This cocktail was almost certainly created by Victor Bergeron, the man behind Trader Vic’s restaurants and is thus supposedly of Polynesian descent, except that rum is originally from the Caribbean and not the South Pacific. The Mai Tai is a more sophisticated cousin of the daiquiri, which is just white rum, lime and sugar.
The Mai Tai starts with mellow golden rum, adds orange Curaçao, sugar syrup and orgeat syrup (see below).
Bars all around the world serve the Mai Tai or a variation; orgeat syrup is less commonly available but you can buy online.
Choose the best
For a cocktail that definitely tastes more refined than dark rum and cola and is a little beefier than a mojito, choose a good quality golden rum – the original used by Bergeron was 17-years old.
Keep the ingredients on hand to make it fresh but it can be taken to beach parties and barbecues in a Thermos flask.
The proportion of rum to the other ingredients should be approximately two fluid ounces of rum and just over one fluid ounce of a combination of the others. It should be shaken with ice and served over crushed ice. Mint is a common garnish. Lime or using lime juice in the mix are not authentic.
The rum and orange liqueur make an original combination but it is the orgeat syrup that moves this into a special category. Orgeat was originally a barley-water cordial made exotic by the addition of orange-flower water; today it is more likely to taste of almonds but even this makes the Mai Tai unlike most cocktails you've ever experienced.