Former Hawaii resident creates the ‘World’s Best Mai Tai’ for second time at annual festival

  • The 11th annual Mai Tai Festival was held Saturday at the Royal Kona Resort. (Brian Power/Courtesy Photo)
  • The 11th annual Mai Tai Festival was held Saturday at the Royal Kona Resort. (Brian Power/Courtesy Photo)
  • From left, Dane Dostert, Christina Maffei and Cory Starr pose with their winnings from the Mai Tai Festival at the Royal Kona Resort on Saturday. (Brian Power/Courtesy Photo)
  • Christina Maffei creates her grand prize-winning mai tai at the 11th annual Don the Beachcomber Mai Tai Festival at the Royal Kona Resort on Saturday. (Brian Power/Courtesy Photo)

KAILUA-KONA — Christina Maffei has reclaimed her title as the creator of the “World’s Best Mai Tai.”

The former Oahu resident and now Pittsburgh-based mixologist and liquor consultant finished in first place Saturday in the competition portion of the 11th annual Don the Beachcomber Mai Tai Festival at the Royal Kona Resort. Maffei’s cocktail was judged to be the best out of 22 original mai tai creations by celebrity judges that included Aaron Sanchez, Shawn Ford, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and Sam Choy.


The grand prize for creating the top cocktail was $10,000. Maffei previously won the competition in 2011.

“I was shocked and I think it was a little bit of deja vu, because it was the exact same response I had the first time I won,” Maffei said. “They called my name and I stood there thinking, ‘No, no. You’re kidding, right?’”

Maffei said the secret to her double success at the competition is keeping her recipes close to what a traditional mai tai is, along with an elegant presentation that keeps the focus on the rum-based drink’s flavor profile.

“I think over the years some of the competitors have been focusing a lot more on the presentation and the garnishes and it’s getting it a little bit away from the integrity of an actual mai tai. The recipes are going a little bit more towards a tiki-style cocktail,” Maffei said. “So I want to make sure my recipe definitely stays true to the original mai tai recipe, in the sense that it is rum-heavy, it has citrus and it has all the components of, and the ratios, of a true mai tai.”

Second place and $5,000 went to Cory Starr of Tiki Tatsu-Ya in Austin, Texas. The third place prize of $2,500 was awarded to Dane Dostert of The Mill House in Wailuku, Maui.

Maffei said the competition provides a unique challenge for her as she doesn’t tend to drink mai tais or cocktails outside of work-related activities.

“When I go out, and when I drink, I don’t tend to drink cocktails too much. I kind of keep it more on the simple side,” Maffei said. “But I truly do appreciate a good, well-balanced cocktail.”

She plans to put her $10,000 toward moving back to Oahu with her Boston terrier, Franklin.

“I love coming back to the Mai Tai Festival,” Maffei said. “Of any of the competitions that I’ve attended or been a part of, this is by far the best. It’s not even about the prize money, it’s about being able to be a part of a family. It’s about being able to see the people that you’ve met in the past again, and the people that you meet there truly become your family.”

The Menehune’s Magical Mai Tai

1 ounce Bacardi Gran Reserva Diez

1/2 ounce almond oil-washed Bacardi Superior

1/2 ounce Perfect Puree caramelized pineapple concentrate

3/4 ounce fresh lime

3/4 ounce Indian-spiced olena (turmeric) syrup (recipe below)

1/2 ounce Hawaiian vanilla bean-infused Bacardi Black

Glass: 11 ounce brandy snifter

Garnish: Thinly sliced pineapple round, 3 gold dusted pineapple leaves, 3 pieces turmeric-dusted candied ginger on a pick

Olena (turmeric)-copaiba gummies (recipe below) served on the side

Method: Shake, strain, add fresh ice. Add float. Garnish.

Indian Spice Syrup

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

1 large piece fresh ginger root (about 5 inches long)

1 tablespoon whole allspice berries

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon whole coriander

1 teaspoon Hawaiian olena (turmeric) powder

1/4 teaspoon garam masala

Peel ginger. Slice into 1/4-inch pieces. Add water, sugar, ginger, allspice, black peppercorns and coriander to a medium sized saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Once it comes to a boil, turn down heat and simmer for 13 minutes. Strain. Add turmeric powder and stir until thoroughly incorporated. Strain through a coffee filter. Strain once more. After double straining, add in the garam masala and stir. Store in refrigerator.

Olena (Turmeric)-Copaiba Gummies

1 cup water

2 tablespoons ohia lehua blossom honey

3/4 teaspoon Hawaiian olena (turmeric) powder

2 tablespoons unflavored gelatin powder

2 drops copaiba oil

Combine water, honey and turmeric in medium sauce pan over medium-high heat. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly.

Remove from heat. Slowly sprinkle in gelatin powder as you are whisking constantly. Whisk for 1 minute. Let sit for about 30 seconds or so for the bubbles to settle. Add in the two drops of copaiba oil. Whisk gently. Only add in two drops — the oil is very potent.


Use a silicon mold in whatever shape you prefer or pour into a glass pyrex dish.

Place in refrigerator for at least 3 hours before unmolding or cutting. After unmolding or cutting, place in airtight containers. Will keep up to 7 days in fridge.

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