This is one of our absolute favorites from the tropical cocktail family – when it’s done right!
OK, there’s plenty of room for interpretation on what is the right way. We’re going to share our favourite recipe below, then a few variations you can try to perfect your favourite taste – as always, let us know in the comments below if you think there’s a better way to make your Mai Tai.
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What is a Mai Tai?
A Mai Tai is a Polynesian-style rum-based fruity cocktail. According to the original Trader Vics version of events, Mai Tai came from the exclamation “Mai taí-roa aé!”, meaning “out of this world – the very best”, when Victor Jules Bergeron first served the drink to two Tahitian friends at his Californian Bar.
It has since been through many iterations over the decades. Our Mai Tai recipe is by no means the original and we certainly cannot take credit for its creation, but we have amended the quantities from (too many!) years of experimenting with the flavours we enjoy best.
Tools you need for making a Mai Tai
- Cocktail shaker
- 50ml White Rum
- 25ml Dark Rum
- 15ml Cointreau (or citrus-based liqueur)
- 15ml Orgeat Syrup (or 10ml Amaretto)
- 50ml Pineapple juice
- 50ml Orange juice
- A squeeze of lime juice
- A dash of grenadine
- Cubed Ice
- Garnish - an optional wedge of lime, mint leaf, pineapple, sliced orange or cherry to taste.
- Fill a cocktail shaker with ice
- Add each of the ingredients to the shaker
- Shake firmly for around 20 seconds
- Fill a tall glass with ice then pour into the glass through a strainer
Feel free to vary the quantities to taste, or even make some substitutes as we'll describe below. Garnish as you please - we recommend serving in a low ball glass and metal cocktail sticks
Variations of the Mai Tai
There are so many where do we start!
Firstly, it’s important to know that the original Trader Vics version of Mai Tai dating back to 1944 used 17-year-old Jamaican Rum (good luck getting hold of that!) and was NOT topped up with fresh citrus juices. This is a very modern twist, steering it to a longer, less potent drink with a brighter tropical colour.
If you have tried a Mai Tai before and found it too sickly sweet, there are a few adaptions you could try. One of the particularly sweet elements is the pineapple juice (make sure your using the real deal, not the reconstituted stuff). You could try mixing your base spirits and orange juice first, then tipping your pineapple juice into top off the glass, adding only a small dash if you don’t want it overly sweet.
Why is it sometimes really red and sometimes pale yellow?
This will all depend on your quantities and which ingredients you have chosen. Some choose to skip the Grenadine altogether, leaving you with a much paler concoction, or even skip the orange juice, just using the orange liquer for the citrus flavouring.
An alternative to avoid a bright red drink is to gently layer the grenadine on top rather than putting it through the shaker.
NB, the Original Trader Vics Style of Mai Tai does NOT have Grenadine or pineapple! I was shocked to discover this as my two favourite ingredients! They also stick to just the one rum – so it really depends just how traditional you want to get!
A hint of nut in your Mai Tai?
Orgeat is a sweet syrup made from almonds, sugar and rose water or orange rose water – it’s non-alcoholic but with a pronounced almond taste. It is most commonly found in Mai Tai and Tiki drinks.
Can you substitute Amaretto? I’ll be honest I have to as I can’t seem to get hold of Orgeat where I live, so I have been using Amaretto with is a nutty liqueur with moderate success. It is thicker then Orgeat and contains alcohol, so I slightly reduce the quantity when doing this so the almond flavour isn’t too over-pronounced.
Could you use Amaretto and Orgeat Syrup together? Yes, this is one way to solve the argument and bring out that distinctive almond taste, but I would still keep it under 15ml.
To spice or not to spice?
We prefer not to use a spiced rum as we feel it takes from the other flavours but up to you. A variant that can work well with the tropical drinks is coconut rum though. Or substituting the white rum with pineapple rum.
How essential is the orange flavour?
The wonderful citrus flavours come not only from orange juice but citrus liqueur – the Cointreau is key! We know some prefer Gran Gala, or you could substitute Orange Curacao or a Premium Triple Sec in here, depending on what you have available in your bar.
If you are using sweet, freshly squeezed orange juice this can leave an incredibly powerful taste, you may want to half the quantity in our recipe.
Garnishing your Mai Tai
For a tropical summery touch, we like to float the grenadine on top and add the pineapple and cherry. For a more suave and sophisticated look, drop these and go with the wedge of lime and a mint leaf garnish. A thin slice of orange can also work nicely.
Dare we ask – how do you take your Mai Tai? Are you a trader Vic tradtionallist or like to paly around with these citrus and almond flavours?
Mama Loves A Drink advocates quality over quantity. Always drink responsibly!