The time-honored godfather of tiki cocktails was created by Trader Vic in the 1940's at his bar in Oakland, CA. The key to making the best Mai Tai is real almond orgeat syrup.
The name Mai Tai comes from the Tahitian language. As the story goes, Trader Vic tested the cocktail on two friends from Tahiti, Ham and Carrie Guild. After Carrie tried it, she is said to have exclaimed, "mai tai-roa aé", which in Tahitian means 'out of this world, the best!'. Trader Vic took the front part of that saying and named it the Mai Tai.