Mexicans, from what I have seen so far, drink an extradinary quantity of Coke, however it is also common in restaurants to be offered an Agua Fresca, the three regular choices been Agua de Jamaica, Agua de Tamarindo and Horchata.
Agua de Jamacia
Agua de Jamica is and infusioin of the Jamacia (Hibiscus) Flowers. It is simple to make. The only warning I will give is to wear and apron, the stuff will stain! The drink itself is a dark blood red colour and the taste has a sharpness very reminiscent of cranberry but is more floral and herby.
For enough to fill a 1.5 L jug I used about two handfuls of the flowers (I'm not sure how accurate botanically, the descriptions hibiscus or flower are in this case, however that is how Flor De Jamaica is translated on the packaging). The water is brought to a boil, the flowers are added along with a half cup of sugar, everything is boiled for a few minutes and then set aside to steep.
After a couple of hours the liquid is strained into the jug, pressing the liquid from the flowers, more sugar can be added of the drink is too sharp or it can alos be diluted with more water.
Horchata (Almond & Rice Cooler) takes a little longer to make. It is however well worth the effort and is quite unusual in that it manages to be both very comforting and very refreshing.
It is a milky white colour and tastes of cinnamon and rice water.
The recipe I used comes from Rick Bayless, which he says has been modified to work with a blender rather then grinding the ingredients on a meteate.
Firstly 6 tbls of rice are pulverised in the blender, the pulverised rice is added to 1 1/4 cup of blanched almonds, an inch long piece of cinnamon and lime zest. All of this is added to 2 1/4 cups of hot water and allowed to stand overnight.
This slurry is returned to the blender and blended for 3 to 4 minutes. It is then passed through a fine sieve (He reccomends a couple of layers of cheesecloth. A regular household sieve is not nearly fine enough but I used the finer type of sieve that would normally be used for icing sugar, which was acceptable enough, though a chinios or the cheesecloth would be better and leave a less chalky drink.), a couple of more cups of water are added and enough sugar to sweeten and the Horchata can then be cooled.
Although the ingredients require steeping overnight, the preperation time is still minimal and personally I never find things that require overnight preparation, like dried beans for example, a problem. They just require a small little bit extra foresight but there is never as much actual additional work as you, at first, think when a recipe mentions some advance preparation. And in this case the little extra effort is well rewarded.
The drink has the warmth and comfort of the cinnamon and the milkyness, yet it is not at all cloyingin and is in no way like a dairy drink. It is well worth the effort and unlike the Aguas de Jamaica and Tamarindo the ingredients for Horchata are available anywhere.
I might at some future point try the Agua de Tamarindo, I must admit however I am not a huge lover of tamarind so it probably won't be soon.