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Mai Tai Cocktail

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.

Mai Tai Cocktail with White Background

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?

Mai Tai Cocktail with Black Background Centered
You’re not alone if you’re a Mai Tai fan.

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

Mai Tai Cocktail with Black Background
The Mai Tai’s history has an element of mystery.

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.

Ingredients

Mai Tai Cocktail Ingredients
Our Mai Tai recipe includes two rums, orange liqueur, orgeat syrup and fresh lime juice. We garnish the drink with a pineapple wedge and a couple maraschino cherries. Not pictured – ice cubes and crushed ice.

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:

  • Aged or White Rum
  • Dark Rum
  • Orange Liqueur
  • Orgeat Syrup
  • Fresh Lime Juice
  • Crushed Ice
  • Ice Cubes (for shaking)
  • Pineapple Wedge (garnish)
  • Maraschino Cherry (garnish)

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.

Mai Tai Cocktail Liquor Bottles
Despite its chill tiki vibe, the Mai Tai is a serious cocktail crafted with two rums and orange liqueur.

Channeling the original Mai Tai, we use two rums in our recipe. Specifically, we use Havana Club Ańejo (i.e. aged) Especial Rum and Appleton Estate’s Reserve Blend Jamaican Rum. We also use Cointreau, our preferred triple-sec liqueur.

Discover more cocktails crafted with Cointreau and rum.

Mai Tai Cocktail with Rum Bottle
Using your favorite rum is a recipe for success in this Mai Tai recipe.

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

Mai Tai Cocktail Mis en Place
Crafting a Mai Tai cocktail is easy once you gather the necessary ingredients and bar tools.

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.

Measuring Cointreau for Mai Tai Cocktail
You can use the same jigger to measure all liquids in this Mai Tai recipe.

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.

Pouring Rum into Mai Tai Cocktail
Pouring the measured liquids directly into a shaker is the way to go in this Mai Tai recipe.

Add ice cubes to the shaker and shake until the ingredients are chilled and combined – approximately 20 seconds.

Adding Ice Cube to Mai Tai Cocktail
You don’t need to put fancy ice cubes into the shaker.

After you partially fill a lowball glass with crushed ice, strain the shaken cocktail into the glass.

Straining Mai Tai Cocktail
Using crushed ice is the way to go in this and other Mai Tai recipes.

Using the back of a bar spoon, float the dark rum over the cocktail.

Floating Rum Over Mai Tai Cocktail
Floating a top layer of dark rum is a pro move that doesn’t require pro skills.

Garnish with a pineapple wedge and a maraschino cherry or two.

Mai Tai Cocktail from Above
We like to garnish our Mai Tai cocktails with one pineapple wedge and two maraschino cherries. How you garnish your Mai Tai cocktails is up to you.

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.

Alternatives

Crafted Mai Tai Cocktail
The best part of crafting a Mai Tai at home is drinking the fruits of your labor.

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:

  • Add simple syrup to craft a sweeter Mai Tai cocktail.
  • Reduce the lime juice to craft a less tart Mai Tai cocktail.
  • Add orange juice and/or pineapple juice to craft a fruitier Mai Tai cocktail.
  • Experiment with different rums. For example, using a darker rum for the floater will create a more defined top layer.

Discover 10 essential bar tools for the home mixologist.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Mai Tai cocktail?

A Mai Tai cocktail is classic tiki rum cocktail that has California roots and Hawaiian vibes.

What does ‘Mai Tai’ mean?

The words ‘mai tai’ loosely translate to ‘the best’ in Tahitian.

Where was the Mai Tai cocktail invented?

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.

What are the ingredients in a Mai Tai cocktail?

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)

Is the Mai Tai cocktail shaken or stirred?

The Mai Tai cocktail is shaken, not stirred.

Did you craft this cocktail? If so, please rate the recipe below.

Mai Tai Cocktail with White Background
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5 from 1 vote

Mai Tai Recipe

You don't have to travel to an island resort to sip a Mai Tai cocktail. The easier option is to follow this recipe and sip one at home.
Prep Time5 minutes
Total Time5 minutes
Course: Drink
Cuisine: Cocktail
Servings: 1
Calories: 227kcal

Ingredients

  • 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)

Instructions

  • 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.

Notes

  • 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.

Estimated Nutrition

Calories: 227kcal | Carbohydrates: 15g | Protein: 0.1g | Fat: 0.1g | Saturated Fat: 0.02g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.02g | Sodium: 3mg | Potassium: 32mg | Fiber: 0.1g | Sugar: 13g | Vitamin A: 11IU | Vitamin C: 6mg | Calcium: 3mg | Iron: 0.1mg
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About The Authors

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.

Disclosures

Article Updates
We update our articles regularly. Some updates are major while others are minor link changes and spelling corrections. Let us know if you see anything that needs to be updated in this article.

Funding
We purchased the ingredients and tools used to craft this cocktail.

Original Publication Date: July 2, 2023

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