Introduction: Rainbow Flower Power Coolers

The story of these flower power cooler recipes begins somewhere out in the Andaman sea, where our day-times were made of glassy turquoise-green water and night skies were dusted with powdered sugar. Here, at a little cafe on Havelock Island, we found a magical little drink called the lavender cardamom fizzy, which begged to return home with us. But when we tried to re-create taste with an infusion of lavender and cardamom--the color was murky brown. How could a lavender drink possibly be brown? It was all cognitive dissonance and disharmony.

This instructable tells the tale of how we overcame this dissonance using only flowers from our garden, matching colors with scents and tastes, and going on to create three flower syrups--one for each primary color: blue, red, yellow. Each flower has its own unique taste and locally known medicinal value. Each one was like a little Alice-in-Wonderland doorway to discovery and adventure. At the end were all the possibilities of coloring summer drinks and desserts with flower-extracts, with no need for artificial tints or flavorings.

Would you like to know how? Join in the fun! All you'll need are some flowers, water, a stove, the sweetener of your choice, and a few other ingredients you're sure to have around in your kitchens or at your local stores. If you enjoy beautifully and naturally colored and flavored drinks (no artificial ingredients), or are looking for a kid-friendly project, or just enjoy a bit of kitchen chemistry, then this instructable is for you!

If you like this idea or find the instructions helpful, don't forget to drop a vote in the "Rainbow" contest :)


For Blue Concentrate:

For Red Concentrate:

  • Fresh red hibiscus flowers, or dried hibiscus tea powder (NOTE: what is sold as "hibiscus tea" is often only dried roselles, calyces of the wild Hibiscus sabdariffa. Although this is not the same flower as the ordinary red Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, it is an acceptable substitute).
  • limes or lemons
  • Sugar

For Yellow Concentrate:

  • Fresh coral jasmine flowers, stems separated and petals discarded (NOTE: Coral jasmine is not readily found as tea, but grows easily in tropical and sub-tropical climates: US Zone 9).
  • Honey or sugar

Step 1: The Blue Syrup

What you'll need, for about 500 ml of syrup:

  • 2 cups fresh blue butterfly pea flowers, or 1 tablespoon dried butterfly pea tea powder
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon dried culinary lavender
  • 10 whole cardamom pods, peeled and powdered.

The Butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea) is a little creeper native to equatorial Asia. Its flowers are used to prepare teas and to color rices its inimitable blue. In India, the flower is also known for its medicinal uses.

Extract color:

  1. Collect flowers daily, preferably early in the morning. Kid-friendly tip: Go foraging for these in areas where they grow, or send your children into the garden with baskets to help out! (You can also grow the vines in balcony pots very easily. Seeds are widely available, and it could be a gardening project for the family, too).
  2. Rinse gently, and immerse in barely enough hot water to cover the blossoms. Use a spoon to press the flowers into the hot water. You'll see the liquid turn blue almost immediately. Cool and refrigerate.
  3. You can leave the flowers in the water, refrigerated, for up to 2 days. To store longer, strain out the flowers, pressing to extract all the color, and reserve only the liquid.
  4. Repeat this process until you have about 2 cups or a little more of the blue liquid.
  5. If you are using the butterfly tea powder instead of fresh flowers, simply steep the powder according to package instructions in order to make 2 cups of tea. Strain and reserve the liquid.

Make the Syrup and flavor:

  1. Place the 2 cups of blue liquid in a heavy saucepan, and add 1 1/2 cups sugar.
  2. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves, then bring to a rolling boil for about 5 minutes.
  3. Add the lavender and cardamom immediately, and cover tightly. Let this mixture rest for a few hours, or until completely cool.
  4. Strain out the lavender and cardamom, pressing hard with a spoon to extract all the flavor.
  5. Pour into a bottle, and refrigerate. You can store this simple syrup for up to 2 weeks, refrigerated.

NOTE: Butterfly pea is pH sensitive, which means that if you add lime or lemon juice, it turns steadily pink.

Step 2: The Red Syrup

What you'll need, for about 500 ml of syrup:

  • 2 cups fresh red hibiscus flowers, or 1 tightly packed cup of dried hibiscus flowers (NOTE: what is sold as hibiscus flowers, flor de jamaica, or "hibiscus tea" is often only dried roselles, calyces of the wild Hibiscus sabdariffa. Although this is not the same flower as the ordinary red Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, it is an acceptable substitute).
  • 4 limes, juiced and strained.
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar, approximately.

Red hibiscus varieties are common the tropical world over, known for their role in reducing hypertension, in hair care and more.

Extract color:

  1. Collect fresh hibiscus flowers, wash, separate the petals, discarding calyces, stems, and stamens. Kid Friendly Tip: get the little ones involved in cleaning! This is a great activity to do with young children, too, and if a few petals get eaten in the process--it's all good!
  2. At this stage, you have two choices. If you have lots of flowers on hand and want the syrup quickly, use Method A. If you have only a few flowers on hand each day, you're better off with Method B. Method A is faster and gives you more syrup but but with less intense taste. It also spoils a little faster. Method B produces a smaller quantity of syrup with a more intense taste and shelf-life.
    • Method A: To extract color from fresh flowers, place the petals in a heatproof bowl, and slowly pour two cups of boiling water over them. Let this rest until cool, then strain out the petals, reserving only the red liquid.
    • Add the lime juice (the liquid should turn from a magenta to a bright red) and proceed to step 3.
    • Method B: To dry the petals, pat them dry and leave in a hot, dry, well-aired place, preferably in direct sunlight, until they are dried to a crisp.
    • Place the lime juice in a bottle and press the dried petals into the juice, immersing them as much as possible. Add a little water to cover the dry petals, if needed. Leave this to rest, tightly covered, either in the hot sun or in the cold refrigerator, until the lime juice turns scarlet--the process can take 1-2 days.
  3. Strain out the petals, and transfer the liquid to a saucepan, measuring the number of cups of liquid as you do.

Prepare the syrup:

  1. Add as many cups of sugar as you have liquid color extract (1:1 ratio colored liquid to sugar). If you used Method B, you may have very little liquid. You can add up to 1/4 cup water if you wish, adjusting sugar accordingly, and proceed as below.
  2. Heat until the sugar is fully dissolved, then bring to a rolling boil for 5 minutes.
  3. Allow the syrup to cool completely, bottle, and store refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

Step 3: The Yellow Syrup

What you'll need, for about 250 ml of syrup:

  • 3 cups fresh coral jasmine flowers, stems separated and petals discarded (not readily found as tea, but grows easily in tropical and sub-tropical climates: US Zone 9). If you are foraging these, remember to do so in the evening when the flowers bloom and are most fragrant, or early the next morning when it is still cool.
  • 1/2 cup honey (preferably) or 1 cup sugar
  • NOTE: Since the color of the coral jasmine is extracted only from it's tiny orange stems, you'll need a lot to get a little syrup. You can easily double the recipe or half it, as your flower supply allows.

The coral or night-blooming jasmine flower (Nyctanthes arbor-tristis) is a small tree native to South and SE Asia. Its leaves, bark, and flowers have widely-studied medicinal properties.

Extract the color:

  1. Place the stems in just enough hot water to cover them. We used tiny re-purposed jam jars--the kind you often find at hotel breakfast buffets!
  2. Store the liquid along with the stems, refrigerated for up to a week.
  3. Repeat this process daily until you have about 1 cup of liquid.
  4. Strain out the stems, pressing to extract as much color as possible.

Prepare the syrup:

  1. Warm the colored liquid gently, and add the honey or sugar, mixing until fully dissolved.
  2. If using sugar, bring to a boil for a few minutes and then cool completely. (If using honey, do not boil.)
  3. Store refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

Step 4: The Blue Cooler

Use either water, soda, or tonic water to prepare the Blue Cooler. We think that tonic water is the best combination with the flavors of cardamom and lavender, and balances the sweet syrup taste with just the right touch of bitters. Both tonic and soda are slightly acidic--which means that the drink turns truly lavender with their addition.

  • Pour a few tablespoons of the syrup (about 1/4" height) into a tall glass.
  • Follow with ice cubes.
  • For an adult-friendly drink, add vodka! Or omit, to enjoy with your kids.
  • Then slowly pour either water, soda, or tonic water over the ice, taking care to pour onto the ice cubes so as not to disturb the blue syrup below. The result should be a blue base with a clear body.
  • Serve with a long spoon to mix.
  • See Step 7: Playing with Colors for other creative and fun ideas of how to use this syrup, including a vegan GF tapioca dessert!

Step 5: The Red Cooler

The Red Cooler pairs nicely with salt, so start by prepping your glasses with a salty rim.

  • Run a slice of cut lime around the rim of a serving glass, and invert onto a small plate of salt.
  • Add 2-3 tablespoons of red syrup, followed by ice to the glasses. Do this slowly, taking care not to disturb the salted rims.
  • For an adult-friendly drink: make it a margarita! Or simply top with cold water and finish with a wedge of lime.
  • See Step 7: Playing with Colors for other creative and fun ideas of how to use this syrup. Or invent your own!

Step 6: The Yellow Cooler

The coral or night blooming jasmine has a naturally honeyed fragrance, so it needs nothing more than a bit of mint or a squirt of lime to bring out its inherent tastes.

  • In a cocktail shaker, combine 1 tablespoon of the syrup, a squirt of lime, and a small quantity of grated ginger (optional, for that lemon-ginger-honey spice kick). Add ice and shake well.
  • Muddle some mint and place in serving glasses. Strain the contents of the cocktail cooler over top--more ice, if you desire-- et voila, you have your Yellow Cooler.
  • Serve with a few coral jasmine flowers floating atop.

Step 7: Playing With Colors

There are many other ways in which you can use each of these flower syrups to create naturally flavored and colored desserts, drinks and other delights! Here are some possibilities, which I've blogged about on my website:

Come up with your own creations! And send me a message or leave me a comment when you do, so I can try them out, too.

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out: deepa [at] paticheri [dot] com.

And don't forget to drop a vote if you like this instructable!

Thanks and happy color play everyone!

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