A staple in tiki and Hawaiin-themed bars across the world, the Mai Tai is an absolutely classic cocktail for that summertime swing.
Over the years, many recipes have tweaked or sweetened the original, making it quite hard to find a proper recipe for the classic Mai Tai.
That’s why we’re here!
Let’s run through all the ingredients you’ll need to make a classic Mai Tai and then the best Mai Tai recipe so you can kickstart your own summer parties with a tropical hit!
What’s in a Mai Tai? The Classic Mai Tai Ingredients
Like all great tropical cocktails, the base ingredient of the Mai Tai is rum, a blend of white and dark rum to be more specific.
Legend has it that original creator Victor Bergeron began the trend of blending rums to make the Mai Tai after running out of his supply of Jamaican rum which he initially used to make the drink.
While the dark rum is going to be floated on the top and is pretty non-negotiable, it is actually common to play around with the white rum, swapping it out for aged rum (also known as golden or amber rum).
Once you’ve made a couple of Mai Tais, change it up and find your preference.
If this is your first try, we’d recommend going for a Havana Club 3-Year-Old Anjelo. It’s a lightly aged white rum that’s an absolute steal for the price point.
Moving on from the rum, we have Orange Curacao, Lime Juice, and Orgeat Syrup.
For Orange Curacao, Cointreau is a great option and you will be able to use it in plenty of other recipes and drinks so it’s a good investment to have on your bar.
So what is Orgeat Syrup? Orgeat Syrup (pronounced Or-zhat) is an almond-flavored sugar syrup that takes the Mai Tai from bang average rum drink to a tropical, fruity, nutty sensation.
Some recipes call for the use of simple syrup, but that just doesn’t have the same effect. Leaving out the nutty notes in a Mai Tai misses a key flavor and will still make a lovely drink, but not a Mai Tai.
Orgeat Syrup is easy to pick up either online or in a department store, with plenty of major brands such as Monin producing it.
The last thing you’ll need to make the perfect Classic Mai Tai is crushed ice.
If you don’t have an ice crusher, don’t worry. All you need to do is put some ice cubes in a blender, and blend until you have your desired consistency.
Don’t have a blender? Well, then you’ll need a clean tea towel and a rolling pin.
Fold the tea towel with your ice in and hit it with the rolling pin until it’s crushed into little flakes which will keep your drink super chilled (this is by far the most fun way to make crushed ice).
Just remember to put your crushed ice back in the freezer once you’ve made it, or it’s going to melt pretty quickly and become useless!
How to Make a Mai Tai in 3 Steps: The Best Mai Tai Recipe
Add 1 ½ ounce of Aged or White Rum, ¾ ounce of Orange Curacao, ¾ ounce of freshly squeezed Lime Juice, and ½ ounce of Orgeat Syrup to a Boston shaker.
2. Shake and Strain
Fill your shaker with ice and shake your ingredients up until the shaker is chilled to the touch. Strain into a chilled rocks glass over ice (preferably crushed).
3. Float and Garnish
Float ½ ounce of dark rum on top of the cocktail to create that top layer that is so famously associated with the Mai Tai. Do this by pouring your rum gently out of the measuring jigger rather than quickly and all at once.
For garnish, there are no set rules. Most Mai Tais will have a lime wheel and a sprig of mint but some bartenders go even further and add a pineapple wedge and even a maraschino cherry.
Just go with whatever feels the most natural when you’re finishing off your drink.
Popular Mai Tai Variations
Before we send you on your way to make your own stellar Mai Tais, let’s leave you with a few tropical twists, in case you want something a bit funkier than the classic!
1. Sunset Mai Tai
A beautiful looking drink for those with a slightly sweeter tooth, the Sunset Mai Tai is made by pouring a bar spoon of Grenadine into the drink just before you float the dark rum.
The grenadine will drizzle down and create a beautiful sunset effect which is bound to leave your guests speechless.
2. Irish Whiskey Mai Tai
This one is made by switching the rums for 2 ounces of Irish Whiskey.
You won’t have the signature float on top of this drink that marks it out as a Mai Tai, but the Orgeat Syrup’s almond taste keeps enough of the familiarity with the classic Mai Tai for this combination to work.
Irish Whiskey is going to give a slightly less sweet taste to the drink than dark rum, perfect if you prefer your cocktails strong and bitter.
3. Spice Tai
Leaving the dark rum float untouched, we’re going to replace the base-aged white rum with a spiced variant.
This is going to give your Mai Tai a similar sort of kick to the Irish Whiskey variant, but keeping the flavor profile of rum, rather than switching it to whiskey.
If you’re super adventurous, some people even like to shake a bit of Chinese Five Spice into their mixture to give it that added kick!
4. Mai Tai Pitcher
The Mai Tai is a perfect drink for a summer party with its tropical, tiki feel and so you’re going to want to make it by the pitcher. There’s no need to ruin this brilliant drink with an overload of sweetness and fruit juice tho.
Just multiply all your ingredients (apart from the dark rum float) by the number of servings you want and stir it all well in a pitcher with ice. Then serve out each drink and float the dark rum on top and garnish with a lime wedge individually.
This way you’re serving as many people as you want without missing out on that special Mai Tai magic!
I started bartending in 2017, just 4 days after my 18th birthday, at a cocktail bar in my hometown. I immediately fell in love with the art and science of mixology and have since worked in bars across Yarm, York and Liverpool in England.