The Mai Tai cocktail isn’t just the most iconic tiki drink. It’s also a classic rum cocktail that’s easy to craft at home and even easier to sip.
Saying the words ‘mai tai’ makes us smile and elicits thoughts of sandy beaches and swaying palm trees. But better than saying the words, we love sipping Mai Tai cocktails whether we’re on vacation, in a bar or at home.
And, since mai tai loosely translates to the best in Tahitian, we’re clearly not the only ones who’ve elevated this drink to an exalted status.
What Is The Mai Tai Cocktail?
The Mai Tai cocktail, crafted with two different rums, orange liqueur, orgeat syrup and fresh lemon juice isn’t only a classic cocktail and tiki tipple. It’s also a summer sipper that ranks as one of the world’s most popular drinks.
In terms of taste, the Mai Tai is simultaneously sweet and sour with a noticeable kick of rum. The potent potable gets nutty sweetness from orgeat syrup while fresh lime juice brings a pucker to the party.
And finally, it’s a drink with a controversial past…
History Of The Mai Tai Cocktail
The Mai Tai was invented by Victor Bergeron at the original Trader Vic’s in Oakland, California in 1944. Or was it? Donn Beach allegedly crafted a similar cocktail at the original Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood a decade earlier.
Both tiki pioneers claimed credit for the Mai Tai and no one truly knows who originated the cocktail concept.
What we do know is that the tiki cocktail classic has evolved since either Bergeron or Beach crafted the original Mai Tai. Over the years, it’s become associated with Hawaii, both the state and the Elvis movie. Its recipe has changed too.
Some mixologists have added pineapple and orange juices to the Mai Tai recipe while others have altered its garnishes to include pineapple wedges and maraschino cherries. In the long run, there’s no wrong version except for ones made with Mai Tai mix.
The ingredients for a Mai Tai vary based on which recipe you follow. After much experimentation, we now craft Mai Tai cocktails with the following ingredients:
Despite the Mai Tai’s tropical flavors, none of these ingredients is particularly exotic. You should be able to source them all at your local market or liquor store.
Monin produces our go-to orgeat syrup. It’s a a premium product infused with almonds and sugar. The sweet, nutty, opaque white syrup has no artificial sweeteners.
How To Craft A Mai Tai Cocktail
Once you assemble the necessary ingredients and bar tools, the first step is to measure the aged or white rum, the orange liqueur, the orgeat syrup and the freshly squeezed lime juice. We use a Japanese jigger for this step to ensure accurate measurements.
Buy a Japanese jigger from Amazon if you need a jigger or want an inexpensive upgrade.
Immediately pour each liquid into a shaker. We use a Boston shaker to avoid spillage. As a bonus, our Boston shaker is also easy to clean.
Add ice cubes to the shaker and shake until the ingredients are chilled and combined – approximately 20 seconds.
After you partially fill a lowball glass with crushed ice, strain the shaken cocktail into the glass.
Using the back of a bar spoon, float the dark rum over the cocktail.
Garnish with a pineapple wedge and a maraschino cherry or two.
Feel free to get creative with the garnishes. You may want to decorate the glass with pineapple leaves or you can go old school with a lime shell and mint sprig.
Will our favorite Mai Tai be your favorite Mai Tai too? The best way to find out is to craft a few variations and try them all. We recommend staring with the following variations:
Discover 10 essential bar tools for the home mixologist.
Frequently Asked Questions
A Mai Tai cocktail is classic tiki rum cocktail that has California roots and Hawaiian vibes.
The words ‘mai tai’ loosely translate to ‘the best’ in Tahitian.
The Mai Tai cocktail was invented in California either at Trader Vic’s in Oakland or at Don the Beachcomber in Hollywood. Both bars are now permanently closed.
Aged or White Rum, Dark Rum, Orange Liqueur, Orgeat Syrup, Fresh Lime Juice, Crushed Ice, Ice Cubes (for shaking), Pineapple Wedge (garnish) and Maraschino Cherry (garnish)
The Mai Tai cocktail is shaken, not stirred.
Did you craft this cocktail? If so, please rate the recipe below.
Mai Tai Recipe
- 1½ ounces aged rum
- ½ ounce dark rum
- ¾ ounce orange liqueur
- ½ ounce orgeat syrup
- ¾ ounce lime juice
- crushed ice
- pineapple wedge (garnish)
- maraschino cherry (garnish)
- ice cubes (for shaking)
- Pour aged rum, orange liqueur, orgeat syrup and lime juice into a shaker.
- Add ice cubes and shake until the liquids are combined and chilled.
- Pour into a lowball glass that's 3/4 filled with crushed ice.
- Float dark rum on top.
- Garnish with a pineapple wedge and a maraschino cherry or two.
- You can replace the aged rum with white rum.
- You can use Cointreau, Grand Marnier or Orange Curacao for the orange liqueur.
- You replace the crushed ice with ice cubes.
- You can garnish the cocktail with a lime wedge and fresh mint instead or in addition to the pineapple wedge and maraschino cherry garnishes.
Thirsty For More Rum Cocktails?
About The Authors
Daryl & Mindi Hirsch
Saveur Magazine’s BEST TRAVEL BLOG award winners Daryl and Mindi Hirsch share their culinary travel experiences and recipes on the 2foodtrippers website. Since launching the site in 2012, they’ve traveled to over 40 countries in their quest to bring readers their unique taste of the world.
Original Publication Date: July 2, 2023