The Mai Tai recipe was created by one of the founding fathers of tiki, Trader Vic. The original spec utilized Wray and Nephew 17, a 17-year-aged Jamaican rum, as the base. This classic cocktail was so popular in its heyday that the Trader Vic bars caused a significant depletion in the stock of this rare Jamaican rum from so many Mai Tais being ordered by guests.

Eventually, this expression of rum ran out, causing Vic's bar team to resort to creating their own bespoke rum blend for the Mai Tai, hoping to replicate some of the characteristics of the Wray and Nephew 17. The new blend consisted of pot still (high ester) Jamaican rum with Rhum Grande Arome, a rhum used to enhance the flavors of other rums as opposed to being sipped on its own.

Today, many bars and bartenders continue this tradition of creating their own rum blends, although a few brands do the job, producing blended rums that have enough depth to make this cocktail the sophisticated serve that it should be. Orgeat, a nut syrup traditionally made with almonds, sugar, water, orange flower water, and a fortifying spirit, is vital for this classic drink. If you don’t make your own orgeat, we recommend using a top-quality commercial brand, such as Small Hand Foods or BG Reynolds.

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces blended rum, such as Appleton Estate Reserve Blend or Denizen Merchant’s Reserve
  • ¾ ounce lime juice
  • ¾ ounce orgeat syrup
  • ½ ounce orange liqueur
  • Mint sprig

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients, except mint, in a shaker.
  2. Add crushed ice and shake vigorously, until shaker is frosted over.
  3. Fill a double rocks glass with fresh crushed ice.
  4. Strain cocktail into glass.
  5. Garnish with mint sprig.

Rate This Recipe:

(229 votes)

Yield: 1
Calories: 287
Updated: 2022-07-01

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Mai Tai FAQs

What does the name Mai Tai mean?

The name Mai Tai is derived from the Tahitian word maita’i, which translates to “good.” The story behind how the cocktail got its name traces back to 1944 when Victor Jules Bergeron opened a Polynesian restaurant and tested his new drink on two friends, Carrie and Ham Guild, who were visiting from Tahiti. Upon trying the cocktail for the first time, Carrie allegedly proclaimed, “mai tai-roe aé,” in Tahitian, which translates into English roughly as, “out of this world — the best!”

What type of rum is used in a Mai Tai?

A Mai Tai should be made using a blended rum. We recommend one like Appleton Estate Reserve Blend, or Denizen Merchant’s Reserve.

Best Practices: Mai Tais Are Better Than You Think

Mai Tais are a classic tiki cocktail, albeit “one of the least understood of the bunch,” writes rum expert Shannon Mustipher in her brilliant new book, “Tiki.”

Like Margaritas, Mai Tais fall victim to their own popularity. An endless parade of saccharine prepackaged mixes and weirdly fruited iterations outpace the original.

Properly made Mai Tais are beautifully balanced, though. Want to master this tiki drink at home? Here are six expert tips.

How To Make A Mai Tai

1. Stick to the recipe.

Because tiki is stylistically exuberant, it can be tempting to throw anything vaguely tropical-seeming into your Mai Tai. Besides, those bottles of blue Curacao and grenadine are gathering dust in your home bar, and certainly aren’t going to drink themselves.

Unfortunately, free-styling with tiki-adjacent ingredients often yields cloying results. We suggest sticking to the recipe: two ounces of aged rum, plus half-ounce (each) rhum agricole, lime juice, orgeat, and orange Curacao.

2. Use real orgeat.

“Without almond syrup you cannot make a true Mai Tai,” Tim Wiggins, co-owner and bar manager, Retreat Gastropub and Yellowbelly, St. Louis, Mo., says. Mustipher agrees, calling orgeat “pivotal to a true Mai Tai” in her book.

Orgeat is essentially almond simple syrup spiked with rose or orange blossom water. Giffard, L’Orgeat, and Beachbum Berry make widely available orgeat liqueurs.

It’s easy to make orgeat at home, too. Combine equal parts almond milk and sugar in a pot on the stovetop, bring it to a boil, and stir in a dash of rose or orange blossom water and almond extract once it’s cool.

3. Your only juice is fresh lime.

While recipes with orange, pineapple, and other fruit juices abound, a classic Mai Tai exclusively uses lime juice.

“Contrary to what you might think, the Mai Tai is actually just a rum sour… No coconut, no passion fruit, pineapple, mango or orange juice,” Toby Cecchini, owner of New York City’s Long Island Bar, wrote in a 2010 piece for The New York Times’s T Magazine titled, “Case Study: Will the Real Mai Tai Please Stand Up?”

As with any sour, freshly squeezed limes produce the best results. “Don’t waste your time with store-bought or old lime juice,” Wiggins says. “Freshness matters.”

4. Garnish with restraint.

Mustipher’s Mai Tai recipe is garnished with half a juiced lime and fresh mint. Martin Cate, owner of San Francisco rum bar Smuggler’s Cove, uses the same in his recipe.

Kevin Beary, beverage director of Chicago tiki destination Three Dots and a Dash, is even more minimalist. “Use mint as a garnish, it’s all you need,” he writes VinePair in an email.

What to avoid when making Mai Tais

1. Don't use just any rum on your shelf.

This is a spirit-forward drink, so choose yours wisely. According to one origin story, the Mai Tai was designed as a vehicle for 17-year-old J. Wray and Nephew Jamaican rum. That spirit is no longer in production (and the few remaining bottles rank among the world’s most expensive), so many modern bartenders blend Jamaican pot still and Martinican rums.

Mustipher suggests using a spirit with the same “grassy, vegetal notes” as traditional Jamaican rums, such as Hamilton 86 Demerara Rum, coupled with Paranubes.

“The proof of both rums is equally as important as the styles,” Beary adds. “When choosing a Jamaican rum, you should opt for something that is standard proof — around 80 (40 percent ABV) — whereas the rhum agricole should be higher proof (up around 114, a.k.a. navy strength).”

2. Leave your blender out of this.

Blending may seem festive, but it will actually dilute your flavors. Experts suggest either building your Mai Tai in your glass with ice, or shaking it with ice and then straining into a double rocks glass.

Trust us, this is not a buzzkill, it’s a bonus. As busy bartenders will tell you, a cocktail shaker is much easier to clean than a blender. From here to Tahiti, nothing is more valuable than time.

Mai Tai Variations To Try:

  • The Easy Mai Tai - This version of the Mai Tai is a perfect back-pocket recipe, tasting so much more complex than it actually is.
  • The Spiced Mai Tai - For a tropical twist on the classic Mai Tai cocktail, Natalie Migliarini incorporates tart citrus juices and five-spice syrup.
  • Holiday Mai Tai - Nothing signifies vacation in the sun quite like a mai tai. Take your taste buds on an exotic holiday with this revamped classic.
  • The Strawberry Sweetheart Mai Tai - Every element of this drink evokes a tropical warm paradise: fresh strawberries, lime juice, orgeat syrup, and two types of rum.