Drinks

Pitcher Perfect

How to upgrade your iced tea
Ice tea with rose petal ice cubes
Photos: Katie Foster/Tasting Table

We can do better by iced tea. It's refreshing, endlessly sippable and pairs well with just about any warm-weather meal, but it often gets short shrift, creatively speaking. It's a perfect blank canvas for creative flavoring and festive presentation, and rarely gets much razzle-dazzle beyond a lemon wedge, a few sad sugar packets and maybe a sprig of mint.

Here's how to brew a batch of next-level iced tea with herbs, spices, vegetables and even a few pretty petals.

Tea off. The classic combo of equal parts iced tea and lemonade is the signature drink of golfing legend Arnold Palmer, but feel free to take a swing at some other fruity pairings. Pineapple, mango and papaya juices shimmy in with a tropical twist, peach and berry purées and juices are a blast of summer sunshine and unsweetened apple juice or cider lends a mellow, cozy note for campfire sipping.

But we'd argue that iced tea's most truly magical mash-up is with freshly made limeade. It's tart, clean and gorgeously balanced with the tea's tannins. To take it over the top, muddle in a few pitted cherries for a burst of sweetness and lush color.

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Savor the moment. You pair wine and cocktails with your menu—why not your nonalcoholic drinks, too? Herbs and spices play beautifully with tea (and lemonade, for that matter). Decide what you're cooking, then grab a few healthy pinches of whatever seasonings you're using and simmer them into simple syrup, or the hot brew itself. Herb sprigs and leaves, whole spices and even spicy greens and peppers meld well with just about any tea blend; either place them in a tea strainer or cheesecloth pouch and remove once it's reached peak flavor, or strain them out as you pour.

We're especially partial to shiso, arugula and radish leaves for a vegetal bite. Whole cardamom, star anise and coriander lend an extra level of complexity, and peppercorns pack in a surprising, pleasant pop of heat.

Don't snooze on infusions. Sometimes subtle is the way to play it. Let the iced tea take center stage and add a hint of flavor by steeping chunks or slices of fruits and vegetable while the tea is chilling in the fridge for a few hours, then removing them before it's poured.

Cucumber, rhubarb and celery spears add a cool accent, while a double punch of hot pepper halves and melon cubes are a playful pairing. For extra flavor, add the elements while the brew is still hot and lightly crush them with a muddler or wooden spoon.

Chill out chicly. Ice is even nicer when it adds a layer of loveliness. One of our favorite tricks is to add edible flower petals (like rose and nasturtium) while the cubes are freezing. Just fill the tray halfway, add a petal or two to each mold, then let that get semisolid. Pour more water and petals on top and let it freeze all the way. Overachievers can do this in thirds or quarters, rather than halves. And for extra credit, use fruit juice rather than plain water and let the flavor blend into the drink as the ice melts.

We cool? We cool.

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