The History of the Mai Tai Cocktail

Welcome to another edition of cocktail history, this time we’re going on the tropical side. 🏝️ 🍹

The Mai Tai cocktail is a classic Tiki drink that has become synonymous with tropical vacations, sandy beaches, and tiki bars. It’s a deliciously (not too) sweet and fruity cocktail that’s perfect for sipping on a hot summer day, but do you know the story behind its creation?

Charming Mai Tai artwork via Eater

The Mai Tai was created in the 1940s by Victor J. Bergeron, better known as “Trader Vic,” a legendary figure in the world of Tiki drinks. The story goes that he created the Mai Tai for a couple of friends who were visiting from Tahiti. He wanted to create a drink that would showcase the flavors of the Caribbean and the South Pacific, and thus the Mai Tai was born.

Trader Vic, Vic Bergeron in his element. Image: Getty Images / Bettmann

Photo via Food & Wine, by Matt Taylor-Gross

The name “Mai Tai” comes from the Tahitian word “maita’i,” which means “good” or “excellent.” It’s a fitting name for a cocktail that has become so beloved by so many people.

The original Mai Tai recipe called for a blend of Jamaican and Martinique rums, lime juice, orange curaçao, rock candy syrup, and orgeat syrup, a sweet almond-flavored syrup. It was served over crushed ice and garnished with a sprig of mint and a slice of lime.

Photo by Kike Salazar

“Anyone who says I didn’t create this drink is a dirty stinker.”

-Vic Bergeron, AKA Trader Vic


Over the years, the Mai Tai recipe has been modified and adapted by bartenders all over the world, but the essence of the drink remains the same. It’s a sweet and tangy cocktail that’s perfect for sipping on a hot day, and it’s no wonder that it’s become a staple of Tiki bars everywhere.

Photo by Alexandra Tran

So, why are Tiki drinks so delicious? It’s all about the combination of flavors. Tiki drinks are usually made with a blend of tropical fruit juices, rum, and sweet syrups, which creates a sweet and tangy flavor that’s hard to resist. Plus, the colorful presentation of Tiki drinks adds to their charm and appeal. But ultimately, Tiki drinks feel like the ultimate escapism, a tropical retreat from reality that also happens to be tasty.

In the end, the Mai Tai cocktail is more than just a drink. It’s a symbol of the Tiki culture that has been embraced by people all over the world. So, the next time you’re sipping on a Mai Tai, take a moment to appreciate its rich history and the culture that created it. Cheers to the Mai Tai!


Now, onto the recipe…



  • 1 ounce dark Jamaican rum
  • 1 ounce white rum
  • 1/4 ounce orgeat
  • 1/2 ounce orange Curaçao or Grand Marnier
  • 3/4 ounce lime juice
  • 1/4 ounce rich simple syrup (2:1 ratio of water to sugar)
  • 2-3 mint leaves (for garnish)
  • 1 lime wedge (for garnish)


  1. Add white rum, Curaçao or Grand Marnier, and Orgeat into a shaker with crushed ice. Shake for 10 seconds

  2. Pour mixture into a rocks glass filled with ice.

  3. Float the dark rum over the top by resting a bar spoon over the rocks glass and slowly pouring the dark rum.

  4. Garnish with mint leaves and lime wedge.

Via Food & Wine magazine.

Mai Tai in Smuggler’s Cove, a classic San Francisco tiki bar.