Mai Tai Punch is a classic tiki cocktail made with two types of rum, orgeat syrup, and a combination of citrus flavors. Pouring this classic mai tai cocktail into glasses reminiscent of a bygone tiki bar era makes this classic rum cocktail the real thing and the perfect drink for summer parties or get-togethers. These cocktails are one of the most famous tiki drinks and the most potent. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. This recipe is for those of drinking age only.
*I originally published this post in June 2020. I’ve updated the images and copy to make it more concise.*
What Is Mai Tai Punch?
Mai tai comes from the Polynesian word maita’i, which translates to “good” or “excellent,” or mai tai-roa aé from the Maori, which translates to a “long time ago.” It’s a strong, excellent, classic cocktail made a long time ago. The name fits.
The creator of the original mai tai recipe is hotly debated, as with most recipes. See the piña colada, for example.
Victor J. Bergeron, Jr. (of Trader Vic’s Bar fame) claims he invented the first mai tai in the mid-40s. However, Donn Beach, from the Beachcomber Bar, claims he created the drink in the mid-30s. No one truly knows or cares when and by whom the classic mai tai recipe was created. We’re just going to praise the heavens it was created and move the hell on. But why does every recipe begin with the same scandal?
This version, the best mai tai recipe, toes the line between Victor Bergeron and Beach’s but leans heavily towards the original Trader Vic’s recipe. No one makes the original recipe these days, though. How do I know? Because no one walking the planet is crazy enough to shell out FIFTY-FIVE grand for a bottle of 17-year-old J. Wray and Nephew 17 rum, which is what Bergeron swore by when making his recipe. Hell, I’ve never seen it in a liquor store, for that matter. This is a close adaptation that I don’t have to spend my kid’s college fund to make. I’m okay with it not being that authentic.
What Ingredients Are In a Mai Tai?
The main ingredients in mai tai punch cocktails are two kinds of rum: light rum, dark rum, orgeat (or almond simple syrup), lime juice (freshly squeezed), orange curacao, and Demerara simple syrup.
Mai tais also require a cocktail shaker, tiki glasses (or a tall old-fashioned glass), and crushed ice (the nugget kind is perfect for this).
What Makes Mai Tai Punch Cocktails Sweet?
Mai tai drinks are slightly sweet cocktails thanks to Demerara sugar syrup and orgeat.
Demerara sugar is pure, unrefined cane sugar. It has the flavor of molasses more than brown sugar does and tastes almost like melted rock candy syrup to me. Turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw) or dark brown sugar are good substitutes for Demerara sugar.
I recommend making the Demerara sugar syrup a day or two ahead and storing it in the fridge. It’s best in this drink when it’s cold.
In a small pot, stir together equal parts of Demerara and cold water. Bring this mixture to a boil while stirring to encourage the sugar to melt. Remove the pot from the stove once the mixture comes to a boil and the sugar dissolves.
Allow the simple syrup to cool completely before using it. Because simple syrup contains sugar, it’s best to store it in the fridge and not at room temperature.
What is Orgeat?
The second sweetening agent in a tasty mai tai is orgeat. Orgeat (pronounced ohr-ZHAT) is a non-alcoholic, almond-flavored syrup sweetener with a nutty flavor that is an ingredient in traditional mai tai drinks. Don’t overdo it on the orgeat- no matter how much you love its aroma. Orgeat’s sweetness can overwhelm even a strong drink like this one.
How Do You Make Mai Tai Punch?
Pour the fresh lime juice into the biggest cocktail shaker you own. Save two of the lime shells, after juicing the limes, for garnishing the drinks later.
Add the orange curaçao, an orange liqueur, and the orgeat to the shaker with the lime juice. Orange juice, triple sec, pineapple juice, or Cointreau if you don’t have orange curaçao. Avoid Grand Marnier altogether since that’s an orange brandy-based liqueur and not a sweet liqueur like orange curaçao is.
I use two kinds of rum to mimic the expensive-ass J. Wray and Nephew rum I’m not buying. They give the mai tais a similar charcoal, malty flavor of the super expensive stuff. Good quality light and black rum (or even an aged rum) are essential in this cocktail. This recipe can use any Caribbean rum or rum from the Hawaiian islands.
I always have Bacardi Superior and Black on hand, so that’s what I’m using.
Add both rums to the shaker, cap it, and shake it vigorously sans ice.
What Kind of Ice Do You Make a Mai Tai With?
Nugget ice is the best to add to tropical cocktails because it dilutes all that liquor. I buy mine from Sonic, but you can use crushed ice if you don’t have one nearby.
Fill two tiki glasses to the top with nugget ice and divide the shaker’s contents equally.
Can I Dilute My Mai Tais or Make Them Stronger?
I would actually be shocked that someone would want to make this strong drink stronger if I weren’t married to Hector. You can add a rum float to your mai tai by pouring a 1/2-ounce of dark rum over the drink after you pour it over the ice.
If your mai tai is too strong, dilute it by floating your favorite fruit juice over the drink instead.
Can I Make Mai Tai Punch For a Crowd?
To make mai tais for a crowd, quadruple the recipe and add it to a large pitcher or a punch bowl. Have the tiki glasses set out for your guests along with fun cocktail accouterments like lime slices, pineapple wedges (or other fresh fruit), and of course, a paper umbrella never hurt nobody.
Keep the nugget ice in an ice bucket and allow the guests to scoop it into their glasses before ladling the mai tai punch into them.
How Do You Garnish Mai Tais?
The signature mai tai drink is garnished with a lime shell with a fresh mint sprig sticking out of the shell on one side. It resembles an island and making this the perfect tropical drink.
Use a toothpick to pierce a hole on one side of the lime shells you reserved earlier. Insert a sprig of mint into the hole you made with the toothpick and place the garnish on top of the drink.
You can also forgo the floating island- booooo- and garnish your mai tai with a lime wheel instead.
Insert bamboo straws, and your perfect mai tai is ready to be enjoyed responsibly.
Pin this easy mai tai recipe to your cocktail recipe board and share it with your friends and family. Please let me know what you think of this throwback to tiki culture in the comments below.
Mai Tai Punch Cocktailat Sense & Edibility
- cocktail shaker
- tiki glasses or Collins glasses
Demerara Simple Syrup (Make 20 Minutes in Advance)
- 1/4 cup (50 grams) demerara sugar
- 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) water
Mai Tai Cocktail
- 3 large limes squeezed to extract 3 ounces (90 milliliters) of juice. Reserve two of the lime shells for garnish.
- 1/4 cup (2 ounces or 60 milliliters) orange curaçao
- 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces or 45 milliliters) demerara simple syrup
- 2 tablespoons (1 ounce or 15 mililliters) orgeat
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces or 120 milliliters) white rum
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces or 120 milliliters) dark rum
- mint sprigs
- crushed ice
Make the Demerara Simple Syrup (Can Be Made Up to 1 Week Ahead)
- In a small 2-quart pot, stir together the Demerara and cold water. Bring this mixture to a boil while stirring to encourage the sugar to melt.
- Remove the pot from the stove once the mixture comes to a boil and the sugar dissolves. Allow the simple syrup to cool completely before using it.
Mix the Mai Tai Punch Cocktails
- Pour the fresh lime juice into a large cocktail shaker. Add the orange curaçao, an orange liqueur, and the orgeat to the shaker with the lime juice. Add both rums to the shaker, cap it, and shake it vigorously.
Prepare the Glasses and the Garnish
- Fill two tiki glasses to the top with nugget ice and divide the shaker's contents equally.
- Use a toothpick to pierce a hole on one side of the lime shells you reserved earlier. Insert a sprig of mint into the hole you made with the toothpick and place the garnish on top of the drink.
- Insert bamboo straws to sip your Mai Tai Punch Cocktails responsibly.
Swaps and Substitutions:
- Turbinado sugar (Sugar in the Raw) or dark brown sugar are good substitutes for Demerara sugar.
- Orange juice, triple sec, pineapple juice, or Cointreau if you don't have orange curaçao.
- This recipe can be made with any Caribbean rum or rum from the Hawaiian islands.
- Replace the orgeat with falernum.
- To make virgin mai tais: omit the rums and orange curaçao. Replace them with ginger beer or club soda.
- You can use crushed ice if you don't have nugget ice.
- Garnish your mai tais with lime wheels instead of the lime and mint sprig islands.
Tips and Techniques:
- Because simple syrup contains sugar, it's best to store it in the fridge and not at room temperature.
- Don't overdo it on the orgeat as its sweetness can overwhelm the drink.
- Avoid replacing the orange curaçao with Grand Marnier since it's an orange brandy-based liqueur and not as sweet.
- Nugget ice is the best to add to tropical cocktails because it dilutes all that liquor.
- For stronger Mai Tai Punch: float 1/2-ounce more dark rum over the drink after you pour it over the ice.
- If your mai tai is too strong, dilute it by floating 1/2-ounce of your favorite fruit juice over the drink instead.
Pitcher Mai Tai Punch Cocktails:
- Quadruple (or more) the recipe and add it to a large pitcher or a punch bowl.
- Have the tiki glasses set out for your guests along with fun cocktail accouterments like lime slices, pineapple wedges (or other fresh fruit), and/or paper umbrellas.
- Keep the nugget ice in an ice bucket and allow the guests to scoop it into their glasses before ladling the mai tai punch into them.