“Agua de Jamaica”

No, not Jamaica the place. Jamaica the drink. It’s a tangy fresh flavoured water made from steeping the bud coverings (that’s the “calyces” for all you botany students out there) of the flowers of the jamaica plant. Jamaica is tart and complex and delicious and it makes an incredible alternative to iced tea on a hot summer day or alongside a big plate of rich smoky barbeque meat. It’s reminiscent of cranberry juice, but with overtones of grapes and plums and a big hit of flowery summer goodness. It’s also packed with vitamin C, antioxidants, and flavonoids so you can feel pretty smug about drinking it, too.
You can get dried jamaica “flowers” (most people seem to think they are flowers, and trying to tell them the difference between a flower and a calyces is going to get you nothing but blank looks, so just let it slide) at most latin and Caribbean markets, either pre-packaged or in bulk. Hint: Buy bulk if you can, it’s cheaper and you tend to get a better product.
Ready to try something different? Three ingredients and a few minutes of your time is all it takes. Let’s go.

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To make a big pitcher of jamaica water you will need:

A heaping 500ml measure (that’s 2 heaping cups) of jamaica “flowers”
300ml (1 and 1/4 cups) of granulated sugar
Lotsa water

A Note About The Sugar: This makes a nicely tart version of this water. If you don’t care for lip-smacking tang, you can add up to 75 ml (1/4 cup) more sugar.

Put 1.5 liters of water (that’s 6 cups, for you 19th century types) in a pot – use one that will only be half full when you add that much water – and bring it to a boil. Dump in the Jamaica and the sugar and stir it constantly until it comes back to the boil and then immediately take it off the heat. The sugar should be completely dissolved at this point, if not, stir it a little longer but do not put it back onto the heat.
Cover the pot and let it steep for 90 minutes. No more, no less. When the time is up, strain out the jamaica. Gently squeeze the “flowers” to get all of the juice out of them. Chill the juice. When it is cold stir in one more liter (4 cups) of water. You will need a big pitcher to hold it all.
Serve it as is over lots of ice, or if you want some extra tang you can cut it with some sparkling water or seltzer. You can also use it as an interesting replacement for cranberry juice in summery mixed drinks. Use your imagination. And enjoy.

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