Flower Power: How to Make Hibiscus Tea

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[Photos: Liz Clayton]

As beautiful in the big styrofoam cup as on the vine, hibiscus tea, or "Jamaica", from flor de jamaica, is a perfect iced summer herbal infusion. A drink paradoxically equal in popularity at a) health food stores and b) taquerias, Jamaica's deep, tart, floral almost fruit-punch like flavors are lush and soothing hot, and balanced and supremely refreshing over ice.

Hibiscus "tea," loved by herbalists for suggested benefits to cholesterol, blood pressure and "female troubles" and high in Vitamin C, is made directly from hibiscus flowers. The dried calyces, the more delicate underpetal parts of the hibiscus flower, are infused in hot water to extract a vibrant array of flavors. Because it's such a lively, fruity and tangy concoction, Jamaica is often infused with other ingredients, such as lemon, cinnamon, sugar, honey, rum, or whatever else sounds delicious enough to add balance and drinkability to this tart brew.

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To make your own Jamaica, track down the hibiscus flowers labelled "Flor de Jamaica" at either your favorite health food store or Mexican grocer (at the latter, you can easily find a package for $0.99) and prepare as follows. No need for an infuser or teapot; you can just use a pitcher or 4-cup pyrex measuring cup.

  • Measure out 2 tablespoons hibiscus calyces (or more, if you feel like a deeper flavor—I like to be generous.)
  • Bring four cups of filtered water to a boil
  • Infuse your hibiscus in the four cups of hot water for at least 10 minutes. Taste for strength and steep more if you prefer.
  • At this time you are welcome to introduce lemon juice, sugar, and cinnamon. (You can always add more sugar later, of course.)
  • Strain out the calyces with a regular kitchen strainer—the calyces are large enough that you shouldn't get small particles coming through the sieve—and chill (or not) to your tastes.
  • Taking in the aroma when you even open the bag of dried calyces will give you a hint of what's to come: a rich and flavorful complement to any highly seasoned meal, or the perfect refresher in an ice-filled glass. You can also brew your Jamaica as sun tea, if you're the outdoor type. Season, serve, and enjoy!

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