Cold, Frugal Drinks to Keep You Cool in the Heat

By Andrea Karim on 4 August 2011 (Updated 12 July 2013) 10 comments

The mercury is rising, and you are thirsty, but the idea of a boring old glass of water has you reaching for your wallet (and a $5 mixed coffee at Starbucks). Stop! Put your money down and step away from the counter. You can make your own delicious beverages that will quench your thirst and protect you wallet from summertime pillaging. (See also: 9 Places to Go to Beat the Summer Heat)

Flavored Water

Staying hydrated during a hot summer couldn't be simpler than drinking water. Water is cheap, plentiful, easily accessed...and kind of boring. Fortunately, it's easy to change from flavorless to delicious in a couple easy steps.

You've probably had lemon or cucumber-flavored water at a restaurant. All you have to do is slice up your favorite fruit and let it sit in a pitcher of water for a couple of hours. Try adding sliced pineapple, guava, grapes, or grapefruit for an exotic feel. Want more savory alternative? Lightly mash a combination of herbs like mint, basil, sage, and thyme, and add to your water. Then simply pour the water through a strainer into your glass. You can keep refilling the pitcher, using the same herbs, for a couple of days. Combine herbs with fruit slices for a truly unique flavor.

If you enjoy the smell and taste of flowers, try using a wooden spoon to masticate some rose petals from your own garden and adding them to water or other beverages. Jasmine flowers and violets also add a wonderful fragrance and taste.

Try Xin's naturally flavored water recommendations for even more tasty varieties of healthy, cheap, and delicious water.

If your tap water has a chemical taste, try filtering it first. My fair city of Seattle has a clean water supply that is treated heavily with chlorine, so I filter the heck out of that stuff.

Spritzers

If flavored-but-flat water doesn't excite your tastebuds, consider adding sparkling water to your favorite juice beverage. Watering down your juice with some fizzy goodness reduces the number of calories you are taking in and saves money, too (seltzer water is cheaper than juice, after all). This is going to sound totally weird, but one of my favorite beverages in college was half a glass of chocolate milk cut with half of glass of seltzer.

Coconut Water

Coconut water is very lightly flavored, but stuffed with electrolytes that help replenish your system when you're sweating buckets. Coconut water isn't always cheap — look for larger containers, rather than individual juice boxes, and cut in half with water to get extra hydration. Or check your local Thai and Vietnamese grocer for a supply of fresh baby coconuts or packaged coconut water.

Cold Brewed Tea

Sun tea was a tradition where I grew up, but because sun tea can harbor dangerous bacteria, consider making refrigerator tea instead. User four teabags per quart of cold water, and refrigerate for six hours or more.

Cold-brewed tea shouldn't be limited to just black or red tea. Try making icy herbal teas like chamomile or mint, or use green or white teas for that boost of antioxidant power. You can also add lemon, herbs, fruit juice, or a pinch of your favorite sweetener for added tea-rrificness. If you're watching your calories, go easy on the sugar — if you like sweet tea, use half sugar and half Splenda or Truvia to get sweetness without the added calories.

Iced Coffee

There are some hot summer mornings that don't permit you to even THINK of drinking hot coffee. Iced coffee to the rescue! The secret to making iced coffee that doesn't suck is cooling it correctly without watering it down. You can either brew coffee extra strong and add ice, or make coffee ice cubes that you then add to regular coffee that has been cooled to room temp or refrigerated overnight. Add cream and sugar as usual, but remember sugar will take longer to dissolve.

Homemade Frappuccinos

A blended coffee drink is so hard to resist on a hot day, but if you are consuming more than one per week, you can probably save yourself some cash by creating frappuccinos at home rather than shelling out the big bucks at a café. If you don't have an espresso machine, you can still create delicious blended coffee drinks using super-strong brewed coffee or instant coffee. You can always opt for decaf, and making your own frapp means that you can choose low-carb or sugar-free options (not possible at Starbucks).

Super-Light Cocktails or Mocktails

When the evening rolls around, my liquor cabinet doors swing open. Now, I love me a stiff drink as much as the next lush, but during the hotter months, sometimes staying hydrated means going easy on the booze. Watering down your cocktails a bit means that you can enjoy two or three hydrating drinks without ending up face-down in the foyer. Also, if you really cut back, you'll be saving beaucoup bucks.

Gin and Tonic

The gin and tonic is a traditionally popular warm-weather drink. To enjoy a lighter version, opt for diet tonic water, add extra lime juice, and only use half the amount of gin that you would normally add. I like to make my summertime G&Ts in a highboy glass, with freshly made ice, smashed homegrown herbs, or even a bit of sliced up over-ripe fruit (strawberries and blackberries are a particular favorite).

Sangria

Use up a bottle of not-so-hot wine by mixing up a pitcher of sangria. Combine wine, citrus-flavored soda, a pinch of brown sugar, and a couple shots of brandy. Pour over ice, and you have a refreshing beverage without too much of a buzz.

Even cheap white wine tastes pretty good paired with chilled seltzer water and a splash of elderflower liquor (St. Germaine is not cheap, but a little bit goes a very long way — and there are other, less-expensive elderflower liqueur options).

Other flowery options that you can find at upscale grocery stores include drinkable rose water and orange-flower water. A small bottle might cost $10, but you'll only need a teaspoon to take that bland rosé to rivetingly rosy.

Bloody Mary Veggie Madness

Are you a big fan of bloody Marys? During the peak of summer's bounty, when your table is overflowing with homegrown tomatoes, make your own fresh tomato juice and enjoy a bloody Mary (virgin or not) that is lower in calories and a little less sweet. I actually loathe the taste of canned tomato juice — too much like watery ketchup — but my homemade tomato juice brings all the boys to the yard, with or without vodka.

Mocktails

A good mocktail is nothing to sneeze at. Finding a way to balance sweet and sour, bitter and savory can take some doing, but cutting back on booze is better for us all, decreasing our heft while increasing the heft in our wallets.

What are you favorite summer beverages? Do you like cold drinks at all, or do you find that hot beverages are more your style? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Guest's picture

Something really refreshing? Slice cucumbers and put them in a pitcher water, then refrigerate. It's delicious and perfect for a HOT day.

-Melissa @ MangoMoney

Meg Favreau's picture

I'm going to second the deliciousness of St. Germain. One of the best summer cocktails I ever had was a bit of St. Germain, dry sparkling wine, and a couple of slices of kumquat.

I also love drinking sparkling water out of a wine glass in the summer. I know it's something I can do all year round, but there's something about doing it in the warm weather that makes me feel super fancy.

Guest's picture

There's a fact of life that says beverages always taste better out of wine glasses. And mason jars.

Andrea Karim's picture

Specialty glasses make everything better!

Guest's picture

coconut water is the best! or just add some citrus to cold water to jazz it up a bit.

Guest's picture
FrugalCat

I like to make Kool-aid or Flav-or-aid (10 cents for a packet that makes 8 cups!) and only use about half the sugar the manufacturer suggests. Sometimes I use agave nectar, honey or brown sugar but that ups the cost considerably.

Guest's picture
FrugalCat

I make Kool-aid or Flavor-Aid using about half the sugar the recipe calls for. Sometimes I'll use honey, agave nectar, maple syrup or brown sugar but that ups the cost considerably.

Guest's picture
catastrophegirl

why water down coffee to make iced coffee when you can make cold brew coffee? in the summer my press pot lives in the fridge. add coffee and water, refrigerate overnight and press down in the morning. if you don't have all night, i find 4-6 hours is fine

Andrea Karim's picture

I didn't know you could do that - is the caffeine content through the roof?

Guest's picture
Guest

Also, really large ice cubes to keep drinks much colder much longer; juice (or whatever) frozen in popsicle molds; super-diluted (like, 8:1) lemonade from frozen concentrate.