Aqua Fresca vendor, Chapala Farmer’s Market
Mexicans love their agua frescas.
From street stalls and farmers markets to nicer restaurants (with actual walls), you’ll find aguas frescas. The term is Spanish for fresh waters. Sometimes if you order water, the server will assume you actually mean agua fresca and bring that instead.
Basically they involve a combination of fruits, flowers, or seeds blended with sugar and water to make light non-alcoholic beverages. It’s a pretty broad concept. Just add water and sugar to pretty much anything plant-based, and you’re good to go. Aguas frescas are served from unmistakeable large barrel-shaped glass containers called vitroleros.
As a dedicated plain-water drinker I’m suspicious of all fruity, pre-made drinks, so it took me months before I was comfortable enough even to sample an agua fresca. Sometimes vendors make them with revolting syrupy drink mixes or powders. And just the idea of trying the ones sold boxed in grocery stores made me gag.
But then one day I had a lovely fresh one, and I found out how good agua fresca can be when it’s made from scratch.
My change of heart occurred when Scout and I visited the Huichole village a few months back.
It was a scorching day, and at lunch our hostess served jamaica, a common agua fresca which is similar to a cold hibiscus tea. It was made fresh from jamaica flowers grown in the village, not overly sweetened, and served with big chunks of ice chipped from a large block. It was thirst-quenching and utterly fantastic, so I returned from the village a bit more open minded.
Scout picking jamaica flowers at the Huichole village
Traditionally these drinks were made by hand, the fruit mashed with a fork in a mortar and pestle before sweetening and diluting.
There are tons of different kinds, but around this part of Mexico I commonly see jamaica, limonada (lime), and horchata (rice + cinnamon). Coconut too.
Here are a few recipes so you can make them yourself, but obviously the term “recipe”‘ is pretty loose. By now you get the basic agua-fresca concept right? Something fruity + sugar + water. Impossible to screw up.
The dried flowers are available in Mexican markets. When steeped, it imparts an amazing ruby color and a fresh citrusy flavor, similar to cranberry juice. It’s delicious.
Ingredients (to make about 8 cups) :
- 1 1/2 cup of jamaica flowers
- 3 cups of water
- about 4 cups of water
- 1/3 cup of sugar (or less…be sparing)
- ice cubes
1. Place the flowers in a small pot with the 3 cups of water, bring to a boil, and then boil them for about a few minutes.
2. Steep for at least several hours.
3. Strain into a pitcher and add the water & sugar. If you want to be all fancy, first make a simple syrup with the sugar. If necessary, add more sugar or water to taste
4. Stir, add ice cubes and chill.
The classic agua fresca is limonada. It’s my personal favorite, and I’d drink it all day long if I could get away with it, but I don’t because of the sugar. I make it with small Mexican limes, but any limes are fine. Don’t freak out. This isn’t Martha Stewart.
- 1 cup water
- 1 lime
- 2 tablespoons of sugar
- peel a little less than half the rind off each lime.
1. Discard it or save it for a recipe using lime zest.
2. Cut the limes in quarters and put them in the blender with all of the water and sugar.
3. Blend on high setting for five seconds; longer blending will result in bitterness rather than the sweet-and-tart flavor the drink should have.
4. The lime wedges will still be in chunks.
5. Pour the contents of the blender through a strainer into the serving pitcher or individual glasses with ice.
Disclosure: Personally, I don’t usually blend the limes. I just squeeze them into simple syrup and water, but the blender method sounds good, so let’s all give it a try, shall we?
(This recipe came from MexConnect.)
Ingredients vary throughout the world, but Mexican horchata is essentially some type of rice milk with the addition of sugar and cinnamon.
- 2 cups of long-grain rice
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 5 cups of hot water
- 6-8 cups of extra water
- 1 cup of milk (optional)
- ¾ cup of sugar
- 2 teaspoons of vanilla
- ice cubes
1. Toss the rice and cinnamon stick in a large glass bowl and submerge them the hot water. Cover with plastic wrap and let soak overnight.
2. The next day put the rice and cinnamon with the water in your blender and process until smooth.
3. Strain the mixture into a wide mouth pitcher, stirring to help the liquid pass through.
4. Add milk (if using), vanilla, and the rest of the water. Stir in sugar to your taste.
5. Refrigerate. Stir before serving since the rice mix tends to settle at the bottom. Serve with ice cubes.