Mai Tai

5 from 41 votes

Sip on a tropical and refreshing Mai Tai and pretend you’re on a beach. These delicious tiki cocktails are made with three types of rum, orange liqueur, lime juice, pineapple juice and orgeat syrup. One sip and you’ll be in paradise!

A Mai Tai Cocktail on a brown board.

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Traditional Mai Tai recipe

Tiki lovers, this one is for you. Tiki drinks are known for being over-the-top, but none is more classic than the Mai Tai.

The Mai Tai drink is an absolute must-know cocktail recipe made with two types of rum, lime juice, orange liqueur, almond syrup and pineapple. It’s nutty and fruity, with hints of vanilla and spices.

Though there are a couple of ingredients that aren’t as easy to find, it’s still a super simple cocktail.

If you are just getting into these tropical cocktails, the Mai Tai a great place to start and flex your skills. Let’s get into this sweet and delicious drink.

More tiki cocktail recipes: Pineapple Tiki PunchBoozy Dole WhipFish Bowl

Overhead view of a cherry on a bamboo skewer, lime wheel and mint sprig on an orange cocktail sitting on a wooden cutting board.

Why you’ll love this recipe

You’ll love this fun cocktail recipe! It’s a great one to add to your repertoire for a few reasons:

  • Tiki drinks make you feel like you are on vacation!
  • It’s a good classic rum cocktail every home bartender should know.
  • Because of some specialty ingredients, it’s a little more advanced, but it’s still very easy to make.

Mai Tais are great drinks for unwinding on the beach, by the pool or at a tiki bar. They are tropical, delicious and would be great to serve at a luau-themed cookout or tropical pool party.

Close up of a lime wheel, cherry and mint sprig on a rum cocktail.

What is a Mai Tai?

The original recipe for the Mai Tai cocktail includes light rum, dark rum, orange curaçao, orgeat syrup, fresh lime juice and, sometimes, pineapple juice and orange juice.

Though it is usually spelled as two words, the name Mai Tai comes from the Tahitian word, maitaʻi, meaning “good.”

The drink should be a light, golden color with a layer of dark brown rum on top. Mai Tais are sometimes served blue or bright red — but these are not true Mai Tais. 

A tropical cocktail is garnished with fruit and a mint sprig.

History of the Mai Tai

The Mai Tai drink is at the heart of tiki culture, though its history is a bit contested.

The story goes that Victor Bergeron, the owner of Trader Vic’s in Oakland, Ca., a popular tiki bar of the day, claimed he invented the original Mai Tai recipe in 1944. Donn Beach, owner of Don’s Beachcomber Café in Hollywood, Ca. claimed he invented the drink in 1933, calling it the Mai Tai Swizzle.

The two recipes differed in ingredients and complexity, and many restaurants who tried to emulate the flavor came up with their own recipe, muddling the ingredients list, sometimes adding pineapple juice and orange juice.

The drink flew to popularity in the 1950s and 1960s, with many restaurants — especially tiki-themed ones — serving them. The drink was also prominent in the 1961 film, Blue Hawaii, starring Elvis Presley.

But the real hubbub about the Mai Tai began in 1953, when Trader Vic added it to the cocktail menus at two hotels in Hawaii, the Matson Company hotels Royal Hawaiian Hotel and the Moana Hotel. The drink soon became a hit among tourists and found its place on the menus of tiki bars.

Below you’ll find my version. It is really the best Mai Tai recipe! It combines the best of the original and modern versions into one boozy, tropical drink with three kinds of rum. 

A Mai Tai Cocktail on a round wooden cutting board with a gold stirring spoon and a tan and white dish towel.

Tools & glassware

To make the classic Mai Tai cocktail, you need the basics: 

  • a jigger for measuring,
  • a cocktail shaker for combining the ingredients,
  • a strainer for pouring,
  • and a bar spoon for getting that perfect float of dark rum on top.

You can serve a Mai Tai in any kind of tiki mugs, but they look best in a clear lowball glass, like a rocks glass. This allows the drinker to see the layers of colors in the drink.

closeup image of almond simple syrup with blurred bowl of almonds and green dish towel in the background
Orgeat syrup

Ingredients

Here’s what you’ll need to grab at the grocery store and liquor store to make this recipe:

Light rum: White rum, also known as silver rum or light rum, is clear and colorless, and brings a bright crispness to any cocktail.

Aged rum: Aged rum has a richer and slightly stronger profile due to aging in oak barrels. If you don’t have aged rum, you can just use 1½ ounces of light rum instead of a mix of both.

Orange curaçao: Orange curaçao is a type of clear orange liqueur. You can substitute another clear orange liqueur, such as triple sec or Cointreau instead.

Lime juice: As with any cocktail, fresh lime juice is more ideal than bottled concentrate because it’s sweeter and more fresh-tasting.

Pineapple juice: Any natural pineapple juice works here. I keep cans of pineapple juice on hand for cocktails so I don’t have to stock up on more than I need.

Orgeat syrup: French orgeat (pronounced or-jah) is essentially an almond simple syrup. It adds a hint of nutty flavor to cocktails, so it’s great to have on hand. Try making your own or order a bottle online. (I like Liber’s Orgeat.)

Dark rum: This one isn’t shaken with the rest of the ingredients; it is the dark layer on top of the cocktail. The float on top adds a hint of complex flavor and a pretty appearance to this drink.

Garnishes: Top off this cocktail with a lime wedge, a sprig of fresh mint and a cocktail cherry. You could also use a pineapple wedge or pineapple spear and a cocktail umbrella if you want to get fancy!

A tropical orange cocktail with a teal cocktail umbrella on a bamboo cutting board.

How to make a Mai Tai

Making a Mai Tai is easier than you’d think. Here’s what to do:

  1. In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add the light rum, aged rum, lime juice, pineapple juice and orgeat syrup. Shake well to combine.
  2. Strain the ingredients into a rocks glass filled with ice.
  3. Hold a bar spoon upside-down over top of the drink and slowly pour the dark rum over the spoon. This is called a float, and it will create a layer of rum on top, rather than it mixing into the drink.
  4. Garnish with a lime wedge, fresh mint and a cocktail cherry.

To make a virgin Mai Tai: Use 1½ ounces unsweetened iced tea instead of rum and ¾ ounces orange juice instead of curaçao. On top, add another splash of tea over top of the other ingredients.

Tips & tricks

Here are some tips and tricks for making this recipe:

  • The original recipe called for a “dash of rock candy syrup,” meaning simple syrup. Taste the drink from the cocktail shaker before pouring into the glass. If it isn’t sweet enough for you, add a splash of simple syrup. 
  • To get the pretty layer of dark rum on top, make a float of dark rum by gently and slowly pouring it over the back of a bar spoon.
  • Use a real cocktail cherry for the garnish, not a bright red maraschino cherry. Learn the difference between the two cherries.
  • Add over-the-top garnishes to make the drink stand out. Lime and pineapple garnishes are classic, but you could also go with a cocktail umbrella and fresh mint.
Fruit and herbs garnish a bright iced cocktail on a wooden cutting board.

What to serve with a Mai Tai

Mai Tais go well with tiki food, such as popcorn shrimp or ___

Because these tiki drinks contain pineapple, they go so well with that flavor. You’ll love them with pineapple salsa and teriyaki chicken pineapple kabobs.

For dessert, enjoy these boozy margarita bars, a classic pineapple upside-down cake or a batch of spiced rum balls.

FAQ

What is in a Mai Tai drink?

The Mai Tai cocktail is made with rum, orange liqueur, lime juice, pineapple juice and an almond syrup called orgeat (pronounced or-jah). On top, a layer of dark rum is floated over the drink to give it a layered look.

What does Mai Tai mean in Hawaiian?

The cocktail is supposedly named for the Tahitian word maitaʻi, meaning “good.”

Two Mai Tai Cocktails alongside mint sprigs and other garnishes.

More tropical cocktails

— Did you make this recipe? —

Please leave a ★★★★★ review or comment below.

A Mai Tai Cocktail.

Mai Tai Drink

Yield: 1 cocktail
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
The Mai Tai is a classic tiki cocktail full of tropical flavor and three types of rum. It's like vacation in a glass!
5 from 41 votes
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ingredients

  • 1 ounce light rum
  • ½ ounce aged rum
  • ¾ ounce orange curaçao or triple sec
  • ¾ ounce lime juice fresh
  • ¾ ounce pineapple juice
  • ½ ounce orgeat syrup
  • ½ ounce dark rum to float
  • 1 lime wedge for garnish
  • 1 cocktail cherry for garnish
  • 1 fresh mint sprig for garnish

instructions

  • In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add the light rum, aged rum, lime juice, pineapple juice and orgeat syrup. Shake well to combine.
  • Strain the ingredients into a rocks glass filled with ice.
  • Hold a bar spoon upside-down over top of the drink and slowly pour the dark rum over the spoon. This is called a float, and it will create a layer of rum on top, rather than it mixing into the drink.
  • Garnish with a lime wedge, fresh mint and a cocktail cherry.

notes

Here are some tips and tricks for making this recipe:
  • The original Mai Tai recipe called for a “dash of rock candy syrup,” meaning simple syrup. Taste the drink from the cocktail shaker before pouring it into the glass. If it isn’t sweet enough, add a splash of simple syrup and shake again. 
  • To get the pretty layer of dark rum on top, make a float of dark rum by gently and slowly pouring it over the back of a bar spoon.
  • Use a real cocktail cherry for the garnish, not a bright red maraschino cherry. 
  • Add over-the-top garnishes to make the drink stand out. Lime and pineapple garnishes are classic, but you could also go with a cocktail umbrella and fresh mint.
To make a virgin Mai Tai: Use 1½ ounces unsweetened iced tea instead of rum and ¾ ounces orange juice instead of curaçao. On top, add another splash of tea over top of the other ingredients.

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nutrition information

Yield: 1 cocktail

amount per serving:

Serving: 4ounces Calories: 259kcal Carbohydrates: 24g Protein: 0.2g Fat: 0.1g Saturated Fat: 0.02g Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.03g Sodium: 12mg Potassium: 70mg Fiber: 0.3g Sugar: 22g Vitamin A: 14IU Vitamin C: 9mg Calcium: 10mg Iron: 1mg
did you make this recipe?Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Instagram with the hashtag #feastandwestrecipes!
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