My two weeks in Uvita, Costa Rica were spent in slow, at times contemplative, and liberating ways. No phone, no radio, no television, limited internet: it was a step off my time-space continuum, where the position of the sun and the level of the tides became the markers.
There was so much to observe in the natural world that surrounded me.
The ocean alone was mesmerizing. Daily we visited Playa Hermosa, an expanse of dark sandy beach with large break-causing sandbars off the coast. Waves were surf-worthy, and when not wading in for a cool-off swim, we would sit and watch: the roll and crash, the too-quick surfboard rides, the swift agile visits of bottle-nosed dolphins. Formations of pelicans, lovingly dubbed “the Costa Rican Air Force” by locals, would pass in elegant glide overhead. Sand crabs would amuse with their constant scuttling chase and retreat.
When not on the beach, we were up on the ridge, exploring that world. Over time, some birds became familiar: one large red-orange billed toucan would periodically circle through on his hunt; we called him The Toucan King. I witnessed a pair of Yellow-Green Vireos ( I named them “the Fussy Couple”) who, over the two weeks, did their mating dance, built a nest in a low hanging palm frond by the porch, took turns defending their home, protecting the eggs.
There were beautiful fruit and flowering trees around our house. Fragrant guava, plantain, finger banana. A lime that shocked, its dark green rind encasing a bright orange center. The groundsman, Martin, introduced me to the Jamaica plant.
A kind of hibiscus, its petals are the source of Agua de Jamaica, (pronounced Hah-MIKE-ah) sometimes called Red Flower Tea, also found in the Celestial Season’s Red Zinger Tea.
I have enjoyed Agua de Jamaica, made from the dried red flowers, at a couple of Latin eateries in Nashville. It’s a refreshing beverage with a taste all its own: a kind of citrus-berry combination with a light floral note. But I had never seen the plant itself, the vibrant ruby flowers that packed Vitamins A and C, and all that flavor.
I decided to pick the flowers, and try my hand at making some Agua de Jamaica. If it works with dried petals, I figured, it should work with fresh. The petals from twenty buds—about a cup— comprised my trial.
It was a simple and rewarding experiment. Over a twenty minute simmer, the petals yielded their stunning color and taste to the sugar-water. Allowing it cool, I strained the liquid, now a Jamaica syrup. A splash over ice, with some added water and a squeeze of lime—ah, it became The Beverage.
There was a balcony terrace off our upstairs bedroom overlooking the Pacific. At day’s end, it became part of our routine to make the special beverage–sometimes with sparkling water or tonic, and sip it as we watched the sun sink into the ocean’s horizon.
Now that I’m home, I’ll have to seek out the dried Jamaica petals at a local Hispanic market. Warm days are soon to come, and we can savor the gorgeous drink, and recall our step out of time.
AGUA DE JAMAICA SIMPLE SYRUP
1 Cup fresh Jamaica Petals (or 1/2 Cup Dried Jamaica Petals)
1/2 Cup Sugar
2 Cups Water (increase this to 4 cups, if using dried Jamaica Petals)
Place all three ingredients into a clean saucepan and stir to dissolve sugar.
Simmer for 15-20 minutes, (10 minutes, if using dried) stirring occasionally, until the ruby color of the petals permeates the liquid.
Cool and strain syrup, discarding petals. Refrigerate.
Pour a splash of syrup over ice and add water (or tonic, or Pelligrino, or another effervescent water) and a squeeze of fresh lime.