I've recently been obsessed with hibiscus flowers as a really versatile base for some refreshing summertime drinks. Inspired by Jamaica Agua Fresca, which is a Mexican cooler made with hibiscus, I went on a city-wide search to make my own at home. You'd think that with all the natural foods/organics stores out here, this wouldn't be such a hard task. But after lots of searching, I was only able to find a couple of places that carried whole hibiscus flowers, which are the main ingredient in my summer thirst quenchers. If you're local, I was able to find these little gems at Christina's Spice and Specialty in Cambridge. I happen to love Christina's, mostly because they carry an extremely well-edited and yet somehow varied collection of hard-to-find spices. Oh, and their ice cream at the shop next door is to-die-for. But the goods are not cheap. So beware going into the store with a long list - you'll come out with a much lighter wallet!
This leads me to the other find. I was bemoaning my failure to find an affordable spice store that carries everything I want to some friends. And lo and behold, they introduced me to Atlantic Spice Company, which I visited on a recent trip to the Cape and it was heaven! Just about every spice, herb, grain, essential oil, and tea you can imagine. They sell wholesale so prices are low. And you can buy these online - spices brought straight to your doorstep. Though a visit to the store would also be well worth your while. We bought a pound of hibiscus flowers and went to town.
JAMAICA AGUA FRESCA
2 cups dried hibiscus flowers 8 cups water 3/4 cup sugar Juice of 4 limes
Bring flowers, water, and sugar to a boil and simmer in a saucepan for about 15 minutes. Let cool on the stove. Strain and reserve flowers in a separate bowl. Transfer tea to a pitcher, add lime and refrigerate.
For a little bonus, here's a recipe for a delicious simple syrup with the reserved flowers (or use new ones if you like). Use it to make a fun little champagne cocktail or a Hibiscus-Lime Margarita.
HIBISCUS SIMPLE SYRUP
1 cup water 2 cups sugar 2 handfuls of hibiscus flowers
Bring water to a simmer, add sugar and let dissolve. Add hibiscus flowers and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain flowers and refrigerate.