Mai Tai

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The Mai Tai, in its original form, is a cocktail comprising rum, orgeat, orange curacao, fresh lime juice, and simple syrup.

A classic cocktail originating from the tiki culture of the post-Prohibition era, the Mai Tai has evolved over the decades, resulting in countless different recipes. The common threads that join most of these recipes together are rum, orange liqueur, an almond-flavored ingredient, sugar syrup, and fruit juice (usually lime).

As for deviations from the original recipe, many bars in more recent times include grenadine, pineapple juice, and/or orange juice in their recipes. The proper almond flavoring is orgeat, but other almond flavorings often used have included amaretto, creme de noyaux, and creme de almond.


What does "Mai Tai" mean?

It comes from the Tahitian phrase Maita'i roa a'e.

  • maita'i means "good" (compare Hawaiian maika'i, Rarotongan meitaki);
  • roa means "very" (compare Hawaiian loa);
  • a'e is an emphatic particle.

(NB: the apostrophe represents a glottal stop, so maita'i is pronounced "my-ta-ee", rather than "my-tie".)

Thus, "Maita'i roa a'e!" means "Very good, and how!" In other words, in Trader Vic's words, "Out of this world, the best!"


Maita'i oe? -- "Are you well?" Maita'i roa! -- "Very well!"

Who created the Mai Tai?

The Mai Tai was created by Trader Vic in 1944

"I was at the service bar in my Oakland restaurant. I took down a bottle of 17-year-old rum. It was J. Wray Nephew from Jamaica; surprisingly golden in color, medium bodied, but with the rich pungent flavor particular to the Jamaican blends. The flavor of this great rum wasn't meant to be overpowered with heavy additions of fruit juices and flavorings. I took a fresh lime, added some orange curacao from Holland, a dash of Rock Candy Syrup, and a dollop of French Orgeat, for its subtle almond flavor. A generous amount of shaved ice and vigorous shaking by hand produced the marriage I was after. Half the lime shell went in for color ... I stuck in a branch of fresh mint and gave two of them to Ham and Carrie Guild, friends from Tahiti, who were there that night. Carrie took one sip and said, 'Mai Tai - Roa Ae'. In Tahitian this means 'Out of This World - The Best.' Well, that was that. I named the drink 'Mai Tai.'"

According to David Herpin

This drink is widely believed to be created by trader vic in 1944. Some sources claim that it was actually 1934 and others say it was Donn Beachcomber all of which is inaccurate. The Mai Tai itself actually appears as recent as:

Time: Volume 86 by Briton Hadden, Henry Robinson Luce in 1965

"But Trader Vic knows my secret (he should — he invented me!) He's just put the right blend of three prize rums in one bottle. Pour equal portions of Trader Vic's Mai Tai Rum and Trader Vic's Mai Tai Mix into a glass crammed with ice."

This may be one of the earliest printings of the Mai Tai, but the drink is much older. Many do not seem to know that this drink was originally called a "Trader Vic Punch" and appears in Trader Vic's Food and Drink in 1951, it also appears a year later in:

Trader Vic's Kitchen kibitzer by Trader Vic in 1952

What is odd is the is one of the most researched classic cocktails to date and it appears that not a single person had a clue, had they read the book themselves, they would see that the Trader Vic Punch is strikingly similar to a Mai Tai and no Mai Tai is listed, that's some Food and Drink for thought.

The idea that Beachcomber invented the drink in the 1930's is just blatantly false. Trader Vic didn't even copyright his own syrup which is used in the recipe until:

Catalog of copyright entries: by Library of Congress. Copyright Office in 1947

"TRADER VIC © Trader Vic's orgeat syrup. Label. © Victor J. Bergeron aka Trader Vic; 30 Jun 48;"

It is very clear why the recipe confusions took place, many bars had known of the Mai Tai, but getting your hands on the premix, especially during the 60's was next to impossible, unless you lived in Oakland, even then it was difficult. So many establishments started substituting ingredients, this is exactly why we see Creme de Noyaux often used.

This drink dates between 1947 - 1951 and was originally called a Trader Vic Punch; it contained at least as of then:

Shake these ingredients:



Orgeat Syrup

Orange Juice

Pineapple Juice

Strain into a double old fashioned glass or old fashioned glass filled with fresh ice cubes.

"A Postcard from Stan Delaplane" by Stanton Delaplane, November 16, 1956.

"On this gray weepy Hawaiian morning, the SS Mariposa rounded Diamond Head. All our kamaaina old-time islanders bursting into tears at the rich, warm land smells and the surf making white pillows off Waikiki....Personally, I can hardly wait for a mai tai beside the pink palace Royal Hawaiian which I can see on the beach. A mai tai is a rummy sort of chemistry, the inspiration of Mr. Trader Vic."

Trader Vic's Recipes

Trader Vic's has changed its Mai Tai recipes slightly over the years. Here are the formulas over the years, according to the Trader Vic's web site.

Original Formula

  • 2 oz 17-year-old J. Wray Nephew Jamaican rum
  • 1/2 oz French Garnier Orgeat
  • 1/2 oz Holland DeKuyper Orange Curacao
  • 1/4 oz Rock Candy Syrup
  • juice from one fresh lime

Hand shake and garnish with half of the lime shell inside the drink and float a sprig of fresh mint at the edge of the glass.

First Adjusted Formula

  • 1 oz 15-year old J. Wray Nephew Jamaican Rum
  • 1 oz Coruba or Red Heart Jamaican Rum
  • 1/2 oz Trader Vic Formula Orgeat
  • 1/2 oz Holland DeKuyper Orange Curacao
  • 1/4 oz Rock Candy Syrup
  • Juice from one fresh lime

Hand shake and garnish with half of the lime shell inside the drink and float a sprig of fresh mint at the edge of the glass.

Second Adjusted Formula

  • 1 oz Trader Vic's Jamaican Rum (15- or 8-year old)
  • 1 oz Martinique Rum (St. James or Trader Vic's)
  • 1 oz pre-mixed Curacao, Orgeat and Rock Candy Syrup
  • Juice from one fresh lime

Hand shake and garnish with half of the lime shell inside the drink and float a sprig of fresh mint at the edge of the glass.

Present Day Formula

  • 2 oz fine dark rum
  • 4 oz Trader Vic's Mai Tai Mix
  • Juice of 1 large lime

Hand shake and garnish with half of the lime shell inside the drink and float a sprig of fresh mint at the edge of the glass.

Don the Beachcomber's Recipe

"Hawaii Tropical Rum Drinks & Cuisine by Don the Beachcomber" by Phoebe Beach & Arnold Bitner

  • 1 1/2 ounces Myers's Plantation Rum
  • 1 ounce Cuban Rum
  • 3/4 ounce Fresh Lime Juice
  • 1 ounce Fresh Grapefruit Juice
  • 1/4 Falernum Syrup
  • 1/2 ounce Cointreau
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 dash Pernod
  • 1 cup cracked ice

Pour all the liquids into a cocktail shaker. Fill it with ice and shake for about 30 seconds. Pour it all into a 16-ounce double old-fashioned glass. Garnish with lime slice, pineapple, and mint sprig.

Other Recipes

Harry Owens, "Sweet Leilani" (Hula House, 1970)

  • 2 ounces dark rum
  • 2 ounces light rum
  • Dash of sugar syrup
  • 1 ounce orange curacao
  • Dash of falernum
  • Dash of orgeat syrup
  • 1 pineapple stick
  • 1 maraschino cherry
  • Sprig of mint
  • Stick of raw sugar cane

Combine rums, sugar syrup and liqueurs in a glass. Add pineapple, cherry and mint sprig as garnish. Add sugar cane as a swizzle stick.

Bali Hai's World Famous Mai Tai, from the Bali Hai Restaurant in San Diego, Calif.

  • 1 ounce Ron Rico Light Puerto Rican rum
  • 1 ounce Myers Dark Jamaican Rum
  • 1/2 ounce Triple Sec
  • 1/2 ounce Orgeat Syrup
  • 1 oz Sweet and sour mix

Fill a 14 1/2 oz glass to the top with shaved ice. Over the ice pour the rums, Triple Sec, orgeat and enough sweet and sour mix to fill the glass. Stir contents to mix. Garnish with pineapple chunk, maraschino cherry and a cocktail umbrella.

Mai Tai References

From GOURMET, July 1961, pg. 44, col. 3:

Q. Can you tell me how to make _mai-tai_--a drink made of rum, fruit juices, and honey? HARRY E. OHLRICH WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS, OHIO

A. Here's how they make _mai-tai_ at one hotel bar. Other barkeeps add a cherry to the garnish or float an orchid on the drink.

Mai-Tai Royal Hawaiian

"Pour into a glass 1 jigger each of light and dark Jamaica rum. Add the juice of (Pg. 45, col. 1--ed.) 1 lime and half the shell, and a dash each of orgeat syrup, rock candy syrup, and orange Curacao. Garnish the drink with a sprig of mint, a pineapple stick, and a sugar cane stick. Fill the glass with shaved ice."

Why do some people make their Mai Tais Pink?

Mbanu says:

"I'd figured that the pink Mai Tai started when bars that didn't have orgeat tried using red creme de almond as a substitute. I'd suspect the grenadine got involved either when customers ordered Mai Tais in places that had orgeat and turned them away because they weren't pink, or in places that had never heard of a Mai Tai and tried getting the recipe out of the customer (who of course remembered the color of the drink, if not what actually went into it)"

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