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Strawberry Hibiscus Tea

I used to spend a lot of time in Mexico and one of my favourite things to drink was something they just called Jamaica, pronounced ha-my-ka. I knew it was just a steeped agua fresca type drink made from these Jamaica flowers and water. I was told it was a natural diuretic and so it was great for me because I might have consumed a little bit of alcohol back in those days and so it was the perfect thing to sip on all morning. I just assumed it was some exotic thing that I could only get in Mexico so imagine my embarrassment when I wandered into a Mexican dry goods store in Kensington Market only to discover that Jamaica is spelled like Jamaica and is simply the name given to Hibiscus flowers there. As soon as I realized what it was, I made sure to always have some on hand and I would often throw a handful in my pitcher of steeped cold berry tea that I like to keep in the fridge.

I had some beautiful, local strawberries which were really ripe and threatening to go bad on me and I don't need any more frozen berries, I have no room for more popsicles in my freezer and I didn't feel like eating them. Why not juice them and mix them the hibiscus? Hibiscus on it's own is quite bitter and most people use a lot of sugar to sweeten it but the natural sugars in the ripe berries gave it so much sweetness that I didn't have to use much sugar syrup at all, in the end.

You can drink it straight up with ice, you can add some sparkling water or even turn it into a cocktail by adding a shot of vodka. I may or may not have poured myself a glass and added a shot of white rum and it may or may not have made a very tasty late morning adult refreshment. I imagine that it would also make for a mighty fine mimosa if you had some sparkling wine on hand.

Strawberry Hibiscus Iced Tea

1/2 quart of strawberries, washed and hulled
juice of 1 large lemon
1 cup dried hibiscus or Jamaica, as it's called in Latin America
4 cups of water
*1/4 cup + 1 tbls mint sugar syrup
Sparkling water

rinse the hibiscus flowers and put them in a pot with 2 cups of the water. Bring to a boil and turn the heat down until it is lightly simmering and let it simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. When it cools completely, strain the liquid into a clean pitcher.

Meanwhile, puree the strawberries and strain through a fine strainer (or juice if you have a juicer) until you have about 1/3 of a cup of juice. It took about half of a pint for berries for me. Add the juice of 1 lemon to that and set aside.

When the hibiscus tea is completely cooled, add in the strawberry juice/lemon and stir well. Add the second two cups if cold water and stir and now start adding your sugar syrup to taste (i had some mint sugar syrup on hand so I used that but plain sugar syrup would be fine as well). When you get the sweetness tuned to your liking it's ready to drink.

*to make simple syrup just bring equal amounts of water and sugar to the boil in a sauce pan and let simmer for a few minutes until the sugar is completely melted. Remove from heat and let cool completely. You can pour into a glass jar and store it in the fridge. You can infuse this syrup with just about anything. You can add chopped ginger, fresh mint, smashed lemon grass - whatever you want. If you add your flavouring to the water and sugar , let it stay in the syrup until it's all completely cool before straining the syrup into the glass jar.

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