18 Ingredients To Elevate Homemade Iced Tea

When the sun's blazing and the humidity's high enough to drench your clothes as soon as you step out of the house, few drinks hit the spot quite like iced tea. Its delicate yet recognizable flavor does wonders to quench your thirst and the hit of caffeine is strong enough to wake you up from any heat-induced stupor.

While there's no denying our love of homemade iced tea, we're always on the lookout for ways to improve classic recipes. In that spirit, we've put together a list of ingredients to elevate homemade iced tea. Some, like flavored tea bags, completely change the look and flavor of your iced tea. Others, like fresh herbs and ginger, stay true to the essence of iced tea while still putting a new spin on it. You know you're intrigued, so be sure to check out all ingredient additions to elevate your homemade iced tea.

1. Coconut water provides extra hydration

Regular tap water is fine, but if you're serious about upgrading your homemade iced tea, then you've got to think outside the box. That's where coconut water comes in. We don't recommend heating up coconut water for your iced tea. Heating destroys all of its vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Besides taking out all of the good-for-you elements, heat ruins the flavor of coconut water — not a good look when you're preparing iced tea.

There are two possible solutions. The first is to prepare extra-strong iced tea. You can do this by adding an extra tea bag or reducing the amount of water you add. Once the tea is brewed and chilled, dilute it with cold coconut water for a burst of electrolytes and antioxidants. Alternatively, you can make iced tea using cold-brew tea bags. Steep the tea bags in the coconut water and chill until it's time to serve.

2. Add a pleasant zing with citrus

You're probably used to adding a wedge of lemon to your homemade iced tea, but why stop there? Rather than viewing citrus fruits as mere accessories, give them a turn in the spotlight. For starters, upgrade your tired lemon wedge with a novel type of citrus. Some of our favorites are pomelo (similar to grapefruits but less tart), cara cara (like navel oranges but with a sweeter and more complex flavor), and yuzu (a mixture of lemon, grapefruit, and orange).

However, if you're ready to go full tilt on citrus iced tea, mix citrus syrup into your homemade iced tea before serving. To make it, combine the zest from an orange and a lemon with water and sugar. Boil until the sugar is dissolved, then steep for 20 minutes. After steeping, strain the zest from the liquid and cool. Before serving, combine the citrus syrup and the juice from both fruits with the iced tea.

3. Cranberry juice is the perfect bittersweet addition

Cranberries usually only come out around Thanksgiving, but that's a shame. Especially when you consider how well these tart berries pair with iced tea. Cranberries and iced tea are a match made in heaven because the natural tartness of the cranberries helps offset the bitter tannins often found in tea.

If you're on board, then the first step is to choose your tea. Black tea, especially a mild variety, works well for this recipe. Green and white teas also work, but they'll yield a lighter final product. These are all solid options, but mixed berry is our favorite tea to pair with cranberry juice. The fruitiness of the tea mixed with the cranberry juice creates a super fruity drink that's perfect for the dog days of summer. After selecting the tea, choose your cranberry juice. We recommend choosing a brand of cranberry juice with little to no added sugar.

4. Lemonade transforms iced tea into an Arnold Palmer

Named after the legendary golfer, an Arnold Palmer is the best of both worlds: caffeine from the iced tea and tart sweetness from the lemonade. What nowadays seems like an obvious drink combination started off as a simple kitchen experiment. A fan of iced tea, Palmer had the idea to mix a bit of lemonade into his signature drink. Loving the combination, he ordered the mocktail at a bar. Someone overheard his order, copied it, and the rest is history.

It's entirely up to you to choose the perfect iced tea-to-lemonade ratio. In fact, the Arizona Beverage Company uses a half iced tea, half lemonade recipe, despite Palmer's assertion that iced tea should be the dominant ingredient in his namesake drink. His desired ratio was two parts iced tea to one part lemonade. If you want to mix things up, try swapping green or white tea for black tea.

5. Unconventional teas change the way you look at iced tea

We've hinted at this idea a few times already, but now it's time to lay our cards on the table. Although standard iced tea recipes call for black tea, there are other options. We don't want to knock a classic, but we'd like to invite you to expand your repertoire a bit. Experimenting with a different type of black tea like Earl Grey, is an easy way to dip your toes in the water. With its notes of bergamot and citrus, Earl Grey iced tea pairs seamlessly with a spring of mint and a wedge of lemon.

Outside of black tea, green tea is another excellent choice. Not only does it have a lighter flavor than black tea, but it's full of antioxidants, helps keep your blood sugar in check, and may even lower your risk of cancer (per Healthline). If you're sensitive to caffeine, try infusions like rooibos, hibiscus, or lemongrass for a delicious iced tea minus the jitters.

6. A pinch of baking soda clarifies iced tea

Any Southerner will tell you that there's nothing more embarrassing than a cloudy pitcher of iced tea. Hazy tea is the result of brewing tea for too long. When over-brewed, the tannins and caffeine latch onto each other, forming the cloudiness you see in the pitcher. But not to worry — there's an easy solution to this unsightly problem.

Adding just ⅛ teaspoon of baking soda to a pitcher of iced tea instantly corrects the issue. Besides improving the tea's appearance, baking soda improves the flavor. Over-brewed tea tends to taste bitter (again, blame the tannins). By adding baking soda (a basic ingredient), you tone down the flavor of the tannins. While we're happy to provide a solution to your cloudy tea woes, that doesn't give you permission to purposefully neglect your iced tea. By brewing tea for the correct amount of time (usually about 7 minutes), you'll avoid haziness and bitterness.

7. Berries are nature's candy

Few foods are more summery than berries and iced tea. Both conjure up memories of instant refreshment after an afternoon spent playing under the sweltering sun. Given their proclivity for each other, it only makes sense to combine them when upgrading your iced tea recipe.

For the ultimate berry iced tea experience, we recommend using whichever seasonal berries you have on hand (or in the freezer) to make a berry simple syrup. Combine the berries with water and sugar, bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes. Afterward, strain the berries and mix the syrup into a pitcher of iced tea. Chill for several hours. Before serving, add a few loose berries to the pitcher for an eye-catching garnish. While plain black tea works magnificently in this recipe, using a berry-infused black tea or an herbal berry tea really brings out the fruit flavors in the berry syrup.

8. Fresh herbs perk up iced tea

Don't get us wrong, we love iced tea just as much as everyone else, but we do find the flavor a bit heavy from time to time. Maybe it's because we're brewing it for too long or maybe it's because we crave something lighter when the temperature rises. Whatever the reason, we often find ourselves needing to freshen up our homemade iced tea.

One of our no-fail ways to enliven iced tea is by incorporating fresh herbs into our favorite recipes. There are about a million ways to incorporate the season's bounty into your summer drink, but some of our favorite combinations are watermelon and basil or mint and lemon. For the ultimate herbal iced tea experience, muddle fresh rosemary, thyme, or lemongrass into your iced tea pitcher before adding tea bags and boiling water. Crushing the herbs releases their essential oils, something that's beneficial from both a health and flavor perspective.

9. Ginger gives a tropical taste

Iced tea, especially sweet tea, is one of those things that seems as American as apple pie. But just because this summery drink looms large in American culture doesn't mean other countries aren't making their own (even better) versions. Take the Dominican Republic as an example. Dominicans combine iced tea with fresh ginger, lemons, limes, and honey for a refreshing, zippy take on the refreshing beverage.

To make this tasty iced tea variation, shred fresh ginger root into boiling water. Allow it to steep for 15 minutes before straining. Add honey while the water is still hot, then incorporate fresh lemon and lime juice. We suggest using double the amount of lemon juice as lime juice. Chill for several hours and serve with lime wedges and mint sprigs. An even quicker way to prepare this recipe is to make ginger simple syrup ahead of time, then add it to iced tea whenever you're craving something different.

10. Watermelon is a summery addition

From popsicles to salad, there are plenty of ways to prepare watermelon. But how about instead of eating it, you use it to elevate homemade iced tea? After all, watermelon's high water content and subtle sweetness make it the perfect fruit to reach for when you're in need of serious refreshment.

Not only is watermelon iced tea seriously delicious and thirst-quenching, but it's ridiculously easy to make. Start by cubing the watermelon into bite-sized pieces. Juice or blend the morsels until you obtain juice. Remove any chunks using a strainer, then combine your desired amount of watermelon juice with chilled iced tea. We recommend high-quality black tea. Other teas aren't strong enough to stand up to all of the water. Feel free to add sugar or another sweetener before serving. Watermelon iced tea is best when it's fresh, but you can extend the shelf life by adding some lemon or lime juice to the pitcher.

11. Drop in tapioca balls to create homemade bubble tea

We're going to let you in on a little secret. You don't need to spend $6 to enjoy bubble tea anymore. In fact, you can prepare this tasty Taiwanese treat for less than a dollar in the comfort of your own kitchen. The secret to enviable bubble tea starts with the perfect tapioca pearls (aka boba). Depending on where you live, you might even be able to find them in your local supermarket or Asian grocery store.

If your search comes up empty, make your own pearls by combining tapioca starch with water (and sugar if you've got a sweet tooth). Mix the ingredients until a dough forms, then roll it into small beads. Allow them to dry for a few hours before pouring them into your iced tea. For the full bubble tea experience, add brown sugar simple syrup and milk to your iced tea.

12. Produce isn't just for eating

Like herbs, the season's latest produce is an ideal way to add some much-needed freshness to your iced tea without much extra effort. Not only is adding fresh fruit and vegetables a simple way to elevate homemade iced tea, but it's a hack that provides plenty of room for experimentation.

For instance, cooling, water-heavy foods like cucumber and celery provide that extra dose of hydration you're after. All you've got to do is slice a couple of wedges or stalks, place them into the pitcher, and allow them to infuse while the tea steeps. If novel flavors are what you're craving, experiment with a bold flavor combo like jalapeño and orange iced tea. To make it, muddle orange wedges and jalapeño slices in the bottom of a pot. Add boiling water and tea bags, then steep for 15 minutes. Strain the liquid, dilute it with water and freshly-squeezed orange juice, and add some maple syrup.

13. Fancy ice cubes scream class

Ice cubes are just as important to iced tea as the tea — it's in the name, after all. So why does this essential ingredient receive such little attention? We say enough's enough with the plain Jane ice cubes. Elevated iced tea deserves equally fancy ice cubes.

Your definition of fancy doesn't have to align with ours, but if you're looking for some frozen inspiration, try freezing edible flower petals, berries, or fresh herbs into ice cubes. This hack may sound ridiculously easy but believe us when we say that stuffed ice cubes provide some serious wow factor. What's more, you don't have to limit yourself to using water in ice cubes. In fact, we're big fans of replacing water with lime juice, cranberry juice, coconut water, or lemonade. Not only will the ice cubes provide a pop of color, but they'll transform the flavor of the iced tea as they melt.

14. Simple syrups allow you to customize your drink

We've already mentioned using simple syrups to elevate your homemade iced tea a few times in this article, but this incredibly versatile ingredient deserves its own shoutout. The most basic version is made by combining an equal amount of sugar and water, then heating until the sugar dissolves (or try this no-heat simple syrup recipe). Once cooled, simple syrup provides equally-distributed sweetness to chilled beverages.

But why limit yourself to the basic version when there are all kinds of delectable flavor combinations waiting for you? For example, you could infuse your syrup with spices like cinnamon or cloves for an autumnal take on iced tea. Or experiment with fresh fruit like cherries or raspberries for an indulgent summery version. You can even incorporate flowery notes by making a lavender or elderflower simple syrup. Really, the options are endless if you're willing to get out of your comfort zone.

15. Spices provide depth

Even though iced tea sits pretty squarely in the summer drink camp, there's nothing that says you can't play around with the flavors to create a more wintery feel. Warming spices like cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg, and clove are great for recreating those cozy Christmas vibes, even if you're celebrating in July. The assertiveness of these spices pairs well with bold black teas, especially those containing warm flavor notes like pumpkin, chocolate, or vanilla.

There are a couple of ways to incorporate these flavors into your iced tea. One option is to place your desired spices into a sachet and let them infuse in the hot tea before adding ice cubes. The other option is to create a spiced simple syrup. Add a couple of cinnamon sticks (or your preferred spice) while the simple syrup is still warm. Let the flavor infuse for about 15 minutes, cool the syrup, then add your desired quantity before serving.

16. Top with cold foam for a creamy touch

Whether you believe us or not, Starbucks does not have a monopoly on cold foam. Sure, the cafe behemoth dominates the popular coffee and tea topping, but that doesn't mean you can't make your own at home. And make it you should. Adding some cold foam to your homemade iced tea is a surefire way to transform a basic drink into one that's truly Instagram-worthy.

The perfect at-home cold foam starts with half-and-half and sugar. In terms of equipment, you don't need anything fancy. Either a French press coffee maker or a handheld milk foamer will do the trick. If using a French press, pour the ingredients inside, then pump the lid 30 times to create an airy foam. With the milk frother, whisk the two ingredients together for 20 seconds. Pour the desired quantity into each glass and wait for the compliments to flood in.

17. Ice-cold beer turns it into a shandy

Whether you're cutting down on alcohol or just wish your lager was a bit more refreshing, mixing a non-alcoholic drink into your favorite beer is a simple way to transform your afternoon tipple into a thirst-quenching shandy. The classic shandy recipe calls for a half-and-half mixture of lemonade and beer, but there's no reason you can't experiment with other beverages like iced tea.

To make an iced tea shandy, start with chilled iced tea, a cold beer, and a wedge of lemon. The sky's the limit when it comes to selecting a beer. However, we recommend light-bodied brews like lagers, IPAs, or wheat beers. You're looking for a 2-to-1 iced-tea-to-beer ratio when mixing the two liquids. For example, an eight-ounce glass should contain six ounces of iced tea and three ounces of beer. Slip a lemon wedge onto the rim of the glass before serving.

18. Condensed milk makes it Thai iced tea

Instantly recognizable by its unique orange hue and fragrant aroma, Thai iced tea is a treat for all of the senses. Although its complex flavor profile may seem difficult to reproduce at home, the truth is that you only need a few ingredients. Condensed milk is arguably the most important ingredient, giving the beverage its signature ombré look and sweet taste.

But there are a few steps to take before adding the condensed milk. First, boil water and sugar together until the sugar dissolves. Add tea bags and spices (star anise pods, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, and tamarind) to the liquid. Let the mixture steep for five minutes before straining the ingredients. Chill for several hours or until the tea turns orange and cloudy. Just before serving, whisk sweetened condensed milk until it loosens up and becomes more liquid. To serve, pour the tea into a glass, top with the condensed milk, and stir until blended.

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