While there are several variations on the recipe for a Mai Tai, all of them usually start with 1 ounce of light rum, 1 ounce of dark rum and 1 ounce of lime juice. The classic recipe includes 1/2 ounce each of orgeat syrup and Cointreau, or orange curacao.
The Mai Tai's invention is contested. One story indicates that it was invented by "Trader Vic" Bergeron in 1944 to impress some friends from Tahiti, who declared the drink a success in their native tongue, exclaiming "Maita'i roa ae!" Vic's rival, Don the Beachcomber, claimed he invented the drink in 1933 in his own bar, using a more complex recipe. The drink became popular after World War II, when many different bars and bartenders picked up the recipe and added their own touches, such as the pineapple juice added to the Mai Tais at the Royal Hawaiian hotel.
Don the Beachcomber's variant of the Mai Tai includes 1/2 ounce of grapefruit juice, a few drops of Pernod or Herbsaint, and a shot of a complex mixer called falernum. Falernum is a mixture of white rum, cloves, ginger, almonds, lime juice and simple syrup. Other common additions include triple sec, orange juice, lemon juice, grenadine or even amaretto.