One of the many awe-inspiring things about studying abroad in Senegal was the amazing food. Women would spend hours thoughtfully preparing even a simple meal, from washing the rice to simmering sauce through the morning and early afternoon to produce a late lunch of succulent, tender meat. I admired the work that went into the creation of each meal. While I often drank water, Senegalese juices would provide a special treat for certain meals. My two favorites were gingembre, a beige-colored juice with a fiery ginger kick, and bissap, a sweet, refreshing juice made with hibiscus flowers and lots of vanilla sugar.
Rather than making bissap as a sweetened juice, I chose to make it as an iced tea sweetened with raw honey. The light, subtly tangy sweetness of clover honey combined with the tart flavor of hibiscus tea is divine refrigerated or served over ice. I brew the tea with a large amount of flowers to have a flavorful impact, but you could cut down for a lighter tea. It’s a great alternative to soda or sweet tea, and a refreshing beverage to enjoy on a warm day.
It took awhile for me to locate dried hibiscus flowers in the United States, but I finally found them in bulk at a local produce market. They are often sold as Flor de Jamaica, and are dark reddish purple in color. I bought 1/2 a pound for about $2.50, and 1/2 a pound goes quite a long way!
The recipe below is a bulk recipe that I used to make iced tea for Karly’s shower. Below the recipe are notes on decreasing the quantities to make this for just a couple people.
Senegal-Inspired Hibiscus Sweet Tea
3 quarts water
3 ounces dried hibiscus flowers (Flor de Jamaica), appx. 3 cups
3/4 to 1 cup honey, to taste
Pour water into a large pot and place on the stove over high heat. When water reaches a boil, remove from heat. Add flowers, stir, and cover. Steep the tea for 6-8 minutes. Be careful not to leave the flowers in for too long, or they will begin to impart a slightly bitter flavor. I suggest tasting small spoonfuls of the tea as it steeps if it is your first time making hibiscus tea.
Strain the tea into another large pot, bowl, or pitcher. Add honey to taste. I like to leave some of the natural tartness of hibiscus in the flavor, but you can add more than 3/4 cup if you prefer sweet tea. Cool and refrigerate until ready to serve. I pour tea into individual glass bottles or mason jars to take on the go during the week.
Source: This recipe is an Alicia original, but was inspired by the many versions of jus de bissap that I enjoyed while in Senegal.
Quantities: This recipe makes almost three quarts of iced tea, so it’s useful for a party (or bridal shower!) If you’re making the tea for one, I’d suggest cutting the recipe to one quart of water, 3/4-1 cup of flowers, and 1/4 to 1/3 cup honey for about four servings of iced tea.