The Mai Tai is so often misinterpreted, it’s almost as misunderstood as the Old Fashioned. (Ok, maybe more!) What started as a drink designed to highlight the rum it was made with, has devolved over the years a sugary, juicy, syrupy concoction that’s nothing like its original recipe. And while I’ll be the last to tell you what to like, I will always prefer to start with an original cocktail recipe.
Legend has it the name originated when its creator, Victor J Bergeron (AKA Trader Vic) served it to a Tahitian friend. He tried the cocktail and exclaimed, “Maita’i roa a’e,” which roughly translates to “out of this world!” The abbreviated name, “Mai Tai” stuck.
In the video below, you’ll see two very different versions of the Mai Tai – the classic, and one which is far more common today. I wish you could taste them with us – they couldn’t possibly be more different!
How to Make a Mai Tai – Two Ways
Choosing your Ingredients for the Mai Tai
As with any classic cocktails, the fresher and less processed your ingredients are, the better it’s going to taste. Here are a few tips for making sure your Mai Tai is the best it can be!
Note, all of the following comments are regarding the “classic” recipe.
Choosing your Rum:
While the original recipe required 17-year-old J. Wray and Nephew Jamaican rum, I don’t think you have to get quite THAT specific. But a Jamaican rum would definitely be preferred if possible. You should definitely choose something that’s aged (amber color, not clear)
If there’s one ingredient that makes or breaks this drink, I would argue it’s the Orgeat. Pronounced “or-zhat”, Orgeat is a sweet almond syrup made with orange water. And the difference between the cheap stuff you find at the grocery store or BevMo and the high quality “good” stuff is night and day. If you go to buy Orgeat and you can see right through it – keep walking. The good stuff should be creamy white and not transparent.
A good, quality Orgeat will make your drink taste creamier, thicker, and have much more body – without just filling you up with sugar. I prefer Small Hand Foods’ Orgeat – you can grab it on Amazon here.
Traditionally the Mai Tai is made with a rich demerara syrup – which is a sugar syrup made with a 2:1 ratio of demerara sugar to water. And while that would certainly be ideal, I know it can be super hard to find demerara sugar in “normal” grocery stores.
The good news is you can make a reasonably good “fake” demerara syrup by using brown sugar. Just follow the same ratio: dissolve 2 parts brown sugar to 1 part water. (Warm water makes it easier, but be sure to cool it before using in cocktails.