and refreshing world of Latin American infused water, aka Agua Fresca, we Latines have been enjoying these cups full of magic our whole lives. They’re easy to make, colorful, and oh-so thirst-quenching! Arguably the most vibrant of the bunch? Our beloved Agua de Jamaica!
If you’re a longtime customer of ours, you know all about our annual summer obsession with our PNW Jamaica, our riff on the iconic Agua de Jamaica (ah-gwah day hah-my-kah). The “PNW” part is our own proprietary inspiration, which comes in the form of rose petal and granulated honey, but the “Jamaica” part of the blend can be found in the primary ingredient: hibiscus.
So if Aguas Frescas can be made of anything you can imagine (watermelon, cucumber, tamarind, guava…), why is hibiscus so special? Why is this brew a staple at every taqueria, mercado & family cookout? The answer is twofold: a cultural love of clean, bold flavors and a culinary tradition steeped in plant-based health. Hibiscus brings us the best of both worlds!
Why is hibiscus iced tea called “Jamaica” in Central America?
In Spanish, hibiscus flower is known as “flor de Jamaica,” or “Jamaican flower” because the flower itself (as well as many of its culinary & medicinal applications) migrated to Central America from the island of Jamaica. While both Africa and India lay disputed claim to being the birthplace of the flower itself, we know for sure that the plant was brought westward to Jamaica and then plant and its attached culture together eventually migrated to the mainland through spice trade and human trafficking. What is popular on the islands as “sorrel,” we adopted on the mainland as “flor de Jamaica,” and the rest is delicious history!
What medicinal benefits does Agua de Jamaica offer?
Hibiscus has been used for hundreds of years as an aid for high blood pressure, moderator for blood sugar, cold medicine, appetite stimulant, gentle diuretic, and so on. The high vitamin C content means this flower boosts your immune system and keeps your skin bright & clear. So many uses for one beautiful plant, AND it tastes delicious? Score!
Keep in mind that Agua de Jamaica is typically served with a hearty dose of sugar, so if your end goal is blood sugar management you’ll be much better off with a tart hibiscus tea than a pitcher of syrupy Agua Fresca. The great thing about home-brewing though? You can absolutely adjust your sweetener type and level to your own personal needs!
What’s the traditional Mexican brew style for this Agua Fresca?
Agua de Jamaica is a special one in the world of Aguas Frescas, as it is not a blended drink. Rather, we brew this flower (along with any other aromatics you might enjoy, such as rose petal, orange peel, cinnamon sticks, clove, etc.) as a simmered tea in a pot on the stove until a rich concentrate forms. “Measuring with your heart” is a popular approach, but I’ve outlined a recipe below as a jumping off point for you. Adjust to taste as you please, and feel free to add/subtract ingredients! So long as the hibiscus is potent and you’re enjoying your cuppa, you’re doing it right!
Let us know if you tried this recipe, or if your family makes it differently! We love learning all the ways y’all enjoy your tea!
P.S. A cheat for this recipe is just to throw 1 ½ cups of our PNW Jamaica in place of all other dry ingredients. Fast and easy!