The Mai Tai evokes Hawaii and tiki glory except ....... it doesn't come from Hawaii. The origins of the Mai Tai are murky and a subject of great debate.
So where is it from? California. Some sources point to Don the Beachcomber creating it in Los Angeles in the 1930s, while other sources point to Victor Bergeron (the founder of Trader Vic's restaurant chain) creating it in Oakland in the 1940s. Most everything about the Mai Tai is debatable, including how one makes it. I slightly adapted this version from the great Employees Only bar in New York City.
2 ounces dark rum
.75 ounces Cointreau
Juice from 1/2 lime
1 ounce orgeat syrup
Combine in a shaker with ice, shake with the polar opposite of the laid back tiki vibe, and strain into a chilled glass.
Are you thinking "where's the pineapple juice?" Many versions of the Mai Tai have it. I prefer this version because it only contains four ingredients and you get that great balance of sweet and sour. Also, neither of the likely original Mai Tais used pineapple juice. If you want a tiki drink with pineapple juice, which I like, try something such as the Jungle Bird.
So what about the phrase "mai tai?" It's probably not from the Chinese language, where it literally means "sell a desk." The more accepted understanding is that it comes from a Polynesian dialect and roughly translates as "the best."
Let this new knowledge soak into your brain like the Mai Tai soaks into your soul.