Mai Tai Component: Orgeat

As a Mai Tai fanatic, I have also become a bit of an orgeat fanatic. In the last year, I’ve made 8 or 10 batches using three different recipes and a few variations on them. Finally, I decided to compare four different orgeat recipes in Mai Tais and compare the results. I’ll start with the ingredient list, describe each orgeat tasted on its own, then compare them all mixed in an otherwise-identical Mai Tai. I used my variation of Beachbum’s $100 Mai Tai recipe:

3/4 oz fresh lime juice
1-1/4 oz Appleton Extra
3/4 oz St. James Royal Ambre
1/2 oz Marie Brizard Orange Curacao
1 oz Orgeat

Ingredient Comparison
Finest Call – $4 – High Fructose corn syrup and/or sugar, water, natural and artificial flavors, citric acid, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, xanthan gum, sodium metabisulfite, glycerol abietate, gum arabic.

Monin Almond Syrup – $9 – Pure cane sugar, water, natural almond flavor Recipe – $10 and 2 hours work – Pure cane sugar, water, almonds, orange flower water, organic almond extract
(The full recipe can be found here.)

My Recipe – $10 and 2 hours work – Pure cane sugar, water, almonds, orange flower water, organic almond extract
(The full recipe can be found here.)

Taste Comparison
Finest Call Orgeat – This has a sweet almond smell, a bit like a candy, with a citric smell that must come from the citric acid. The consistency is a little watery, like thin simple syrup. The taste is much like the smell – a little sweet with too much citric acid. It’s slightly less sweet than a typical 1:1 simple syrup. The almond flavor is mild, but a good quality and not too artificial. The almond flavor is about as strong as the citric acid, which means there’s far too much citric acid as far as I’m concerned.

Monin Almond Syrup – This smells like a simple almond sugar syrup. The almond smells very natural, and is slightly stronger than the Finest Call. It doesn’t smell as sweet as the Finest Call. The consistency is also a little watery. The taste is a well-balanced almond sugar syrup, nice and simple, and high quality.

FXCuisine Orgeat – This has a stronger almond smell than those above, and smells quite sweet with a caramel touch. (This is my fault, since I overheated it when adding the remaining sugar. If you make your own, DO NOT let this get above 105F.) There’s a slight smell of orange flower water. This is extremely thick due to the extra sugar, and is also quite a bit sweeter than the others for the same reason. The almond taste is not much stronger than the Monin, but is of a noticeably higher quality. The super-sweetness causes a bit of a “burn” in the throat after swallowing. Overall, this is excellent, but a little too sweet for me.

Scottes’ Orgeat – This has a strong almond smell, noticeably stronger than the FXCuisine orgeat, with a decent amount of orange flower water in the background. It doesn’t smell as sweet, and doesn’t have the caramel hints of the FXCuisine. It’s also not as thick. Tasting shows a good balance of almond to sweetness, better than the FXCuisine, but with the same high-quality ingredients.

OK, this is all by design, since this I wanted an orgeat that was less sweet than the FXCuisine, with more almond and orange flower water. Also, thanks to the lesson learned while making the FXCuisine batch, I didn’t burn my batch when adding the sugar to the almond milk. In the end, I got exactly what I wanted.

Mai Tai Preparation
In order to compare these orgeat recipes fairly, I had to make four Mai Tais as quickly as possible. I did not want the first one to water down before the last one was completed, and this took a bit of preparation. I dumped a fresh bag of cocktail ice into a large bowl for quick access, and put it back into the freezer so that it would be dry for every drink. I squeezed a bunch of limes, prepared four small sprigs of mint, and proceeded to accurately measure and pour the Mai Tais, without ice, into small plastic cups. I lined up the equipment – Boston shaker and strainer and double old-fashioned glasses – and glanced at the clock.

I filled the metal shaker with ice, filled the DOF glass from that, poured the pre-mixed ingredients into the shaker, shook for a 15-count, strained the resulting cocktail into the ice-filled glass, tossed in a straw, lightly squeezed a sprig of mint to release the aroma, and placed that in the glass. I made four Mai Tais in 1 minute 42 seconds. I was a machine, a human Tikilixor Mai Tai Mixor. My wife said I was nuts. I was going to explain, but I’ve never won that argument in the past, so I kept silent.

Mai Tai Comparison
I lined up the Mai Tais and starting sipping, going from one to another and taking notes.

The Mai Tai with the Finest Call Orgeat was too citrusy and tart, which I can only think to attribute to the citric acid added to this mixer. Lime lovers would probably not notice, but I don’t like lime as much as others do. My Mai Tai recipe uses less lime then most because I don’t like the tartness, and the Finest Call put it back in an unpleasant, acidic way. Again, most lovers of “real” Mai Tais would probably not notice, though drinkers of Mai Tais typical to most east coast Chinese restaurants would be surprised. The almond was there, barely perceptible it seemed. Once I got past all my complaints – actually just nuances – it was a very decent Mai Tai. You could do a lot worse, that’s for sure.

The Mai Tai made with the Monin Almond Syrup was darned good. The almond was a bit more noticeable, not by much but the extra little bit helped. I was quite happy with this Mai Tai.

The orange flower water in the FXCuisine Mai Tai was a nice little addition, even though the amount that made it into the cocktail was probably a few drops. The smell of the orange flower water added a hint of complexity to the cocktail, and the stronger almond taste was a bit more noticeable than the Monin recipe. This was a very good Mai Tai, though perhaps a touch too sweet.

The Mai Tai made with my orgeat had everything in it that I had wanted from the time I developed the recipe. The almond was stronger as was the orange flower water. It wasn’t as sweet as the FXCuisine – it was closer to both of the others. All in all, this Mai Tai had a near-perfect balance, even though the differences were very slight when compared to any of the others.

The Finest Call, for a measly $4, was worth every penny. It’s certainly a hell of a lot better – and cheaper – than Fee Brother’s Orgeat, which I’ve tasted in the past and found to be swill. The Monin is definitely a step up, and the addition of a tablespoon or two of orange flower water would make it into a “real” orgeat. This is as close as lazy people will ever get to real orgeat. The FXCuisine was fantastic, and probably the closest one will ever get to classic orgeat. Still, I found it to be a little bit too sweet. My orgeat recipe is carefully tuned to what I want, and I got it. These last two orgeats come with a price – they’re slightly more expensive than the Monin Almond Syrup, and require a couple hours work in the kitchen. However, if you can’t find the Monin, either is far better than the Finest Call if you don’t mind the work.

In the end, though, any differences between any of these Mai Tais were very slight. I doubt that anyone would notice them unless they were doing a comparison or were making a very fine-tuned analysis of the cocktail. In other words, you’d be very happy getting any of these Mai Tais in a restaurant.

For some people, like me, those nuances are worth the extra price or time.

A Diversion
About an hour after finishing those Mai Tais, while re-reading my notes, my eyes focused on a line I wrote about the Mai Tai made with the Finest Call. It said simply: “almond barely perceptible”. This got me to thinking about the very subtle differences between the Mai Tais, like the presence of orange flower water. The lack of this ingredient wasn’t very noticeable – I actually forgot about it while sampling the Monin and Finest Call Mai Tais – but the presence of it was certainly noticeable, as I found when I tried the FXCuisine Mai Tai. Then I forgot about it again as I cycled through the Mai Tais.

This got me to thinking some more… If the almond is that subtle, just how important is it? So I made myself a Mai Tai without orgeat.

Don’t try that at home, folks. This was just about undrinkable after having had four correct Mai Tais. I poured it out, and promised myself that I’d never have another stupid thought like that again.


7 Responses to “Mai Tai Component: Orgeat”

  1. erik_ellestad Says:

    Funny, I’ve just been wrestling with Orgeat myself for Tales of the Cocktail.

    Are you coming this year? Love to get your take on my Orgeat. I used the fxcuisine procedure with some small variation of ingredients.

    I like it, but it is pretty different from other Orgeats I’ve tried.

  2. Scottes Says:

    Alas, no, I will not be making TotC this year. 😦

    I’d love to hear more about your variations. Ah, I just read your blog entry about it… One key point in Francois’ recipe is when you add the remaining sugar to the almond milk. Don’t let the temperature get above 105F – the sugar won’t caramelize and you’ll end up with a much whiter orgeat. I used Trader Joe’s pure cane sugar and the end orgeat was a lot closer to white than any of my earlier batches. If you don’t have a thermometer, 105F is very hot to the touch, but bearable. Just stick your finger in – when you want to pull it out, that’s hot enough.

  3. erik_flannestad Says:

    The color really didn’t change at all between from when I put it on the heat and when I took it off.

    I did use a candy thermometer, and kept the temperature range right around 105.

    I like the flavor as it is. It has a nice natural almond taste backed by the Brandy. Fantastic body, almost like a Gum Syrup. I am still a bit tempted to add a touch of bitter almond extract to bring it more in line with the orgeat flavor people are used to.

  4. Scottes Says:

    Hmmm. You must be using a sugar that’s darker than what I used.

    And don’t get me wrong – I like the flavor, too. From reading your blog post, I thought that you weren’t happy with the color. Plain old Domino over-processed sugar would fix that, but I like the flavor of the pure cane semi-processed stuff.

  5. erik_ellestad Says:

    I tried adding a couple drops of bitter almond extract to a small container, and that gets my recipe right where I want it.

    Of course, then I had to make a Mai Tai!

    Not quite as sweet as yours, but wow!

    The texture of the drink with the Homemade Orgeat blows me away. It’s almost like there is gum syrup in it.

  6. Tim Says:

    I have used the Monin Orgeat and it is very good. Torani is OK for flavoring coffe, but not great for Mai Tai. Trader Vic originally used a French Garnier Orgeat that doesn’t seem to exist anymore. I like the French Teisseire Orgeat the best. I’ll try the homemade recipe. By the way, Trader Vic’s Orgeat is terrible.

  7. Scottes Says:

    Tim, I agree on all points, and will add that Fee Brothers’ Orgeat is also terrible. Homemade is the best, but I would slip to Monin if I didn’t have the time or ingredients.

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