Would the real Mai Tai please make yourself known!
I enjoy the flavours of both orange and almond and use white rum in many drinks, so I could never reconcile the involuntary shudder, accompanying a stick your tongue out NO, whenever I was asked if I wanted to try a mai tai. I first tried this cocktail somewhere hot, at a beach bar, sometime in my early twenties. Clearly, I do not recall the details but I was left with a vivid recollection, that this was an overly sweet and alcohol tasting drink, never to be repeated. There are many versions out there.
A happy accident then, that one balmy night, at a trendy cocktail bar in London’s Covent Garden, I sipped a friend’s drink and told the barman, with absolute confidence, that I would have what my friend was drinking. “A mai tai, right,” he said, reaching under the counter for his shaker. “No”, I replied, “one… of…. those”, slowing my speech down and pointing to the drink, as he was obviously slow on the uptake. “Yes”, my friend confirmed, “a mai tai”. The barman raised his eyebrows and I was forever hooked.
Point of difference between my beach experience and many other recipes found out there, and the balanced, refreshing drink, an authentic mai tai gives is orgeat – pronounced OR ZAT-. Orgeat is the sweetened milk that is extracted from almonds, the barman was using an orgeat syrup. I have later found it very hard to buy and when I can find it, very expensive. You can buy a cheaper version but it is more like a sweet almond essence syrup. It does not give the balance and lightness that I am after. I researched how to make it and was alarmed to find it involved many processes, with many almonds, which again was expensive in both time and money. I sighed and gave away my mai tai prince charming.
Orgeat is so easy to make, it is just adding a few bits to some milk, and is what makes an authentic refreshing and refined drink.
Deep joy, when many years later I found a ridiculously easy recipe for orgeat, included in a recipe for a Momisette cocktail. I made it, tried it in my mai tai and it works beautifully. It uses almond milk, sugar syrup, almond extract and orange blossom water – all things I regularly use. One last note before we dive into a mai tai: sugar syrup is simply dissolved sugar. You can not put sugar straight into your cocktail mix, as it will not dissolve in cold liquid, so cocktails employ a syrup instead. Simply fill a heatproof container with granulated/caster sugar and fill with boiling water, stir to dissolve, allow to cool and then store in an airtight container. As long as you use equal parts water to sugar you can not go wrong. Some recipes ask you to dissolve on the stove and others give different quantities, but I have always used 1 for 1 and stirred. I make 2 cups at a time, in theory, it should last forever in the fridge.
ORGEAT -pronounced Or Zat – I think it has Italian lineage.
- 1 cup (Pacific brand) non sweetened almond milk. It must be good quality almond milk with a high percentage of almonds, so look on the ingredient list. If almonds do not show up first do not buy. Pacific is the best for my money and is good on my cereal too.
- ½ cup cold sugar syrup
- 8 drops of almond extract
- 8 drops orange blossom water (as little as 4 if you prefer)
Mix all the ingredients together. DONE.
Authentic Mai Tai
A beautifully balanced refreshing drink, which delivers a sour but sweet based hit of rum. If you like a mojito then try this.
- 30ml white rum – I use Bacardi
- 30ml fresh lime juice squeezy packet is fine
- 15ml orgeat
- 15ml orange Curacao – I use Cointreau
- 15ml dark rum
Fill your cocktail shaker with ice. Add everything except the dark rum and shake until the outside of the shaker is frosty and cold. Pour into any short tumbler type glass add the ice from the shaker if you like and then pour the dark rum on top over a spoon. Garnish if you must with lime or orange and add extra ice if you like. You will find that the rum floats on top, so best to offer a stir option, spoon, straw or cocktail paddle. If you are like me and do not particularly enjoy dark rum on it’s own, you can add the dark rum to the shaker once you have shaken it and stir and pour. My picture above shows both.
Mai Tai option 2- this is sweet and you would have to like the taste of almonds – like the one from the beach. It has it’s place.
- 30ml white rum
- 15ml amaretto
- 15ml dark rum
- 30ml orange curacao
- 30ml lemon juice
- 30ml sugar syrup (see above)
- 15ml lime juice
Fill your cocktail shaker with ice. Add everything and shake until the outside of the shaker is frosty and cold. Pour into a tall stemmed glass, if you have one and garnish with, mint pineapple and a straw.
Mai Tai option 3 – this is somewhere in between the two above with no need for the orgeat either.
- 50ml white rum
- 20ml amaretto
- 50ml fresh orange juice
- 50ml fresh pineapple juice
- 30ml dark rum
Fill your cocktail shaker with ice. Add everything except the dark rum and shake until the outside of the shaker is frosty and cold. Pour over ice into a large glass. Pour the dark rum on top over a spoon. Garnish as you please, a cherry always looks good and makes me think of sunsets as it floats in the orange, yellow mix. Again, a straw so it may be mixed, and I think this should have an umbrella.
Balmy weekend night, make mine a Mai Tai.