April 18, 2014 at 11:20 AM ET
Iced tea sipped on a shaded porch is the time-honored way to quench your thirst on warm days. But when you top off your pitcher with one of these flavorful add-ins, the drink takes on a whole new personality—and turns into the ideal mocktail (or cocktail!) for outdoor parties.
First, you'll need to brew up a perfect pitcher of iced tea. Here's how: Bring 8 cups of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat and add the tea bags of your choice; you'll need 6-8 bags, depending on how strong you like your tea. Let steep for 5 minutes, then remove the bags and let the tea cool to room temperature before pouring it into an ice-filled pitcher.
Now you're ready to add the mix-ins. Except where noted, each recommendation below is meant for a 2-quart (8-cup) pitcher of freshly brewed iced tea.
Sugared spice: Make a small batch of simple syrup (1/4 cup granulated sugar plus 1/4 cup water, stirred and simmered until the sugar dissolves) and add a cinnamon stick to the pot. Cover and let steep for 20 minutes. Add to a pitcher of iced tea to taste; you may not need the entire quantity of simple syrup.
Spa-style tea: Juice 1 medium cucumber and 1 lime and add to a pitcher of green tea with your favorite sweetener, to create a thirst-quenching, spa-inspired drink. Want to make it boozy? Add 1/2 cup Hendrick's gin—its floral and cucumber taste makes it a great match.
Thai iced tea: Add 2 tablespoons coconut milk and 1 tablespoon sweetened condensed milk to a 12 oz. glass of iced black tea. Want to booze it up? Add 2 tablespoons coconut rum or spiced rum to each glass.
Tropical cool: Add a scoop of mango sorbet or passion fruit sorbet to a 12 oz. glass of iced black or green tea; as the sorbet melts, it infuses each sip with fruity flavor. (Don't forget to serve this drink with a straw!) You can spike it by adding 2 tablespoons citrus vodka or spiced rum to each glass.
Fruity fizz: Belgian fruit ales make an easy, fizzy mix-in for a pitcher of iced tea. Look for bottles of cherry kriek or raspberry lambic at your local beer store (Lindenman's is a popular brand). Add 1 12-oz. bottle to a pitcher of iced tea and serve immediately.
Old-Fashioned: Bring the flavors of a classic Old-Fashioned to your glass of iced tea. Add 2 tablespoons of your favorite bourbon and 1 tablespoon maple syrup to a 12-oz. glass of iced black tea. Stir and serve with an orange slice and maraschino cherry if desired.