The Buzz Getting Merry with Mezcal
’Tis the Season for Spiked Hibiscus Punch
By Tim Ebner, photography by Raisa Aziz
The holidays are synonymous with spiked drinks, but this winter season why not skip Uncle Harry’s grog and opt for a much more refined and complex cocktail—a spiked hibiscus tea, served traditionally in Mexico and officially known as agua de jamaica (pronounced AH-gwa de hah-MAHI-cah).
The phrase translates into “water of roselle” and refers specifically to a type of hibiscus plant commonly grown in Oaxaca. Take note because dry, whole-leaf hibiscus should be one of those year-round staples that you keep stored as a kitchen essential, says Robin Miller, a bartender at Espita Mecalaria in DC’s Shaw neighborhood.
He uses hibiscus leaves to make agua de jamaica daily behind the bar, and he encourages patrons try this agua instead of sparking or still.
“It’s one of the most common drinks that you’ll find all across Mexico,” Miller says. “And if you go into anyone’s house, the first thing they’ll do is offer you a glass of agua de jamaica.”
During the winter season, this drink is as easy as boiling a pot of water and letting some hibiscus leaves steep for about 10 minutes. The tea leaf is so popular, Miller says you can find it at some gourmet grocers, pretty much any Mexican grocery store, as well as specialty tea or spice shops, and even online.
“They come in packets and the brighter the color, typically the more flavor the leaf has,” Miller says. “What you get is a tea that’s slightly tart and extremely refreshing. I like to add agave and fresh lime juice for added flavor.”
The ruby-red hue of this drink will give a splash of color to your holiday party, but to really get in the holiday spirit, Miller says spike your agua de jamaica with a shot of mezcal.
This smoky Mexican spirit will keep you warm way beyond December. And if you choose El Buho mezcal (Miller’s preferred mezcal) then you’ll sip happy knowing you’re supporting a small-batch producer in Oaxaca. This fifth-generation, family-owned distillery distributes widely in DC, and it’s one of the many mezcal brands offered at Espita.
“Working here has really helped me to appreciate and value the traditions of Mexican culture,” Miller says. “Mezcal is one of them. It’s a very beautiful thing that we get to share that here because these are brands that are family owned and selling a familial heritage.”
From the Espita family to yours, Miller shares the recipe for making both his nonalcoholic hibiscus punch, and his adult version: a spiked hibiscus cocktail.
Agua de Jamaica
1 quart water
1 cup hibiscus leaves
4 tablespoons agave syrup
4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
El Buho mezcal
To make the hibiscus tea:
Bring 1 quart of water to a boil. Add 1 cup of hibiscus leaves to the water and immediately remove from the heat. Let the mixture steep for 10 minutes and stir occasionally. Strain the tea into a jar. Add 4 tablespoons of agave syrup and 4 tablespoons of fresh lime juice, then stir until it dissolves into the tea.
To make the spiked hibiscus cocktail:
Pour a shot of El Buho mezcal (rum, vodka, or gin are also easy substitutes) into a cocktail glass half-filled with ice. Then top it off with fresh hibiscus tea. Garnish with an orange slice.