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by Elise Becker

“Assume Nothing!” A mantra for The Crown as we worked towards opening our doors in March of 2019, the phrase became a Menu section, encouraging our visitors to drop their preconceptions and be open to new and delicious experiences. And now it’s the title of a recipe series, for you to recreate at home. Here’s to a year of assuming nothing!

Jamaica Soda

This is a citric and floral tisane that we spiced with cinnamon, Jamaican allspice, and fresh ginger and sweetened with piloncillo and demerara sugar. It is served sparklingchilled over ice, and garnished with a lemon wedge. 

Description:

With temperatures on the rise here in the Bay Area and spring rapidly giving way to summer, we set to brainstorming some new menu items to chill us down on the hot days. We recently released two fresh Crown Jewel offerings from Mexico, and it took my mind to one of my favorite summer pastimes – finding the tastiest taquerias and washing down tacos drenched in fiery salsa with either horchata (a creamy, cinnamon and rice-based drink) or fresh, fruity agua frescas. 

There are many variations of agua fresca to be found, but some of the most common include variations on agua de tamarindo (tamarind), agua de sandía (watermelon), and agua de jamaica (pronounced hah-my-kah). Agua de Jamaica is essentially an iced tisane made from the hibiscus flower and sweetened with sugar, sometimes served with a lime wedge. 

Much like coffee, flowering hibiscus can be found growing in tropical environments around the world, and hibiscus tea is popular globally for its deliciousness, its beautiful ruby red color, and the healthful vitamin C boost you get from drinking it. As such, it is found in many tea blends, and there are many recipe variations to be found around the globe, including ones for agua de jamaica in Central America and Mexico, bissap, the national drink of Senegal, and sorrel, consumed in the Caribbean.  

The Crown is home to staff members from both Mexico and Trinidad. I consulted with each of them on their favorite ways to enjoy hibiscus-based iced drinks in order to make a truly delicious hybrid version for service in our Tasting Room. I created a recipe closer to (but not exactly) the tradition of sorrel, which is most popularly consumed around Christmastime (and often spiked with rum!) in the Caribbean.  

Sorrel tames the tartness of the Roselle (the variety of hibiscus used in the Caribbean) flower by warming up the recipe with ginger and mulling spices and sweetening it with sugar.  For our purposes at The Crown, I used a combination of piloncillo cones (an unrefined, golden-brown sugar) and demerara sugar for sweetener and added lemon, orange, cinnamon, ginger, and Jamaican allspice to the mixture. 

If those spices seem out of season to you, remember that in the Southern Hemisphere where this drink originates, Christmas is celebrated in the summer heat, not in winter weather. Sip on it and have yourself a merry little hybrid summer holiday! If you want a more adult beverage, you’ll have to provide your own rum, but it tastes just smashing without it. 

For an extra crispy summer refresher, we kegged this recipe up and charged with CO2 to make it sparkle. I find that it tastes best with a lemon garnish and serve with either a lemon twist or a lemon wedge for the fresh aroma and added citric kick.   

Make-at-Home Recipe

Ingredients: 

  • 50g (about 2/3 cup) Dried Hibiscus Flower 
  • 1 toasted Cinnamon Stick 
  • 2 heaping tsp (5g) Whole Jamaican Allspice 
  • (35g) Large Chunk Fresh, Grated Ginger 
  • 1 Cone of Piloncillo 
  • 1 Lemon 
  • 1 Orange 
  • 200g Demerara sugar 
  • 2 qts Water 

Hibiscus will stain your clothes like nobody’s business, so wear an apron or clothes you don’t mind having pink spots on forever! 

To make the concentrate, just throw everything in a pot!  But really – add the dried hibiscus, dry spices, and grated fresh ginger to a pot. Slice the lemon in half, squeeze its juice in the pot (gently squeezing with your hand is fine, or use a citrus press), and toss that whole puppy (peel and all) into the pot with the rest. Do the same thing with the orange. Add COLD water to the pot on top of your spice mixture. This is crucial – don’t try to make things go faster with hot water. Turn on the heat to medium and slowly bring it all to a rolling boil. Then, add the piloncillo cones and sugar and turn the heat down to a simmer for 15 more minutes, stirring occasionally until piloncillo is completely dissolved. Turn off the heat and transfer to a food-safe storage container (hopefully, one that can get stained pink without breaking your heart).  Let the whole mixture steep in the fridge overnight. Strain out all the solids the next day, and the resulting liquid (roughly 1.5 quarts) is your concentrate. Dilute to taste with sparkling water (we like a 1:3 or 1:4 ratio) and serve with a lemon wedge.