The origin of the Mai Tai is often credited to Victor J. Bergeron, better known as Trader Vic, who created the cocktail in 1944 at his Polynesian-themed restaurant in Oakland, California. Inspired by his travels in the South Pacific, Trader Vic sought to capture the essence of the islands in a glass. The name “Mai Tai” is said to be a phrase in Tahitian meaning “out of this world” or “the best.”
If you’re scratching your head in shock that the cocktail doesn’t have a more exotic or tropical history you’re not alone! Over the years, the Mai Tai has fallen victim to common bartender shortcuts like artificial sweeteners and mixers. In the drink’s original form, it’s a much more sophisticated cocktail that highlights rum’s natural flavors.
Mai Tai Cocktail Ingredients
Traditionally, the drink is made with a combination of aged Jamaican rum, Martinique rum, orange curaçao, lime juice, orgeat syrup (made from almonds), and simple syrup. Contrary to popular belief, there is no fruit juice, pineapple, grenadine, or cherries.
- Jamaican dark rum
- Gold rum
- Orgeat (almond-flavored simple syrup)
- Fresh lime juice
- Orange liqueur or curacao
- Fresh mint leaves
The blend of rum varieties adds depth and complexity to the cocktail, while the citrus juices provide a refreshing tanginess. The orgeat syrup adds a subtle nuttiness, while the orange curaçao lends a touch of sweetness and vibrant color.
Orgeat syrup is a sweet syrup made from almonds, sugar, and either rose water or orange flower water. It’s probably the most important ingredient in the cocktail, however, you can substitute it with simple syrup in a pinch. It won’t be your iconic Mai Tai but it still makes for a good cocktail.
You should be able to find orgeat with the other cocktail mixers and simple syrups in the grocery or liquor store. In a pinch, you can also make your own orgeat by mixing a DROP of almond extract in 1 ounce of simple syrup.
How to Make a Mai Tai
- Combine all ingredients (including the mint) in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously for 20 seconds with plenty of ice.
- Strain the cocktail over fresh crushed or cubed ice and garnish with a lime wedge and fresh mint sprig.
If you don’t have access to crushed ice, a Lewis bag and wooden mallet is an awesome and easy way to instantly whip up crushed ice on demand.
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A true mai tai made with dark rum, gold rum, orgeat (almond-flavored simple syrup), lime juice, orange liqueur, and fresh mint leaves.
- 1 ounce dark rum
- 1 ounce gold rum
- 1 ounce fresh lime juice
- 1/2 ounce curacao or orange liqueur
- 1/2 ounce orgeat (almond simple syrup)
- 2–3 fresh mint leaves plus more for garnish
- Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice.
- Shake vigorously and strain over fresh crushed or cubed ice. Garnish with a lime wedge and fresh mint.
In a pinch, you can use simple syrup in place of orgeat. it’s not quite the same but still a good cocktail.
- Serving Size: 1
- Calories: 209
- Sugar: 10.1g
- Sodium: 1mg
- Fat: 0g
- Saturated Fat: 0g
- Carbohydrates: 12.5g
- Fiber: 0.1g
- Protein: 0.1g
- Cholesterol: 0mg
Keywords: mai tai recipe, how to make a mai tai, tiki cocktails