Think of making flavored water as you would any other dish and you'll find you're not limited to same old traditional but tiresome fruit combinations. Vegetables, for example, when used as a secondary ingredient, add an earthiness fruits cannot. And an eclectic mix of finishing ingredients, such as rose petals, lavender and a drop of ginger juice, provide a complex finish that's leagues above your standard cucumber-and-mint combination. Play with ingredients until you find your flavor, write the combination down so you can recreate it, then follow the standard water-infusion technique to make it happen.
Build your water's flavor profile around fruit. Flavor comes with macronutrients, such as simple carbohydrates, and fruit brings more flavor to water than vegetables, herbs or spices. Any non-starchy fruit works. Experiment with the entire citrus family; or pome fruits, such as loquats and pears; as well as berries, such as kiwifruit and grapes, and stone fruits including peaches. Basically any fruit that yields a lot of juice makes a solid flavor foundation.
As your secondary flavoring ingredient, turn to high-yield vegetables, or those that pack a lot of juice. You don't have as many vegetable choices as you do fruit, but you don't need them. Any one of the five main veggies suitable for flavoring water -- tomatoes, cucumbers, fennel, celery and melons -- cover all the potential taste sensations.
For example, if you use tart apples and want to take the water in a spicy direction, add thinly sliced fennel and grated pumpkin; if you want to add more crispness, go with sliced celery and cucumbers.
Add fresh herbs, whole spices and pungent ingredients to support and finish the flavor profile. Adding powerful ingredients early creates an unbalanced taste, so wait until the end. Just about anything works here if you don't overpower the primary and secondary flavoring ingredients. Consider rose petals, mint, rosemary, lavender and basil for an elegant finish.
For example, spicy, pungent ingredients, such as ginger, add a pleasant edge to flavored water when added judiciously, but quickly obscure the main flavors with heat if overused. You don't need much, either. A couple of star anise pods or 1/2 tablespoon of shaved ginger flavor 1 gallon of water without obliterating the fruit and vegetables. Use 1 to 2 tablespoons of fresh herbs and spices to flavor 1 gallon of water.
Scrub and rinse the fruit and vegetables using a vegetable brush under cool running water. Trim off the stems and remove the seeds, but leave the skins intact when possible; skins contain a wealth of essential oils and aromatic compounds where flavor concentrates. Slice the fruits and vegetables into slices 1/2 inch thick or less; the thinner the slices the more flavor they release. Mince any herbs you're using.
Add the flavoring ingredients to a pitcher or food storage container and pour boiling water over them. Let the water sit until it reaches room temperature, then cover it with plastic wrap. Keep the water in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours, then strain it through a sieve lined with a couple of layers of cheesecloth and into a serving vessel or bottle. Garnish the water with fruit and vegetable slices or a fresh herb sprigs. Drink flavored water within 24 hours of straining.