The tradition of mulling beverages with spices actually began with the Ancient Romans and their love of mulled wine. Over time, the spices were added to other beverages like cider. The list below contains the spices that pair best with cider. You do not have to use all of them together. You can limit yourself to whichever one or combination of more than one that you like.
Ceylon cinnamon/Cassia cinnamon
Both cassia cinnamon and Ceylon cinnamon are interchangeable when it comes to their use in mulled cider. They both bring a sweetness and spicy warmth to what is traditionally a winter beverage. Both forms of cinnamon pair equally well with the apple flavor of cider as well as the flavors of the other mulling spices. Cassia cinnamon is the more common option of the two. Use cassia cinnamon sticks than the ground or grated variety if you want a subtler, more restrained cinnamon flavor in your cider. Another reason that you might want to use whole cinnamon sticks rather than ground cinnamon: straining a fine powder out of the cider can be difficult.
The intense citrus aroma from orange peel comes from the oils it contains. That fragrance perfectly enhances the sweet, fruity apple flavor of cider. While it can easily make your cider bitter if you add too much, orange peel used in moderation stays in the background and adds a distinct brightness that enhances the other flavors.
Cloves are known for their pungency and ability to completely overwhelm other flavors. In mulled cider, you will use them sparingly. You should not use enough of them that they move to the forefront of the flavor profile. Use only enough for them to add a mild warmth and spiciness. The mild bitterness that you get from cloves is perfect for counterbalancing the sweetness of the apples in the cider as well as the sweetness of other mulling spices.
Nutmeg is one of the oldest spices used in mulled beverages; its use goes all the way back to Ancient Rome. Nutmeg’s nutty sweetness is subtle enough that it works well in cider as long as you use it in moderation. That subtlety makes it another one of the great background flavors and it pairs well with all of the other mulling spices. While ground spices are not recommended for use in mulled cider due to the difficulty of filtering them out, nutmeg is an exception as you will be adding a very small amount.
Ginger does not always show up among the mulling spices, but it does show up in a few traditional blends. It is also used to make another spicy beverage: ginger beer. Fresh ginger can offer an aggressive heat that you will not get from any of the other cider ingredients. It pairs particularly well with orange peel but can work with all of the other flavors as well. It offers a mild woodiness and a light citrus note along with its heat.
Cardamom’s floral pungency may not be for all tastes; however, it is used in some Northern European versions of mulled cider. It pairs well with apple and is a popular ingredient in some Northern European apple pie recipes. It also fits nicely with the other mulling spices though you will need to use it with care to keep it from dominating their flavors.