Mai Tai is a well balanced tropical cocktail that features lime juice, simple syrup, orgeat syrup, curacao, and rum. It’s a refreshing combination of tropical flavors that is not overly sweet or fruity.
WHAT IS MAI TAI
The word “maita’i” means “good” and “Maita’i roa ae!” means “the very best” in Tahitian and that is where Mai Tai got it’s name. With the first sip, it takes me away to a remote tropical island, sitting in a beachfront Tiki bar, sipping this delicious cocktail. Mai Tai is the quintessential Tiki culture drink and with the right blend of ingredients, you will have the perfect cocktail.
Trader Vic is the one credited with creating this dink back in 1944, in Oakland, California, although there is some dispute over the origin with his former partner Donn Beach. I won’t get into the whole history because I’m sure you’re more interested in the cocktail.
It is, after all, all about cocktail. The sweet, smooth combination of lime juice, orgeat syrup, orange curacao, and rum is not overpowering and very pleasant. This drink is not overly sweet and fruity like many tropical cocktails. After many, many trials with ingredients and amounts, I’ve gotten this recipe to its perfection.
I’ve ordered this cocktail in just about every bar and every single one had been different. Many bars have thrown in unnecessary fruit juices, skipped the orgeat, added grenadine, or used pre-made cocktail mix. So many of them have not resembled what a Mai Tai should truly be. There is only one bar, which is our local beach joint hidden away from the tourists, that makes an excellent and true version.
WHAT IS ORGEAT
Orgeat syrup is sweet syrup with sugar, blanched almonds, and rose water or orange flower water. It has a pronounced but not an overwhelming almond flavor. Unlike almond extract, it does not taste like a raw almond. Orgeat syrup is perfect for this Tiki cocktail because it blends really well with citrus and rum and gives the whole drink a nutty tone.
Can I Substitute Orgeat?
You will find many sources of the internet that will tell you to substitute almond extract for orgeat. I am NOT one of those sources.
Personally, no, I do not recommend substituting orgeat syrup because it has a very specific flavor that is in no way replicated by almond extract. Almond extract tastes like pungent raw almond straight out of the shell. It will give your drink an overpowering raw almond taste.
If you don’t have orgeat syrup at your store, I recommend ordering it on Amazon. I order it there myself and keep it in the fridge. It has a very long shelf life so it won’t go bad before you use it up. If you like to make Mai Tais and other tiki/tropical drinks, it’s worth ordering a bottle.
Fresh lime – definitely use freshly squeezed lime juice.
Simple syrup – you can easily make a larger batch of simple syrup and keep it in the refrigerator, in an airtight container to use when needed.
Orgeat syrup – this is an important ingredient that should not be substituted. I recommend ordering it online if you can’t find it at the local store.
Orange juice – I actually prefer to use bottled orange juice to fresh because oranges can be unpredictable. If you get a sour orange, that will ruin the cocktail.
Orange Curacao – for the most authentic taste, use orange curacao. If you are unable to find it, use orange liqueur like Cointreau and Grand Marnier.
Light Rum – you can also use gold/aged rum.
Dark rum – If you want to make it stronger, substitute 1/4 oz for 151 rum.
HOW TO MAKE IT
You can make this cocktail two ways: shaken or stirred. (No pun intended.)
The main idea is to incorporate the ingredients very well because orgeat is thick and will take a few seconds to blend in. So you can combine all ingredients in a shaker with a few ice cubes and give it a good shake. Pour it over crushed ice.
Or, you can combine the ingredients in a double/old-fashioned glass with crushed ice and use a spoon to stir for 15-20 seconds.
MORE COCKTAIL RECIPES TO TRY:
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- 1/2 oz lime juice
- 1/2 oz Orgeat syrup
- 1/2 oz simple syrup
- 1 oz orange juice
- 1 oz light rum
- 1 oz dark rum
- 1 oz orange curacao
- Combine the ingredients in a double/old-fashioned glass with crushed ice and use a spoon to stir for 15-20 seconds.
- Combine all ingredients in a shaker with a few ice cubes and give it a good shake. Pour it over crushed ice in a double/old-fashioned glass.
- Garnish and enjoy!