Tagged beverages

Agua de Jamaica and Hibiscus Syrup

Hot hibiscus beverages are one of those things I can’t accept. Hibiscus has a sharp tart flavor which is wonderful cold, but warm, it feels like a molten acid wash exposing a fresh layer to my insides. I exaggerate, as usual, but this weightless flower contains a strong tart flavor. Only a small amount is needed to properly flavor a large batch of agua de jamaica, fortunate as this is an expensive ingredient, usually selling for $8 a pound or more.

Look for hibiscus which is bright in color and dry but still pliable. Even with its considerable tartness, my preference for agua de jamaica is for it to be just barely sweet. There’s no reason to throw away the hibiscus after steeping, not when the flowers could easily be used to flavor simple syrup, the kind hipster mixologists have been putting into pricey cocktails.

I just made your cocktails cooler.

Flor de jamaica. Hibiscus flower.
Flor de jamaica. Hibiscus flower.

Agua de Jamaica

  • 1 cup hibiscus flowers
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 quarts water, divided

Rinse the flowers under running cold water. Squeeze out any remaining water.

Bring one quart water and hibiscus flowers to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, and allow to infuse at room temperature for at least an hour.

Strain, pressing down with the back of a spoon to extract any liquid from the flowers. Add the sugar, stirring until completely dissolved. Add the remaining quart of water and refrigerate. Consume within three days.

Reserve strained hibiscus flowers.

Hibiscus flowers in simple syrup.
Hibiscus flowers in simple syrup.

Hibiscus Syrup

  • 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 cup water
  • Reserved hibiscus flowers from Agua de Jamaica

Bring all ingredients to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and continue to cook until a syrup thick enough to coat the back of a spoon forms, approximately 10 minutes.

The hibiscus syrup will keep for a month, refrigerated.


How To: Cold Brew Café de Olla

Despite the continuing love for all things coffee and Mexican food in current food trends, café de olla, or clay pot coffee, has failed to take hold in the American food consciousness, even with Epicurious, and Bon Appétit (and myself) publishing recipes for this lightly sweetened and spiced coffee, it seems Starbucks won’t be shilling overpriced café de olla anytime soon.

Just as well.

Frequently brewed in a clay pot, which imparts not only imparts its own particular flavor but also absorbs the scent of the coffee and spices over time, cafe de olla is lightly sweetened with piloncillo, or panela, hard unrefined sugar cones or bars, and spiced with cinnamon. My own version also includes orange peel, and allspice, which can easily be substituted with star anise or cloves as desired.

This cold brew café de olla recipe splits the water quantity before brewing, using only half to sweeten and infuse the water, then adding the remaining water either as cold water or ice to quickly cool the liquid before adding to the coffee grounds. If there is one beautiful thing about the metric system is that 1 milliliter of water is equal to one gram of water. No one said you couldn’t weigh your water, or ice in this case.

It is incredibly useful when making cold brew coffee to place the coffee grounds in a jelly bag, rather than mixing them directly in the water, making it easier to strain and squeeze out any liquid saturating the grounds.

cafe_de_olla_cold_brew_ingredients

Cold Brew Café de Olla

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 950 ml (1 quart) water
  • 100 g (1/2 cup packed) dark brown sugar
  • 4 strips orange peel
  • 2″ piece Mexican cinnamon
  • 2 allspice berries, crushed
  • 950 ml (1 quart) ice cold water OR 950 g (33.5 ounces) ice
  • 150 g (scant 2 cups) coarsely ground coffee

Place 950 ml of water, sugar, orange peel and spices in a pot. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Allow liquid to infuse for half an hour, then mix with an additional 950 ml of cold water or 950 grams of ice to cool quickly. If using ice, stir well to dissolve completely.

Place coffee grounds, in a jelly bag or directly, in a 1/2 gallon, or larger, container. Pour cooled infused water over grounds, stirring a few times. Cover and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Remove the jelly bag containing the grounds, or strain by lining a fine mesh strainer with a coffee filter or muslin kitchen towel, being sure to dampen either slightly to ensure better stick to the strainer and prevent absorption of the coffee to be filtered.

Best if consumed within five days, and served over plenty of ice.

Mexican Rice Horchata

I know what you’re thinking:

No, please not another horchata recipe. Didn’t the horchata die an agonizing Pinterest-driven foodie death sometime in late 2013?

Yes, it did. And thank all the gods of Mexican food it did. Things can get back to normal now.

No more declarations of ‘Healthy soy-free, gluten-free horchata!’ Only the small amount of dignity I have left keeps me from answering this with ‘Duh.’

No more photogenically sweating glasses of thin while liquid, a ridiculously large stick of cinnamon wastefully garnishing the beverage, as if it’s presence imparts any further flavor.

No more horchata lattes.

No more ‘Horchata! Perfect for Cinco de Mayo!’

No more ‘Sugar Free Horchata!’ sweetened with maple syrup. Sugar is sugar as far as the body is concerned. Maple syrup, granulated, brown, evaporated cane juice. It makes no difference at all in the way the body processes that sugar.

No more trendy non-sense, and back to basics.


Like many things in Latin American food, horchata was a Spanish introduction. And like many things in Spanish culinary traditions, this beverage derives from Middle Eastern origins. The typical Spanish version of horchata is made from chufa (known as yellow nutsedge or tiger nut in English), water and sugar, and is particularly popular in the Valencia region of Spain.

In Latin America itself horchata has a multitude of regional variations, most with the common theme of being a lightly sweetened cold drink derived from an infusion of ground seeds or grains. Rice horchata is more typical of Mexico, though it is not by far the definitive Mexican horchata. I will never tire of saying how regionalized Mexican cuisine is; the spectrum of Mexican horchata variations include dried and fresh fruits, almonds, pumpkin seeds and coconut, as well as the lesser known in this country melon seed horchata, lacking rice altogether.

This is my definitive Mexican horchata, the version I grew up with, slightly sweet, made rich with the addition of evaporated milk and only the smallest hint of vanilla.

Mexican Rice Horchata

Choose long grain white rice, preferably not parboiled (converted) rice, though this is a preference only. Short and medium grain rice have too high of a starch content for horchata and should be avoided.

  • 1 1/2 cups long grain white rice
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 2″ piece Mexican cinnamon, crushed
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 – 12 ounce can evaporated milk
  • 1 to 2 quarts cold water
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Lightly rinse the rice with cold water and pick out any debris. Place rice, 2 cups cold water and cinnamon in container and refrigerate overnight, or at least eight hours.

The next day, place the soaked rice, cinnamon, and granulated sugar in a blender jar, adding just enough of the soaking water to get blender blades moving, process at high speed until as finely ground as possible.

Place the ground rice liquid in a large beverage jug, capable of holding up to 3 quarts. Add the evaporated milk, vanilla extract , and enough cold water to make between 2 to 3 quarts total, depending on personal preference.

Stir or shake very well before serving, and enjoy over plenty of ice. Garnish with some freshly grated cinnamon.

Best if consumed within 3 days.