Bay Shore’s Alaila Lee is looking to make this Caribbean drink a household name

Alaila Lee and her Clovesz sorell at the Bay Shore farmers market last week. (Michael White)
Alaila Lee and her Clovesz-brand sorrel at the Bay Shore farmers market. (Michael White)

Sorrel is a red punch that’s well known in the West Indies, both for its cooling powers and health benefits.

Bay Shore High School and Culinary Academy of Long Island graduate Alaila Lee is hoping to change all that.

She wants sorrel to be well known in the U.S. as well.

Specifically, she wants her unique take on the hibiscus pedal-infused drink available in supermarkets across the country.  It would be recognized on store shelves by the brand Clovesz — Lee’s fledgling company — as well as its light bulb-styled bottle that she designed herself.

“I tell people it’s a vacation in a lightbulb, and it will brighten up your day,” said Lee, 21, who graduated from Bay Shore in 2013 and can be found every Friday at the Bounty by the Bay farmers market at the Main Street Bandshell.

Lee makes different varieties of sorrel, using pedals from Hibiscus sabdariffa (called sorrel in the Caribbean and Latin America) that are shipped to her in person by relatives who farm the flower in Jamaica.

“I’ll get a suitcase full, and that goes a long way,” she said.

READ: The Health Benefits of Sorrel

Lee, who also works full-time in a local bakery, started making the drink at home, using a recipe provided from a cousin of hers in Toronto. Then she started experimenting with mango, pineapple, even Jamaican rum and port wine.

Suddenly, her drinks were quite popular among friends and family.

Word began to spread.

At first, Lee sold her sorrel in wine bottles she would order online.

“I was getting ridiculous amounts of orders, and I started looking at different bottles and researching what legal steps I would have to make to do everything professionally,” she said.

After getting all her paperwork filed and approvals in place, Clovesz launched earlier this year.

She has since been spending her weekends and other nights traveling across the region, selling bottles at $4 a piece at festivals and farmers markets.

She has patents pending for her juices, as well as that light bulb bottle design.

“Everybody has their own version of it,” she explained of the punch. “Trinidadians do it a different way than the Jamaican culture does it. But mango and pineapple are my original recipes; that hasn’t been done. But it’s just like lemonade, everybody has their own version of lemonade.”

Lee said she couldn’t even name a place that stocks sorrel locally. The closest she knows of is a corner store in Brooklyn.

“What I’m trying to do is get into markets where people don’t know about it,” she said. “I’ve been traveling all over making deliveries, Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens.”

In the meantime, she has an application filed with several market and supermarket chain.

“I would like to be the person who made sorrel universal,” Lee said.