At this time of year, Starbucks has rows of flavored syrups at the ready to pump into your latte, and bottled on shelves for you to buy as stocking stuffers. In reality, flavored simple syrups are ridiculously easy (and inexpensive) to make; not only do they make a great holiday gift when bottled in dollar store glass bottles and tied with ribbon, but they’re also easy to mix up and store in the fridge to add to coffee, hot chocolate or even soda water to make your own Italian-style sodas. (Try vanilla bean in your coffee, or mint in hot chocolate.) Once you get the hang of it, which will take no time at all (a simple syrup is made with equal parts sugar and water), you can play around with flavorings, letting citrus zest, vanilla bean, fresh herbs or loose teas steep in water to add natural flavor, then strain and add an equal amount of sugar and bring to a simmer to let it dissolve. Cool, then refrigerate until you need a hit of flavor.
Flavored Simple Syrup: combine equal parts sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Stir until the sugar dissolves. To flavor the syrup, add ingredients such as sliced fresh ginger, strips of lemon, finely grated orange, lemon or lime zest, fresh herbs (try basil or mint), loose teas, cinnamon sticks, star anise or vanilla bean. (Add to the syrup itself, or heat and steep the water with flavorings beforehand, then strain and add an equal amount of sugar, then bring to a boil again to let it dissolve.)
Let the syrup cool and steep for a few hours, then strain and store in the fridge for up to 6 months. To use, drizzle syrup into your beverage to taste — use it in coffee, tea, hot chocolate, or to make an Italian soda, fill a tall glass half full with ice, then fill about 2/3 with sparkling water. Pour in flavored syrup and then float about an ounce of cream on top. Stir when you’re ready to drink.