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hibiscus tea

All Photos: Ryan Hughley

Iced hibiscus tea


Hibiscus tea scratches that itch left behind from a childhood drinking Kool-Aid

Growing up, Kool-Aid was an almost essential part of our dinner table. My mother would buy a handful of packets every time we went to the grocery store and make her favorite blend back — lemonade and black cherry — back at home. I loved this syrupy sweet "red drink" that tasted absolutely nothing like lemonade or cherries.

I would hungrily watch my mother take a pitcher down from the cupboard and pour what looked to be a pound of sugar and a gallon or so of water in the container along with the Kool-Aid packets. She would even jazz it up by adding fresh cut lemon slices to the brew. The result was a liquid so thick that it resembled corn syrup. This love affair ultimately ended when my dentist discovered a couple of cavities in my mouth.  

Almost overnight my mom threw away all of the packets of juice in the house. I sat helplessly as she went through every drawer and cabinet in our kitchen looking for stray Kool-Aid. The next night I noticed that water had replaced the beverage I had not only come to love but also associate with dinner. To say I was heartbroken really wouldn't be an exaggeration. My sugar withdrawals lasted until I was introduced to hibiscus tea by a family friend. 

Hibiscus tea is just one name for this naturally tart, almost cranberry-flavored beverage. Made from the leaves of dried hibiscus flowers, this drink is a healthy alternative to the overly sweetened beverages my mother was warned about. While hibiscus flowers originated in West Africa, their tea's popularity eventually spread to Latin America, where it is referred to as agua de Jamaica; the Middle East, where it is known as chai kujarat or karkadé; and parts of the Caribbean, where it's called red sorrel.

Dried hibiscus flowers are easily found in grocery stores and online. And actually making the tea itself is simple process. Simply steep a few leaves in hot water, add a sweetener of your choice and chill until you're ready to consume. The result is a fruity homemade "red drink" that you won't have to take away from your kids. Everyone wins. Iced Hibiscus Tea
Recipe courtesy of "Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time," by Adrian Miller.

Makes: 2 quarts

2 quarts water
1 cup sugar, honey, or agave syrup (or as much as you'd like, to taste)
1 ounce dried food-grade hibiscus blossoms (about 1/2 cup)
1 ounce fresh ginger, finely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
Juice of 1 lime

Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove the pan from the heat and add the sugar, hibiscus and ginger. Stir until the sugar dissolves.

Cover and let cool to room temperature then strain into a large pitcher. Stir in the lime juice and refrigerate until chilled. Serve cold over ice.

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Ryan Shepard is the editor-in-chief at Southern Kitchen. Though originally from Los Angeles, she has lived in Atlanta since early 2017 and cannot imagine calling any other city home (except maybe New Orleans). Before joining Southern Kitchen's staff, Ryan worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on public policy issues. When she's not at work, she enjoys hunting down the best Mexican food in the city and drinking whiskey, obviously.