Mai Tai Cocktail

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This mai tai cocktail combines light and dark rums with orange liqueur and a tiny splash of pineapple juice, the result is a citrusy, bright and smooth drink. Sipping this cocktail makes me feel like I’m lounging on a beach, listening to the sound of lapping waves.

If you’ve tried a mai tai in the past and been unimpressed with the sugary or overly fruity flavor, this classic version of the mai tai might change your mind.

Classic Mai Tai recipe by Barefeet In The Kitchen

Mai Tai Cocktail

My brother-in-law is known to make one heck of an incredible cocktail. His version of the mai tai made me realize that this drink isn’t meant to be too heavy on the pineapple and orange flavors. I look forward to enjoying one of these whenever we visit.

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The last time I visited my sister, I twisted my brother in law’s arm to show me how to make his classic version. The mai tai is very smooth and flavorful without being overly sweet.

The key difference in this recipe compared to others I’ve tried is waiting to add the pineapple juice at the very end.  I shake the other ingredients in a cocktail shaker but leave the pineapple juice to add to the glass right at the end. This allows you to add as much or as little pineapple juice as you like in order to sweeten the drink.

If you want a pure and authentic old-fashioned mai tai, feel free to skip the pineapple juice entirely. Me? I’m a fan of the added flavor it provides here.

I suggest starting with just a couple ounces of pineapple juice and tasting the drink before adding more. If you prefer a stronger rum flavor, you might want to start with just a single shot (1.5 oz.) of pineapple juice before adding more to taste.

The only place I’ve found that makes a cocktail close to this version is PF Chang’s. As proven with the fabulous Coconut Lemon Sour, their bartenders know how to mix a drink.

Mai Tai Ingredients

Using good quality ingredients is important with any cocktail and the mai tai is no different.

This a rum based cocktail that uses both light and dark varieties of rum. I’ve found the quality of the light rum doesn’t matter too much but you don’t want to use bottom of the barrel liquor. Bacardi or a similar standard shelf variety will work just fine.

When it comes to the dark rum, don’t skimp. Cheap dark rums just don’t have the same smoothness as the better stuff and smooth is one of the primary characteristics of a delicious well-made mai tai.

I use Mount Gay Rum most often when I make this drink but your favorite middle quality or top shelf dark rum will do. Don’t substitute spiced rums. They’ll disrupt the flavor balance in this cocktail.

Orgeat syrup is the secret ingredient that gives mai tais their distinct flavor. Made from blanched almonds and orange-flower water, Orgeat syrup has a sweet and nutty almond flavor that’s amazing paired with pineapple juice. There are several good brands of Orgeat syrup available or, if you’re feeling ambitious, you could even make your own.

This classic mai tai gets its tropical citrus flavor from a dash of orange liqueur. Gran Gala is my preferred brand but feel free to substitute with whatever orange liqueur you have available.

Finally, the pineapple juice. Ideally, use 100% Pineapple Juice in this recipe rather than one that’s mainly added sugar. That fresh tropical pineapple flavor brings the flavors of citrus, almonds, and rum together for a cocktail that tastes like summer at the beach. 

This Classic Mai Tai Cocktail recipe is a keeper!

Cocktail Recipes

Looking for more delicious and easy cocktail recipes? I’ve got you covered. Like a mai tai, Pineapple Mojitos conjure images of lazy summer days by the ocean or pool, soaking up the sun. They’re one of the drinks I make most often and popular with everyone who tries one.

The Moscow Mule has fast become one of my favorite cocktails. Refreshing and citrusy with lime, vodka and ginger beer, it’s an easy go to for parties any time of the year.

My husband’s favorite drink is The Old-Fashioned. Not for the weak, an Old-Fashioned brings together Bourbon whiskey, bitters and soda water and is typically garnished with a maraschino cherry and an orange slice.

For something a little more unusual, check out this Brazilian Caipirinha Cocktail.  The primary ingredient is Ypioca Cachaca, the most popular distilled liquor in Brazil. It’s a basic combination of the cane sugar based liquor served over ice with a twist of fresh lime juice.

Mai Tai Recipe

1. Combine 1 ounce of light rum, 1 ounce of dark rum, half an ounce of Orgeat syrup and ½ ounce of orange liqueur in a cocktail shaker with plenty of ice.

2. Shake well until the drink is chilled, then strain over crushed ice.

3. Add 2 – 3 ounces of pineapple juice and adjust the amount of juice to taste.

Traditionally, the mai tai is served in an Old Fashioned glass. It makes for a beautiful, classic presentation. You can also serve this in a highball glass.

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Classic Mai Tai

5 from 2 votes
This drink is very smooth and flavorful without being overly sweet.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Servings: 1 serving


  • 1 ounce light rum Bacardi is fine
  • 1 ounce mid range or top shelf dark rum I used Mount Gay Rum
  • 1/2 ounce Orgeat syrup
  • 1/2 ounce Gran Gala orange liqueur
  • 2 – 3 ounces pineapple juice adjust to taste


  • Combine the first four ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake well until chilled and then strain over fresh crushed ice. Add pineapple juice and stir. Enjoy!


Calories: 212kcal · Carbohydrates: 14g · Sodium: 5mg · Sugar: 11g
Tried this recipe?Mention @barefeetkitchen or tag #barefeetkitchen!

{originally published 10/23/12 – recipe notes updated 1/31/19}

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Mary Younkin

Mary Younkin

Hi, I’m Mary. I’m the author, cook, photographer, and travel lover behind the scenes here at Barefeet In The Kitchen. I'm also the author of three cookbooks dedicated to making cooking from scratch as simple as possible.

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14 Comments Leave a comment or review

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  1. Silvana says

    The best Mai Tai Receipe so far. Love how you explained the differant ingredient qualities. I’m gonna make it for my sister that’s coming in this weekend.

    Thank you
    Silvana5 stars

  2. Lisa says

    This sounds great, thank you for all the detail. But… I have a nut allergy. There is probably no good substitute for the almond flavor but do you have a recommendation for something that will work well with the other ingredients if I can’t use the orgeat syrup? Thanks!

  3. Van & Bekah says

    Spot on!!! We’ve used your recipe here for a long time. And it is he only way to go.

    FYI, some of the Orgeat syrups are just ok (a little weird). But Liber & Co makes a delicious, authentic Orgeat. I find it makes all the difference.5 stars

    • Mary Younkin says

      Hey Mark, many Hawaiian mai tai recipes today do include pineapple juice. However, the older recipes a.k.a. the “classics” actually do not, as I have recently learned. That said, this is the mai tai recipe that my brother in law brought back from Hawaii and we love it. It’s very light on the pineapple juice, much less sweet than the “fruit punch style” mai tai cocktails that are often served in American restaurants.