Agua de Jamaica (Ha-My-Kah) is also just known as “Jamaica” colloquially, or “Karkade” in the middle east. Its not easy to describe to people who haven’t tried it. The closest western beverage is a cranberry cocktail, or the hibiscus coolers at Starbucks. Imagine something more floral and less sharp than cranberry juice. It has a rich diverse history across the globe, as well as a whole mess of variants and names across the world. In the United states the hibiscus extract is used primarily for its beautiful bright pomegranate color. But unfortunately for beverages, it is often mixed with berry flavorings to bring out a more familiar flavor. Its made primarily with hibiscus calyxes seeped in either hot or cold water and adding sugar and optionally ginger, citrus, cinnamon and any of a variety of spices such as star anise or allspices.

glass of Agua de Jamaica

Settings

I fell in love with Jamaica in the heart of Mexico, the state of Jalisco. The state motto of Jalisco is “Jalisco is Mexico” as its the cultural ancestor of greater Mexico. Many of the things associated with Mexico originated in Jalisco. It was the festival of the local virgin in the city of Teocaltiche. So the city prepares for a euphoric medley of parades, nightlife, concerts, fireworks, and endless food and drink. One dollar buys three tacos and you can have a beer with it if you are willing to shell out the extra fifty cents.

On the last and grandest day of the 12 day festival my girlfriend and I saw the spectacular fireworks display out in front of the city’s cathedral. A surreal display for any American familiar with the safety that adorns any US public fire display. This was a full onslaught of colorful busts going off twenty feat from my face in front of a gorgeous baroque cathedral.

Introductions

After the display we went to the street kiosk serving tacos we order two sets of two tacos and my girlfriend asked if i wanted a “Jamaica” . I was on vacation in a new country so i often aimlessly said yes to anything new to try.

It was served in a large white styrofoam cup, deep mauve with ice and slices of orange. Ill never forget the first sip. It was an surprising pop of floral flavor that i had never thought I would experience in my lifetime, a truly original flavor to my American background. The locals I stayed with said that in addition to its truly original flavor, Jamaica was used for centuries in traditional medicine.

Similar Drinks and Variations

Agua de Jamaica is one of several “Aguas” that are water infused with a variety of tropical flavors. Other aguas include Agua de Guayaba (guava), Agua de Fresa (straberry), Agua de horchata (horchata) , Agua de tamardino (tamarind).

Additionally, Agua de Jamaica has several variations. In the Caribbean there are variations that use spices like cinnamon and cloves to enhance the flavor.