With Spicegrove, Audrey Powell Puts Her Own Spin on Jamaican Sorrel

Embracing her Jamaican roots, one Maplewood woman recreates a traditional hibiscus-based beverage for the masses.

Spicegrove founder Audrey Powell. Photo courtesy of Spicegrove

Audrey Powell has always embraced her Jamaican roots. Three years ago, she decided she wanted to share the flavors of her culture with everyone else. After taking a leap of faith in early 2020, Powell quit her corporate job to focus on a product she’d been working to hone for years.

Spicegrove is Powell’s recipe of the Caribbean sorrel drink she grew up enjoying with her family in Jamaica. Made with fresh sorrel (hibiscus), and ginger, its tart yet sweet flavor comes from fresh ingredients, with no added preservatives.

“Making a sorrel drink is like making your grandmother’s apple pie,” said Powell. “Everyone has their own. It’s a sacred thing.”

After experimenting in her kitchen, or “laboratory” as Powell likes to call it, she created her own sorrel drink, tinkering with her mother’s recipe and researching the way other Caribbean islands put their own twist on it. Three years later, Powell is still sharing her drink with people all over the country.

We talked to Powell, who lives in Maplewood, about her Jamaican roots, the functionality of the beverage, and her hopes going into the New Year.

Table Hopping: Did you have any prior experience in the food and drink industry before starting Spicegrove?
Audrey Powell: I didn’t. I was working in corporate as an IT recruiter. I was making this drink as a pastime because I grew up in Jamaica. We used to drink this a lot for the holidays.

TH: What made you take the jump from corporate to launching your own drink business?
AP: I made the full jump in March 2020. I started talking with a regional distributor and I went to food shows, so I said, “now is the time to make the leap.” March 2nd I resigned from my job to focus on building my brand, and literally a week and a half later, everything got shut down.

TH: What was it like having to transition into that?
AP: I had anxiety and I was worried. When things started canceling, I realized that I needed to pivot in terms of my strategy and how I’m going to survive. I started to build a stronger online presence through Facebook and Instagram. The entire year of 2020 was a bumpy ride but I’m grateful that I was able to stay afloat. It is such a big challenge for a young, small business.

Photo courtesy of Spicegrove

TH: Being that the drink is tied to your Jamaican roots, did you have a family recipe you used to drink growing up?
AP: I had my mother’s recipe, but when I started finagling in the kitchen with it, it was not the healthist recipe out there. I actually started from scratch. The drink is not made in a traditional sense, so each Caribbean island will tell you they make their drink a little bit differently. I started to do some research on how other islands made their drink and realized that I could add this or take away that.

TH: What did you end up coming up with?
AP: My recipe is…hibiscus, [and] I added lime peel and cinnamon, allspice and ginger. For the sweetened version, I use raw cane sugar. It’s very simple ingredients in the recipe and the drink has a shelf-life of two years.

TH: Do you have any favorite ways that you use the drink?
AP: I drink it every day. I’ve been building my immune system with this product because it has so much antioxidants, minerals and vitamins. One of my favorite ways is just adding it to seltzer or tonic water. You could reheat it, add it to teas, make cocktails or mocktails with it, make smoothies or popsicles for the kids. It’s a very functional beverage.

TH: And it’s bottled right here in NJ!
AP: It is! I use a wonderful local co-packer called the Organic Food Incubator located in Bloomfield. Mike Schwartz and his team have been bottling for almost three years. He was one of the only people that was willing to make the product the way I was accustomed to because I use all raw material. I think that’s what sets me apart from anything else that’s on the shelves.

TH: How did you get the name out when you first started three years ago?
AP: Grassroots! I was giving it to friends and family and co-workers. I was living in Brooklyn and there’s a very well-known gourmet shop called Sahadi’s. I walked in, introduced myself with the product in-hand and the guy said to me, “you think you could sell this?” I went in to do a tasting for two hours and sold four cases, which were 12-packs at the time. I would continually go into stores on my own time to do tastings and just move the product.

TH: And it’s been doing well since then?
AP: Yes, though 2020 was extremely challenging! From here, I hope to be back at the farmers’ markets. I love showcasing the product, and people love coming in for it… That’s what has helped this business to really move forward because those people are now ordering online. I’m really looking forward to being in the farmers’ markets again. It inspires me to know that people are talking about the product and loving it.

You can order Spicegrove (a Caribbean specialty drink made with roselle hibiscus and ginger) online at spicegroveroselle.com. Spicegrove is also sold locally at the Baker’s Street Market and Coop General Market in Maplewood as well as at Eclectic Chic Boutique and Lulu’s in Montclair. Free delivery is available for those in a 10-15 mile radius from Maplewood, just use code soma01 at checkout.

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