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Home-Brewed Iced Passion Tea

Meg Scott
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Roselle

Roselle is a species of hibiscus plant, and its buds are harvested for infusing tea, syrups and other treats with its tangy floral flavor. 

Toward the end of the summer, I began receiving a box of these unfamiliar red buds in my weekly farm share under the name “roselle pods.” My family adopted the routine of preordering a farm share for our weekly produce when the coronavirus pandemic struck; this socially distanced approach to shopping suited us. What we didn’t predict was the joy we would find each week as we learned about new foods grown locally in Houston. 

The roselle pods are beautifully deep red, waxy to the touch and firm. Thankfully, the farm provided some instructions, because now they are a fan favorite in my house. Throughout the autumn months, we have enjoyed making our own fresh hibiscus tea. Or as you may also know it: Starbucks Iced Passion Tea. 

Iced tea

This refreshing iced tea is perfect for a warm Texas autumn day or can be served warm as a hot tea when the temperatures dip.  

These calyces can be found at Houston-area farmers markets from September through November. Dried hibiscus is available online yearround, but making the tea from the fresh roselle pod is a special treat we can enjoy in our hibiscus-friendly climate.  

On a recent stroll at the Houston Arboretum, I noticed the roselle plant along the trail in several locations in the park. You may even have one in your backyard. When I cut into the buds, a cross-section reveals an interior structure (and sliminess) similar to okra. The viscosity surely helps it thrive throughout our blazing summers, rewarding our summer perseverance come fall with this fruit. 

The red buds are the calyx of the roselle plant, which is a hibiscus tree native to Africa and grown around the world. Roselle is also known as red sorrel, Jamaican sorrel or even just “Jamaica.” In Jamaica, sorrel punch is made at Christmastime, and its common steeping partners reflect the holiday season. While you can simply steep these petals in a saucepan of simmering water for a tart and floral flavor, it’s common to add orange peel, warm spices, ginger and sugar. Variations may add rum, orange juice, mint or lime.  

The water turns from clear to red quickly as the roselle pods release their color. Warm spices and orange peel offset the bright and tart roselle flavor. (Video: Meg Scott)

I stick with the fruit and spices when making my homemade version of Starbucks Passion Tea. Just as orange offsets the tartness of cranberries, the orange juice and zest serve a perfect complement to the roselle. The spices round out the flavor, and before you know it, you have brewed a delicious autumn beverage.  

Whether you pick up the pods from your farmers market, your garden, or order the petals dried online, I hope you’ll raise a glass with me this autumn.       

Homemade Passion Tea

Ingredients:
2 cups roselle pods
1 orange or tangerine
1 cinnamon stick 
1 tsp cloves
1/4 cup sugar

Recipe instructions: 
Remove petals from stem by slicing around diameter with paring knife. Peel an orange or tangerine and scrape off the pith to avoid bitterness. Add all ingredients to small saucepan with 2 cups water and bring to simmer. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Strain tea and dilute as desired. Garnish with orange slices if desired. 

Editor's note: Read more about the roselle plant here and find more recipes using roselle pods here.

  • Roselle, orange peel, spices

    Steep the trimmed roselle with a fall assortment of ingredients like orange peel and warm spices. 

  • Scrape the pith

    Scrape the pith from inside the orange peel to avoid any bitterness.

  • Release the petals

    Slide a knife around the diameter of the pod to release the petals from the stem. 

  • Roselle, orange peel, spices
  • Scrape the pith
  • Release the petals

Roselle, orange peel, spices

Steep the trimmed roselle with a fall assortment of ingredients like orange peel and warm spices. 

Scrape the pith

Scrape the pith from inside the orange peel to avoid any bitterness.

Release the petals

Slide a knife around the diameter of the pod to release the petals from the stem. 

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