Mai Tai Cocktail

A Classic Tropical Rum Cocktail

Classic Mai Tai Cocktail
The Spruce / S&C Design Studios
Prep: 3 mins
Cook: 1 mins
Total: 4 mins
Serving: 1 serving
Yield: 1 cocktail
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
250 Calories
0g Fat
26g Carbs
1g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 1
Amount per serving
Calories 250
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 12mg 1%
Total Carbohydrate 26g 10%
Dietary Fiber 2g 7%
Total Sugars 14g
Protein 1g
Vitamin C 29mg 144%
Calcium 29mg 2%
Iron 1mg 3%
Potassium 110mg 2%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

The mai tai is an iconic tropical rum cocktail and one of America's most popular cocktails. The drink's name means "out of this world" in Tahitian and was reportedly the first mai tai drinker's reaction to taking that initial sip. Though others have claimed to invent the mai tai, the accepted story credits it to Victor Bergeron in 1944 at Trader Vic's original location in Oakland, California. Over the decades, it has been remade countless times to include various fruits and appear in many colors.

This recipe is a close adaptation of what is believed to be the original mai tai. It was designed to subtly accent a big, bold 17-year-old rum with a sweetened mix of orange, lime, and almond; the taste is fascinating and complex and not as fruity as most tropical cocktails. The dark rum float is optional (apparently a 1970's addition), though it does add a pop of color to the drink's presentation. If you like, add the dark rum to the shaker.

Whether you mix up the classic rum cocktail or go the tropical fruit route (or try them all), a made-from-scratch mai tai is a perfect drink for summer parties. Be sure to use quality liquors, fresh lime juice, and crushed ice for the best mai tai.

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"Good recipe! The mai tai is the ultimate tiki cocktail, and most people have never had a real one! Procuring orgeat is essential; you cannot substitute for it. The rum is also key. Appleton Estate Signature is my go-to for a basic mai tai. It's great." —Tom Macy

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A Note From Our Recipe Tester

Ingredients

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Ingredients for a Mai Tai Cocktail
    The Spruce / S&C Design Studios
  2. In a cocktail shaker, pour the rhum agricole (or aged or light rum, if using), orange curaçao, lime juice, and orgeat and simple syrups. Fill with about 2 cups of crushed ice.

    Making a Mai Tai Cocktail
    The Spruce / S&C Design Studios
  3. Shake until the shaker is nice and frosty.

    Making a Mai Tai Cocktail
    The Spruce / S&C Design Studios
  4. Pour everything (do not strain) into a double old-fashioned glass.

    Making a Mai Tai Cocktail
    The Spruce / S&C Design Studios
  5. Float the dark rum on top by slowly pouring it over the back of a bar spoon.

    Dark Rum Float on Classic Mai Tai Cocktail
    The Spruce / S&C Design Studios
  6. Garnish with a lime slice and sprig of fresh mint. Serve and enjoy.

    Mai Tai Cocktail
    The Spruce / S&C Design Studios

Mai Tai Pitcher

  • To make the mai tai as a pitcher drink, increase the rums, orange liqueur, and syrups for the number of desired servings. Add the liquids to a pitcher, stir thoroughly, and keep refrigerated. When ready to serve, pour into glasses filled with crushed ice and add the garnishes.


Best Rums For a Mai Tai

  • The rum that Bergeron used is no longer produced. Beachbum Berry recommends Rhum Clément VSOP Martinique Rum and Appleton Estate Extra Dark Jamaican Rum. If you cannot find those, there are many suitable alternatives in both styles, and light rum is a popular alternative to rhum agricole.


Recipe Variations

  • Symbolizing a palm tree, go with the traditional garnish of mint and a lime shell (half a lime partially hollowed out with a reamer) sunk into the crushed ice. A fun trick that should be executed with care while sober is to fill the lime shell with 151-proof rum and light it on fire before extinguishing and drinking.
  • Try a fruitier Hawaiian-style mai tai: Shake 1 ounce of light rum, 1/2 ounce of triple sec, 1/4 ounce of lime juice, 1 1/2 ounces each of pineapple and orange juices, and a dash of grenadine with ice. Strain into an old-fashioned glass half-filled with ice, then float 1/2 ounce dark rum on top.
  • For a green-blue cocktail, use blue curaçao as the orange liqueur in any mai tai recipe.

What Does "Mai Tai" Mean?

According to the story, Victor Bergeron mixed up a new drink at Trader Vic's for a friend visiting from Tahiti in 1944. It was inspired by the Q.C. Cooler, a blended drink by Donn "Beachcomber" Beach (the founder of the Polynesian-themed bar scene in the U.S.). In his mai tai, Bergeron used "...17-year-old Jamaican J. Wray Nephew rum, added fresh lime, some orange curaçao from Holland, a dash of rock candy syrup, and a dollop of French orgeat..." and garnished it with lime and mint. The Tahitian exclaimed, "Mai Tai—Roa Ae" ("Out of this world—The best!"), giving Bergeron a name for his drink.

What Is Orgeat Syrup Made Of?

Orgeat is a syrup made of almonds, sugar, water, and orange flower water that makes an appearance in many tropical cocktails. Almond syrup is a decent substitute, as is amaretto liqueur, though neither has the floral citrus taste that makes orgeat special.

Why Are There So Many Mai Tai Recipes?

After its creation, it didn't take long for the mai tai to surpass the zombie cocktail as "the" drink to order at America's tiki bars. The owners and bartenders of these tropical-themed establishments were notorious for guarding recipes against competitors, so the recipes were tweaked often over the years. In 1953, Donn Beach remade the drink for a bar in Hawaii, adding pineapple and orange juices while keeping the mai tai name. Other tropical bars followed suit, creating original rum cocktails under the mai tai name to increase sales. Many pile layers of tropical fruit on top of rum and range in color from a brilliant red to bright blue. While these newer versions may be delicious, they are not the mai tai as it was originally intended.

How Strong Is a Mai Tai?

Most mai tai recipes are rather potent drinks, mixing up to around 20 percent ABV (40 proof) when made with two 80 proof rums. The amount of alcohol will vary; some mai tais are stronger, while the fruitier recipes are slightly lighter.

Article Sources
The Spruce Eats uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The mai tai history and its recipes explained | senior liqueur.

  2. Trader vic’s worldwide – home – home of the original mai tai.

  3. Trader vic’s history of the mai tai – the search for the ultimate mai tai.