The Cocktail Diaries: Mai Tai

Last updated 05:00 18/01/2013
Mai Tai
OH MAI: This tiki culture classic is particularly refreshing when served with spicy and delicious jerk chicken.

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Main ingredient Rum
Type of dish Cocktails
Course Drinks
Cooking time <30 min
Serves/makes 1
Special options None

As a bartender, it's not summer to me until I've sipped my first classic Mai Tai on a sunny afternoon.

This legendary classic has undergone more personality changes than Prince, The Artist Formerly Known As (insert indescribable symbol here). And much like the pint-sized pop guru, the Mai Tai's credibility has been questioned so much that it now deters the majority of us from partaking in its brilliance.

Yes it fulfils every tropical island holiday poolside cliche, but it also personifies a hugely influential cocktail era, style and culture. Tiki culture hit the USA by storm in the 1930s and was alive through to the 1970s. It provided a form of escape and adventure from the mundane day-to-day lives for post-depression middle Americans by introducing the exotic flavours and styles of the Caribbean and Pacific. 

Rum, pineapples, coconuts, hula skirts, bamboo and tiki totems were embraced with furore, transforming a typical night out into a Luau extravaganza. Along with the Zombie cocktail, the Mai Tai stands as the flag bearer of all that is Tiki cocktail culture. Its creation was claimed by the two kings of Tiki culture, Trader Vic & Don Beachcomber. Its name is said to have come from the first time Trader Vic served it to Tahitian friends, with them proclaiming "Mai tai roa ae", which means 'out of this world' 'or the best' in Tahitian.

Classic Mai Tais are simple, refreshing, crisp and packed with flavour. They're easy to make at home, or you can challenge your local bar keep to step up to the plate and mix you one Trader Vic style.


45ml Appleton Estate 12yr Jamaican rum
15ml Orange Curacao (or Cointreau)
30ml Fresh lime juice
10ml Orgeat almond syrup
10ml Sugar syrup

1. Shake well and strain into a rocks glass over crushed ice.

2. Garnish with a large mint sprig. 

Note that there are no pineapple or orange juices, grenadine, sparklers or plastic monkeys required.

The Mai Tai makes a perfect food match for a retro prawn cocktail salad and is a great palate cleanser/cooler with spicy BBQ jerk chicken.

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- Jason Clark is the bartender at Hummingbird Eatery and Bar.


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