The Original Mai Tai Recipe

The original Mai Tai recipe is not the one you might recognize as a symbol of tropical paradise. There was no cherry, no pineapple, and definitely no paper umbrella in the classic, original Mai Tai cocktail. Read on for the recipe and a bit of history on this delicious drink.  

Mai Tai cocktail

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Who Invented the Mai Tai?

As with most cocktails, the origin of the Mai Tai is somewhat disputed. But the prevailing belief is that the Mai Tai was invented by Victor J. Bergeron – better known as “Trader Vic” – in 1944. It was a simple drink meant to highlight the flavor of a 17-year-old Jamaican rum.

Trader Vic used a golden rum made by Jamaican distiller J. Wray and Nephew. His recipe included lime juice, orange curaçao, orgeat syrup, and simple syrup. Legend has it that Trader Vic served his creation to some Tahitian friends, who exclaimed, “Maita’i roa a’e!” This translates to “out of this world – the best!” And that is where the name Mai Tai (the best) comes from.

The drink is traditionally garnished with half of a spent lime shell and a sprig of mint. A small circle is cut to expose the pith of the lime. It’s meant to look like a small island with a palm tree.  Simple and beautiful.

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The Hawaiian Mai Tai Recipe

So where did the more garish Mai Tai come from? The one with orange slices and pineapple juice and topped with a cherry and umbrella? This is the Mai Tai most are used to seeing these days in tiki bars around the world.

Hawaiian Mai Tai

That cocktail was also created by Trader Vic around 1954 when he worked for the Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki, Hawaii. Vic added pineapple and orange juices to his drink to sweeten his recipe for a more tourist-friendly cocktail. That sweeter recipe, for better or for worse, stole people’s hearts and is the one you’ll find most often on cocktail menus.

To make a Hawaiian Mai Tai, add all the following ingredients – except the dark rum – to your cocktail shaker with ice. Shake, pour into a glass, then pour the dark rum over the back of a bar spoon to float on top.

  • 1.5 oz light rum
  • 1/2 oz triple sec
  • 1/2 oz orgeat syrup
  • 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 oz fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 oz pineapple juice
  • 1/2 oz dark rum

But let’s get retro and learn how to make the original “out of this world” rum cocktail.

Original Mai Tai Recipe

To make the original Mai Tai, you’ll need a fresh lime, orange curaçao (Triple Sec can work), orgeat syrup (almond syrup), simple syrup, and a golden rum. This is a simple, rich drink so there’s nothing fancy about the preparation – just add all the ingredients to your cocktail shaker with a big handful of crushed ice and shake.

To show off your knowledge of the original Mai Tai recipe, be sure to get the garnish right! Take a half of lime after you’ve juiced it, and slice a small piece of the peel off to expose a little circle of the pith. Think of this as an island and the green of the lime is the water around your island. Then add a sprig of fresh mint to represent a palm tree.

Now that you know the proper way to make an original Mai Tai, you can start tweaking the ingredients and making your own riffs!

Mai Tai cocktail

Original Mai Tai

Yield: 1
Prep Time: 3 minutes
Total Time: 3 minutes

The original Mai Tai cocktail, as created by Trader Vic.


  • 2 oz golden rum
  • 3/4 oz fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 oz orange curaçao or Triple Sec
  • 1/4 oz orgeat syrup
  • 1/4 oz simple syrup
  • Crushed ice
  • Sprig of mint and juiced lime half for garnish


  1. Add all ingredients to a cocktail shaker with a large handful of crushed ice.
  2. Shake until frosty.
  3. Pour into a rocks glass (ice included) and add more crushed ice as desired.
  4. Cut a small circle of peel from the spent (juiced) lime half to expose the pith. Lay the lime half on top of the ice and add the sprig of mint. This is intended to look like an island with a palm tree!
  5. Please drink responsibly.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 1 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 270Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 8mgCarbohydrates: 27gFiber: 1gSugar: 20gProtein: 0g

Nutrition information is estimated and should only be used as a general guideline.

original mai tai recipe

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