Hi Kai Mai Tai Cocktail

I totally misjudged the Mai Tai. I chalked it up as a cheesy and passé tiki relic right up there on with dashboard hula girls and plastic leis. In my defense, most Mai Tais I had encountered were pretty shoddy. Too many were made with sugary fruit juice,  forgettable rum, and topped with paper umbrellas and maraschino cherries — garnishes that were cool when I was five but not so come today’s happy hour.

But I changed my tune when I began spending more time in Hawaii visiting Chris and his family. During the past few years, I’ve reacquainted myself with the Mai Tai, and, here’s the thing, while crappy versions still abound, the best of the best are stellar. From sultry sippers that don’t waver a drop from Trader Vic’s original recipe to orchid-clad versions so redolent of quality aged rum that it’s a drink to linger over, Hawaii has some damn good Mai Tais.

So, I’ve changed my tune and it’s a tune that goes as such: a fabulous Mai Tai is a drink to be celebrated and perfect for celebrating. Seeing as I’m in Hawaii for a few days to witness the union of two dear friends, a Mai Tai-punctuated toast seems in order.

This version is a sort-of Mai Tai light as it’s tamed with passion fruit juice (look for the 100% juice kind, not the sugary soda-like stuff in most stores), but it is thoroughly Mai Tai in every other respect. And, since I’m staying outside of Honolulu in the suburb of Hawaii Kai – and it rhymes well with Mai Tai – I’ve coined it the Hi Kai Mai Tai.

If you’re going to mix one of these up, let me stress a few things. First off, pull out the seriously good rum because it will make a huge difference. I use a quality Haitian white rum for the light rum and the seriously smooth Zaya (which is amazing on the rocks as a sipping rum too).

Speaking of which, be sure to take the time to float the rum. It’s a technique that’s fallen by the wayside, but really highlights the quality of the dark rum, and is a total conversation starter. Though it’s by no means called for, I love to take a few boozy sips with the float intact and then stir it all together to for some Mai Tai magic.


Hi Kai Mai Tai Cocktail Recipe

  • Makes: 1 drink
  • Total Time: Under 5 minutes
  • Hands-On Time: Under 5 minutes


  • 2 sprigs fresh mint
  • 3 ounces 100% passion fruit juice (no added sugar!)
  • 1 ounce great-quality light rum
  • 1/2 ounce fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce premium orange liqueur (such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau)
  • 1/4 ounce simple syrup
  • 1 ounce great-quality dark rum


Smack a few leaves of mint and drop into a cocktail shaker. Combine passion fruit juice, light rum, lime, orange liqueur, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker and fill halfway with ice. Shake well – about 10 to 15 seconds then strain into a chilled rocks glass, add a few cubes of ice, and garnish with remaining mint leaves.

To float the aged rum (see photo below), place the tip of a spoon perpendicular to the inside edge of the glass, turn the curve of the spoon toward the ceiling, and slightly angle the spoon downward. Slowly pour the liquid to be floated down the spoon toward the inside of the glass and, so long as the liquid is less dense than the other liquids in the glass, it will float.

How to float rum on a cocktail

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