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The Mai Tai might be the most famous Hawaiian cocktail. There are many different Mai Tai recipes that claim to be original. This version is a recipe adapted from the Mai Tai that’s served at Smuggler’s Cove.
The original Mai Tai recipe was created by Victor J. Bergeron (Trader Vic) in the 1940s. The recipe was so popular that it nearly depleted the world’s supply of rum.
The drink was simple and showcased a 17-year old Jamaican Rum. The drink was thusly named when several Tahitians had the drink and exclaimed “Maita’i roa a’e,” which means “Out of this world.” The Tahitian translation for “Maita’i” is “The Best.”
In 1953 the Mai Tai made it to Hawaiian shores when Bergeron was hired to oversee cocktail creation at the Royal Hawaiian and Moana Surfrider Hotels, and in 1954 the Original Mai Tai recipe was adapted to fit tourist palettes.
Bergeron added pineapple juice and orange juice to sweeten the concoction and make it more palatable. This recipe usurped the original cocktail recipe and became one of the iconic drinks served at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki.
Contrary to popular belief, the original mai tai recipe has no pineapple juice in it and no dark rum float. The original recipe is not overly sweet, and the ingredients were selected to feature the flavor of the Jamaican Rum.
Mai Tai Ingredients (The Original)
The original rum used in the Mai Tai was 17 year J. Wrey & Nephew Jamaica Rum. This rum is no longer widely available, and bartenders have been trying to recreate the flavor since the 1950s when the popularity of the Trader Vic Mai Tai exhausted the availability of this rum.
All rum is made from molasses or essentially sugar, but rum is produced in 80 different countries with vastly different methods of production.
I used an aged Hawaiian rum in this recipe but have also experimented using golden rum, otherwise known as Anejo rum. Anejo rum has more oak, brown sugar, and caramel flavors in it.
The black rum float was added to the tourist version of the Mai Tai for presentation. However, there is a rumor that an old guy used to order his Mai Tai’s this way at Trader Vics sometime in the 1940s.
Orange curaçoa is an orange liqueur. If you have trouble finding it (I did), you can use Grand Marnier, which is made in the same style as curaçoa but is slightly more top-shelf.
Orgeat syrup [or・zhaat]
Pronounced with an OR and then with something between a J and a Z – Ot.
Orgeat is a blended almond syrup with a curious flavor that cannot be replicated but is an essential ingredient when making a Mai Tai.
There are no substitutions for Orgeat Syrup. You can make a cocktail without and add in more simple syrup, but you won’t be able to call it a Mai Tai.
Rich demerara simple syrup
The original Mai Tai is made with Rock Candy Syrup, a ‘rich’ simple syrup made with 1 cup of water and 2 cups of sugar.
Smuggler’s cove uses a rich simple syrup made with demerara sugar, adding a caramel note to the cocktail.
Fresh lime juice
Freshly squeezed lime juice is the only juice in a traditional mai tai cocktail. Gently juice the halved limes so that you get no pith. (reserve these for garnishing)
I am working on my post detailing the recipe for the tourist version of the Mai Tai recipe. That will be linked here very soon.
Spent lime shells
Save the lime shell halves from juicing to garnish this cocktail.
Fresh mint sprigs garnish the Mai Tai.
How to Make A Mai Tai
The glass: Serve in a double old-fashioned glass or a rocks glass.
Ready Your Cocktail Shaker (affiliate link)
Tropical cocktails are shaken with crushed ice and then served over more crushed ice.
To do this properly, a double old-fashioned glass should be filled about two-thirds of the way with crushed ice. You will also add the ice from the cocktail shaker instead of straining the cocktail.
Let’s Get Started
- Fill your glass 2/3 of the way with crushed ice.
- Fill the cocktail shaker 1/2 of the way with crushed ice.
- Add all of the mai tai drink ingredients to the shaker, shake vigorously, and dump the shaken cocktail and the ice into the old-fashioned glass.
- Garnish with a spent lime shell and a sprig of ice.
More Cocktail Recipes
Mai Tai Recipe (The Original)
- 2 fl ounces White rum
- ½ fl ounce orange curaçao
- ¾ fl ounces Lime juice
- ¼ fl ounces orgeat syrup
- ¼ fl ounces Rich simple syrup
- Spent lime shells
- fresh mint sprigs
- Fill one rocks glass half way up with crushed ice.
- Fill a cocktail shaker halfway up with crushed ice. Add the rum, orgeat, curaçao, lime juice, and simple syrup to the cocktail shaker.
- Shake vigorously and then pour the mai tai into the rocks glass. Dump ice from shaker into the class.
- Garnish with one spent lime shell and a sprig of ming.
Laura’s Tips + Notes
- Rum. I used a quality aged Hawaiian rum.
- Orange curaçao. Orange curaçoa is an orange liqueur. If you have trouble finding it you can use Grand Marnier.
- Fresh lime juice. Freshly squeezed lime juice is the only juice in a traditional mai tai cocktail. Gently juice the halved limes so that you get no pith. (reserve these for garnishing)
- Orgeat syrup. [or・zhaat] is a blended almond syrup. There is no substitute. **I like to use ½ ounce orgeat syrup and leave out the simple syrup altogether.
- Rich demerara simple syrup. Made with 1 cup of water and 2 cups of demerara sugar.
- Spent lime shells. Save the lime shell halves from juicing to garnish this cocktail.
- Mint sprigs.
- Tropical cocktails are shaken with crushed ice and then served over more crushed ice. To do this properly a double old-fashioned glass should be filled about two-thirds of the way with crushed ice. You will also be adding the ice from the cocktail shaker as opposed to straining the cocktail
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