Mai Tai Recipe

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The classic Mai Tai cocktail 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!

A golden classic Mai Tai cocktail garnished with a sprig of mint and a lime wedge with a metal straw,

Brief History

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!

If you’re looking for more delicious rum cocktails, try the Hemingway Daiquiri, Piña Colada, and Blackberry Mojito!

Why I Love This Recipe

Over the years, the Mai Tai has fallen victim to common bartender shortcuts like artificial sweeteners and overly sweet mixers. The classic version of this cocktail is far more refreshing, sophisticated, and dynamic, with the focus being on fresh citrus, sugar, and aged rum.

Ingredients

Classic Mai Tai ingredients laid out on a wooden cutting board.
  • Aged rum: aged rum gets color and complex caramel/vanilla nuances from barrel-aging. Many cocktail variations call for a combination of gold and dark rum. It’s not necessary but it’s worth experimenting with if you have a rum collection. Appleton 12 and El Dorado 12 are popular options.
  • Orgeat (almond-flavored simple syrup): orgeat syrup is a sweet syrup made from almonds, sugar, and either rose water or orange flower water. It’s the most essential ingredient in the cocktail to make a true Mai Tai, however, you can substitute it with simple syrup, a dash of orange bitters, and a drop of almond extract for a different alternative.
  • Fresh lime juice: always opt for freshly squeezed citrus. If you must use premade, opt for ReaLime.
  • Orange liqueur or curaçao: can be used almost interchangeably in most cocktails. Cointreau works too.
  • Fresh mint leaves: mint adds an essential aroma that caps off the entire drink. Slap a few sprigs against the back of your hand before garnishing to release the oils. See also the classic Mojito and bourbon smash for more minty cocktails.

See the recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities below.

How to Make a Mai Tai

Step 1.

Combine rum, curaçao, lime juice, and orgeat in a cocktail shaker with a small handful of crushed ice.

A hand pouring aged rum into a cocktail shaker with a double jigger.

Step 2.

Shake gently just enough to chill and pour/strain into a double old-fashioned glass over crushed ice filled to the top.

Pouring a shaken Mai Tai over crushed ice into a double old fashioned glass.

Step 3.

Slap a sprig of mint leaves against the back of your hand and around the rim of the glass before garnishing. This will release the oils/aroma. Garnish with a lime wedge and fresh mint sprig.

Quick Tip

Perfect Crushed Ice

If you don’t have access to crushed ice, a Lewis bag and wooden mallet is an awesome and easy way to crush ice on demand.

A classic Mai Tai cocktail garnished with a mint sprig and lime wedge, sitting on a wooden butcher block.

Expert Tips

  • Slap a sprig of mint leaves against the back of your hand before garnishing to release the oils/aroma. You can also hit it around the rim of your glass. It makes a noticeable difference.
  • Grab your Orgeat on Amazon. It’s the best place to find it as it can be difficult to find in the grocery store.
  • Freeze your glasses before serving. This prevents immediate temp loss and keeps your drink cooler for longer.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use silver rum in a Mai Tai?

While you can use silver/white rum, it will lack the complexity and nuances that make aged rum so unique. It won’t be a true Mai Tai but it will still result in a tasty drink.

More Rum Cocktails

Enjoy this recipe? If you made this cocktail, please leave a ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ star rating in the recipe card below & a review in the comments!
5 from 1 vote

Mai Tai Cocktail Recipe

Servings: 1 cocktail
Prep: 5 minutes
Total: 5 minutes
A true mai tai made with dark rum, gold rum, orgeat (almond-flavored simple syrup), lime juice, orange liqueur, and fresh mint leaves.

Ingredients 

  • 1 ounce dark rum, Appleton 12, El Dorado 12
  • 1 ounce gold rum, Plantation 5 Yr
  • 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

Instructions 

  • Combine rum, curaçao, lime juice, and orgeat in a cocktail shaker with a small handful of crushed ice.
  • Shake gently just enough to chill and pour/strain into a double old-fashioned glass over crushed ice filled to the top.
  • Slap a sprig of mint leaves against the back of your hand and around the rim of the glass before garnishing. This will release the oils/aroma. Garnish with a lime wedge and fresh mint sprig.

Notes

Grab your Orgeat on Amazon. It’s the best place to find it as it can be difficult to find in the grocery store.
Freeze your glasses before serving. This prevents immediate temp loss and keeps your drink cooler for longer.
If you don’t have access to crushed ice, a Lewis bag and wooden mallet is an awesome and easy way to crush ice on demand.
Orgeat syrup is a sweet syrup made from almonds, sugar, and either rose water or orange flower water. It’s the most essential ingredient in the cocktail to make a true Mai Tai, however, you can substitute it with simple syrup, a dash of orange bitters, and a drop of almond extract for a different alternative.

Nutrition

Serving: 1gCalories: 209kcalCarbohydrates: 12.5gProtein: 0.1gSodium: 1mgFiber: 0.1gSugar: 10.1g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Cocktail
Cuisine: American
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About Shawn Williams

My name is Shawn, author behind Kitchen Swagger. I'm a food & drink enthusiast bringing you my own simple and delicious restaurant-inspired recipes.

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