Hibiscus tea is one of the world's most beloved beverages, enjoyed both hot and cold from South America to Africa to Asia. It lends a floral note and an intensely deep pink hue to tea.
What Is Hibiscus Tea?
Hibiscus tea is a drink made from the flowering part of the roselle plant (Hibiscus sabdariffa), which is native to parts of Africa, Asia and India. It's technically an herbal infusion, not a true tea, but we'll use the term tea since it's how the drink is commonly referred to.
The part of the roselle flower that is used for making the tea is not the petals; however, but rather, the calyces, which is the part of the flower right below the petals.
The petals of the roselle flower are usually white, pale yellow, or light pink. The calyces, on the other hand, have a dark red color and are what gives hibiscus tea its characteristic hue.
After the plant fruits, the fresh fruits can either be separated from the calyces, or the whole pods left to dry and the fruits separated from the calyces later.
The tea itself is an infusion of the dried roselle calyces, and it can be made using boiling water, which is quicker, or by steeping the dried calyces in cold water, which takes longer, but produces a smoother, more fruity flavor.
Hibiscus Tea Uses
Hibiscus tea can be drunk on its own, either hot or cold, sweetened or unsweetened, and it can also be blended with fruit juices or used as a base for making other drinks and cocktails. It's incredibly versatile, yet also unmistakable.
For instance, the traditional Latin American drink agua de jamaica is an infusion of hibiscus flowers along with sugar, cinnamon, lime juice, allspice berries and ginger.
Hibiscus tea can also be combined with superfine sugar and other ingredients, such as ginger and lemon zest, then reduced to make a syrup, and the resulting syrup used as an ingredient in cocktails such as a hibiscus martini.
How to Drink Hibiscus Tea
There are two basic ways to make hibiscus tea. The first, which is also the quickest, is to make a hot tea. This is done by pouring boiling water over the dried hibiscus flowers and steeping, then straining out the solids and drinking the liquid.
The more flowers you use, the stronger the drink will be. Likewise, if it steeps longer, the flavor will be stronger, but it can also taste more bitter. Therefore, if you prefer a stronger brew, it's best to use more flowers rather than steeping longer.
Another way to prepare hibiscus tea is to use a cold brew method, which involves pouring cold water over the dried flowers and allowing the mixture to steep for a longer period, usually 4 to 8 hours, but even two hours is enough to extract plenty of color and flavor. This method is preferable if you are planning to drink your tea iced. Cold brewing also has the advantage of minimizing the bitter, tannic flavors that hot brewing can produce, so the end result is fruitier and smoother while still full-flavored.
Whether to drink it with an added sweetener or not is a matter of personal preference. Unsweetened, hibiscus tea has a tart flavor reminiscent of cranberries.
A simple hibiscus quencher can be made by combining cold water, dried hibiscus flowers, fresh berries, sugar or honey, and mint leaves, and steeping in the fridge for 4 to 8 hours.
Caffeine Content in Hibiscus Tea
Hibiscus tea does not contain caffeine.
Buying and Storing
There are two main forms in which hibiscus tea can be purchased. You can purchase the dried flowers or you can buy prepackaged tea bags. The tea bags are certainly more convenient. They don't require straining and there's little to no cleanup involved (other than throwing away the used tea bag). On the other hand, the quality of the product in the tea bags is markedly inferior.
Either way, provided you store them in cool, dark place, away from light, oxygen and moisture, dried hibiscus will keep for up to two years.
Hibiscus Tea Recipes
Hibiscus tea is not a source of any significant nutrients. It's a common misconception that hibiscus tea is rich in vitamin C.
The reality is that while the flowers themselves do contain a small amount of vitamin C, there is no vitamin C in the resulting beverage. If you were to consume 100 grams of the dried flowers, they would provide about 13 milligrams of vitamin C, which is the equivalent of about 20 percent of your daily requirement .
But there is zero vitamin C in an 8-ounce cup of brewed hibiscus tea .