Citrusy Mai Tai Cocktail Recipe

There are plenty of foods out there that scream "summer," from hot dogs and grilled corn to chilled salads teeming with crisp seasonal veggies and fresh herbs. But the beverage world is also chock-full of ice-cold summery treats. Guzzling a frosty glass of lemonade or beer can be a lifesaver on a particularly sweltering day, but if you want to take your summer drink game to the next level, shake up a tiki drink — one like Christina Musgrave's recipe for a classic Mai Tai.

This sweet and tangy drink "is great for a tropical summer cookout," Musgrave says, but there's also nothing stopping you from enjoying this fruity rum-based cocktail while lounging at the pool or even while sitting at home in the comfort of your air conditioner. If you close your eyes, you can pretend you're at a tropical resort. This tiki drink is easy to make, easy to scale up, and it'll be infinitely more impressive to your friends and family than just bringing out a six-pack again. Here's how to make a classic Mai Tai.

What is a Mai Tai?

A Mai Tai is a rum-based tiki drink made with orange and orgeat, a liqueur that Serious Eats describes as tasting like "liquid marzipan." Like most tiki drinks, the Mai Tai is American in origin. According to Make Me A Cocktail, some say the Mai Tai was created in the early 1940s by Trader Vic, a California bartender known for experimenting with rum drinks, but it's also possible the cocktail was first crafted by a different bartender named Ernest Raymond Beaumont-Gantt. However, Vic has denied these allegations, and even won a court case about the drink's ownership. Whoever truly invented the first Mai Tai that we know and love, we're just glad that they did!

Gather your Mai Tai ingredients

Making a cocktail isn't exactly like cooking or baking per se, but it's still important to get your ingredients together before you get started. You'll need both white rum and dark rum, orange liqueur and orange juice, and the aforementioned orgeat. "You can use either freshly squeezed or bottled orange juice, whichever you have on hand is fine," says Musgrave. You'll also need a cocktail shaker, ice, and an optional mint sprig for garnishing the drink.

Pour the ingredients and shake it all up

Now it's time to make a Mai Tai. Take your cocktail shaker and fill it with ice, then pour in the white rum, orgeat, orange liqueur, and orange juice. Put the top on and shake the drink for about 15 seconds, so the ingredients combine and the ice chills the drink. Get a rocks glass and fill that with ice as well, and strain your freshly-shaken Mai Tai into the glass. You're not quite done yet — complete the drink by topping it off with a pour of dark rum.

"The dark rum acts as a 'floater' topped in the drink. This is how a classic Mai Tai is made," Musgrave says.

Relax with a tropical drink

Once you've added your optional mint sprig garnish, your Mai Tai is ready! This recipe makes one drink, but if you're looking to serve this summer cocktail for a group, Musgrave says "you can definitely double or triple the recipe to make multiple drinks at once." If you're looking to mix up some Mai Tais as part of a larger dinner party or celebration, Musgrave says she suggests "pairing this with grilled pineapple, chicken, pork, or plantains." Whatever you decide to serve your Mai Tai with, this recipe will give you a taste of a tropical vacation, even if you're spending summer in your own backyard.

Citrusy Mai Tai Cocktail Recipe
5 from 2 ratings
The Mai Tai is a classic tiki drink, and now you can make a delicious, citrusy version in your own home.
Prep Time
Cook Time
close-up of mai tai with mint garnish
Total time: 5 minutes
  • 1 ounce white rum
  • ½ ounce orange liqueur
  • ½ ounce orange juice
  • ½ ounce orgeat
  • ½ ounce dark rum
Optional Ingredients
  • Mint sprig, for garnish
  1. Add the white rum, orange liqueur, orange juice, and orgeat to a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
  2. Shake for 15 seconds, until chilled.
  3. Strain the liquid into a rocks glass filled with ice. Top with ½ ounce of dark rum and a mint sprig, and serve.
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