Mai tai

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Mai tais at the Halekulani Hotel in Honolulu

The mai tai is a well-known rum-based cocktail most probably created by Victor J. Bergeron at his Trader Vic's restaurant in Oakland, California, in 1944. Trader Vic's amicable rival, Don the Beachcomber, claimed to have created it first in 1933 at his own newly opened little bar in Hollywood, which later became a famous restaurant.[1] Trader Vic's recipe is far less complicated than that of the Beachcomber and tastes quite different. [2]

"Maita'i" is the Tahitian word for "good." The spelling of the drink, however, makes it into two words. [3]

The Trader Vic story of its impomptu invention is that Bergeron created it one afternoon for some friends who were visiting from Tahiti. One of them tasted it and exclaimed, "Maita'i roa!", a common Tahitian phrase that means, literally, "good very!" and, figuratively, "Terrific!" or "Out of this world!"[4]

Mai tais have become the iconic drink of the Hawiian tourist business and there are today many recipes for it. At the Trader Vic's restaurant chain, which has remained in uninterrupted business since the 1930s, three different recipes for mai tais have been used over the years, with today's drink apparently being less sweet than the original."[5] One of the main differences between any of the Trader's recipes and that of Don the Beachcomber is that the former uses orgeat, an almond-flavored syrup, while the latter uses falernum, a syrup from the Caribbean with a very different ginger and lime flavor. The recipes from almost all other sources specify orgeat.

Mai tais should not be confused with Maotai, or Moutai, which is a well-known Chinese liquor.

Seven mai tai recipes

The first recipe is supposely that of Don the Beachcomber. The next three are different versions provided by Trader Vic's to The Search for the Ultimate Mai Tai website. The last three are examples of the innumerable versions available throughout the world.

#1—Don the Beachcomber mai tai

This version, from a book written several years after the Beachcomber's death, is apparently close to what was served in at least his Hollywood restaurant. It can be garnished with various fruits, as with all the other recipes. Falernum, which is now difficult to obtain in the United States except from a single supplier, is a flavored Caribbean syrup with a very different taste from the Orgeat syrup used in most of the other recipes. Some optional water has been added to this drink but it is still extremely strong and should be drunk in moderation.


  • 2 ounces or 1/4 cup water (optional)
  • 3/4 ounce or 1-1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 ounce or 2 tablespoons fresh grapefruit juice
  • 1 ounce or 2 tablespoons sugar syrup (1 part sugar dissolved in 1 part water)
  • 1 ounce or 2 tablespoons dark rum such as Meyer's
  • 1-1/2 ounces or 3 tablespoons golden rum
  • 1/2 ounce or 1 tablespoon Cointreau or triple sec liqueur
  • 1/4 ounce or 1/2 tablespoon falernum syrup
  • 2 dashes or scant 1/2 teaspoon Angostura bitters
  • 1 dash or scant 1/4 teaspoon Pernod or other anisette-flavored pastis

Shake all the ingredients in a shaker with ice and strain into a tall highball glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with fruits and serve with a straw.

#2 The original Trader Vic formula—1944

  • 2 oz of 17-year old J. Wray & Nephew Rum over shaved ice
  • Add juice from one fresh lime
  • 1/2 oz Holland DeKuyper Orange Curacao
  • 1/4 oz Trader Vic's Rock Candy Syrup
  • 1/2 oz French Garnier Orgeat Syrup
  • Shake vigorously over ice.
  • Add a sprig of fresh mint

#3 The "Old Way" Trader Vic formula—1997

  • 1 oz Fine Jamaican rum (15 or 8 years old)
  • 1 oz Martinique rum (St. James)
  • 1/2 ounce Orange Curacao
  • 1/2 ounce Orgeat syrup
  • Juice from one fresh lime (about 3/4 ounce)
  • Mix and serve as in the original formula

#4 Today's Trader Vic mai tai

This recipe is supposedly very close to what Trader Vic's restaurants apparently serve today, having been modified to be somewhat less sweet:

  • 1 oz gold rum
  • 1 oz dark rum
  • 1 oz triple sec
  • 1/2 oz lime juice
  • 1/2 oz Orgeat syrup
  • Garnish: maraschino cherry, pineapple, mint sprig

Shake all the ingredients in a shaker with ice and strain into an old fashioned glass over crushed ice. Garnish with fruits and mint, and serve with a straw.

#5 Pineapple variation mai tai

  • 4 oz orange juice
  • 4 oz pineapple juice
  • 1 oz Rose's lime juice
  • 1 oz dark rum
  • 1 oz light rum
  • 1 oz triple sec
  • 1/2 oz grenadine


Fill a collins glass with ice. Add:

  • 3/4 oz light rum
  • 3/4 oz dark um
  • 1/2 oz Amaretto
  • 1/2 oz triple sec

Fill with:

  • 1 part orange juice
  • 1 part pineapple juice
  • Float 1/2 oz Grenadine on top


  • 2 ounces Jamaica rum
  • Juice of 1 large lime (or 1-1/2 ounces lime juice)
  • 1/2 ounce orange curacao
  • 1/2 ounce orgeat
  • 1/4 ounce simple syrup
  • garnish: mint sprig
  • Use a relatively large glass
  1. Pour rum over shaved ice
  2. Add juice of one lime, orange curacao, orgeat, and simple syrup
  3. Garnish with a mint sprig


  1. Hawaii Tropic Rum Drinks & Cuisine by Don the Beachcomber, by Arnold Bitner and Phoebe Beach, Mutual Publishing, Honolulu, 2001, page 31-33
  2. Hawaii Tropic Rum Drinks & Cuisine by Don the Beachcomber, by Arnold Bitner and Phoebe Beach, Mutual Publishing, Honolulu, 2001, page 30
  4. — Trader Vic's story of its invention
  5. The two oldest versions can be found here: find the highlighted link to Mai Tai Recipes and click on it.


Hawaii Tropic Rum Drinks & Cuisine by Don the Beachcomber, by Arnold Bitner and Phoebe Beach, Mutual Publishing, Honolulu, 2001

See also