When you think of Tiki cocktails, there's no way not to talk about the Mai Tai cocktail. It's one of the most famous Rum & Tiki drinks and a favorite of many.
Yet, the Mai Tai had its issues in the past and still has some today. In an effort to be creative, the fruity Rum cocktail often got mixed with cheap bottled juice. That ruined the initial objective of this drink, which was to highlight the Rum.
So let's see how you can make an original Mai Tai that showcases the Rum and be as fruity as it is delicious.
Ingredients of a Mai Tai
For the iconic Mai Tai recipe, you need the following:
- Light Rum - The original recipe by Trader Vic asked for Jamaican Rum. To be precise, J. Wray & Nephew, but other brands work, too. 
- Dark Rum - Combining white and dark Rum in this cocktail recipe is common practice when mixing a Mai Tai. We recommend using Appleton 12 Rare Casks or Plantation OFTD in this recipe.
- Orange Curacao - Curaçao is a liqueur flavored with peels of premature oranges. It's key in various tropical cocktail creations - mainly known for the Blue Lagoon or the Swimming Pool. The main difference between Orange and Blue Curaçao is the color. Sometimes the orange version is slightly drier. However, that depends on the brand.
- Orgeat syrup - Instead of simple syrup, the drink is sweetened with Orgeat. Orgeat is an almond-flavored syrup and a crucial ingredient in this and many other tiki cocktails. Besides almonds, it also contains rose water and orange flower water.
- Fresh lime juice - It needs to be freshly squeezed! Store-bought lime juice is an effective way to ruin your drink - and that is not only true for the Mai Tai recipe but for cocktails in general.
How to make it
A proper Mai Tai comes on crushed ice. You also shake it with crushed ice for a short time and then dirt-dumped (cocktail & ice) into your cocktail glass. Here's how to make a Mai Tai cocktail:
- Step 1: Add all ingredients except for the dark Rum into a cocktail shaker with crushed ice and shake for 2-5 seconds.
- Step 2: Dirt-dump (pour) the drink with the ice into a Double-Old Fashioned glass and add more crushed ice.
- Step 3: Float the cocktail with dark Rum and garnish as preferred. A pineapple wedge, fresh mint sprig, lime wheel, or flamed lime shell are great ways to decorate the drink.
Mai Tai recipes are among the most tweaked cocktail recipes for many reasons. Number one is the search for the perfect Rum base in the tropical cocktail.
The important part is that there is not only one feasible solution. You can create a beautiful Mai Tai cocktail in many ways. So, blended, non-blended, aged, or unaged light Rum, all options have great-Mai Tai potential.
Orange Curacao is also an often substituted ingredient. Many recipes use a Triple Sec like Cointreau or another orange liqueur like Grand Marnier as a substitute.
To make the drink more tropical, bartenders often add more fruity ingredients like fresh orange juice or pineapple juice. I'm not a fan, but adding 1 ounce of pineapple juice to the recipe adds a sweet note and won't ruin your Mai Tai.
Jeff "Beachbum" Berry, a tiki cocktail legend also created a popular riff on the recipe called the Mai Tai Swizzle. This variation is from the 1950s and adds Falernum, grapefruit juice, and Pernod to the drink.
One of our favorite riffs is our Black 'N Bloody Mai Tai. A spooky Halloween version that's sure to impress your guests - visually and taste-wise.
History of the Mai Tai
As with other famous drinks, many people claim the invention of the Mai Tai recipe for themselves. The most told and one of the more credible stories is that the tropical drink is a creation of Tiki legend Victor Bergeron alias Trader Vic.
Allegedly, he invented the cocktail in the 1940s in his Bar Trader Vic in San Francisco. But even if the first appearance was there, Tiki legend Donn Beach probably created the base for this cocktail.
Donn Beach is another legend of western Tiki culture and Trader Vic's biggest contender. Apparently, he served a quite similar drink during the 1930s in his Beachcomber bar in Hollywood.
Together with the Zombie and the Grog, the classic Mai Tai is known today as the so-called Holy Trinity of Tiki.
- 1.5 oz White Rum
- 0.75 oz Orange Curacao
- 0.75 oz Lime juice
- 0.5 oz Orgeat syrup
- 0.5 oz Dark, aged Rum
- Put all ingredients except the aged Rum into a cocktail shaker with crushed ice.
- Shake it gently for 2-5 seconds.
- Pour it into a double old fashioned glass.
- Add your garnish, and your Mai Tai is ready to be served.
More Tiki Cocktails
Here's an excellent selection of Tiki cocktails to make at home:
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