March 15th, 2011

Agua de Jamaica: “Red Zinger”


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.


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.


Posted in Beverages, Recipes

21 Responses to “Agua de Jamaica: “Red Zinger””
  1. nancy Says:

    I didn’t realize red zinger tea is made with agua de Jamaica – how interesting! Such a beautiful color, and a perfect drink for summer — I must get some of the petals at a Latin market and try making this. Sounds like you had an incredible vacation in Costa Rica :)

  2. Denise | Chez Danisse Says:

    Gorgeous. It seems like a dream.

  3. Karen Says:

    Welcome back, Nancy! Your vacation sounds marvelous, just the kind of thing we all need every now and then. I love not being “connected” – it feels so liberating to just be and enjoy rather than to always be tethered to our electronic devices. It’s good to be reminded how wonderful the natural world is. I love the pictures of the agua de Jamaica, the drink looks so tropical and refreshing. Looking forward to seeing hopefully more pictures from your trip!

  4. Barbara Says:

    Beautiful! I’m going to search for the petals and try this. So refreshing!

  5. Juliana Says:

    Nancy, I never seen anything like this…must taste so good and refreshing. Love the color…and good to have you back. It sure seems that you had a great time in Costa Rica. Have a great week ahead :-)

  6. heather Says:

    Your pictures are stunning I could almost taste this beautiful looking drink! Great reminder to slow down and unplug every now and then, perhaps even a little every day.

  7. Michele Napoli Says:

    Everyone needs to step out the normal routine every now and then. All the better when you are overlooking the sea! I’m sure this beautiful drink will bring back all the feelings of the tranquility of Pura Vida every time you sip it.

  8. Catherine Reef Says:

    Thanks, Nancy. Red hibiscus helps keep our blood pressure at a healthy level, so there is another good reason to savor this aqua bouquet.

  9. FOODESSA Says:

    Welcome back to our not so restful cyber community. LOL

    Nancy, no one could ever deny what an incredibly gifted writer you really are. You had me there right with you. The male bird protecting the nest is a little odd, although endearing ;o)
    The Costa Rican Tourism board should contract out your skill for depicting such a gorgeous imagery of their country…just thinking out loud.

    That refreshment is so colorful that I’d probably be staring at it as I would those crashing ocean waves.

    Ciao for now,

  10. Tammy Says:

    This is so pretty. I’m thinking that I can do the same with hibiscus flowers.

  11. Barbara Says:

    That looks very refreshing and such vibrant colors–but I want to see pics of you going through the jungle on the “zip line’!

  12. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Thanks everyone for the nice comments and welcome back–I was grateful that the Japanese Magnolia Tree in my front yard was in full bloom when I returned—signs of warmth and spring are here!

    Sorry, Barbara, no pics of me flying through the rainforest canopy on zip lines—we just couldn’t document that!

  13. rhonda Says:

    thanks so much for sharing your gift of writing! feels and tastes as if i were there!!!!

  14. Teresa/ Says:

    Deliciously beautiful refreshing drink. Red Zinger Tea has always been one of my favorites due to the lovely red tones. I’m now thirsty and have to go make some tea!

  15. Christine @ Fresh Local and Best Says:

    Nancy, this sounds like paradise! Fragrant guava, plantain, finger banana. A lime with dark green rind encasing a bright orange center? I dream of such exotic fruits, and hope that one day I can visit Jamaica too. The red zinger looks very refreshing and is such a beautiful vibrant color!

  16. Renee Says:

    Jealous. :)

  17. Anna Johnston Says:

    Yep., now that’s paradise isn’t it when all the things that keep us busy (mobile, phone, internet, TV) are gone & there’s just you & nature. Oh…, what I’d give for just one week of that right now.
    Your Red Zinger Tea looks amazing, maybe take it to the next level for a cocktail even :)

  18. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Anna, you are absolutely right–the syrup would work as in a cocktail concoction brilliantly—

  19. Katie@Cozydelicious Says:

    Wow, what color! This looks so refreshing. I love the idea of adding a splash of sparkiling water – or maybe even Champagne!

  20. Sruthi @ Exercise, Food & Beyond Says:

    The drink looks so tempting, I would love to try it.

  21. Joyti Says:

    O, now that looks delicious!
    And your vacation sounds ever so relaxing, and as refreshing as I imagine the Jamaica petal is…

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