Tiki vs. tropical: a tale of two cocktails

World Best Bar

May 07, 2020

Tiki vs. tropical: a tale of two cocktails
With both at home among palm trees, pineapples and beach parties, one couldn’t be blamed for confusing two terrific cocktail types: Tropical and Tiki. Despite the striking number of similarities that these two great genres share – from their exotic ingredients to their usual stomping grounds – Tiki cocktails and tropical cocktails are, in fact, two completely different breeds.

Let’s start out simple by taking a look at the great tropical tipple. With distinct Caribbean roots and a lighter, less complex flavour palette than their Tiki cousins, tropical cocktails like the Cuba Libre, Mojito and Piña Colada are firm favourites. Inspired by their exotic birthplace, these feisty thirst-quenchers are all about keeping things simple, rarely straying from a pre-prescribed formula of a couple of local ingredients and a healthy handful of ice.

Tiki cocktails, on the other hand are much more intense beings, owing their intense flavours to a carefully balanced concoction of several juices, syrups, spices and liquors, generally a type of rum. As a whole, Tiki drinks are far more complex than their tropical counterparts, boasting richer flavours, bolder textures and more refined aesthetics. Often presented in ornate vessels and adorned with any number of fantastical garnishes, Tiki tipples, like the well-known Mai Tai and Zombie, are easily recognisable, even to the cocktail novice.

Aside from their contrasting flavours, their main difference lies in the history of both drink genres. While tropical cocktails generally hail from the Caribbean, created in the warmer climates of Puerto Rico and Cuba, Tiki cocktails were actually introduced to patrons by the restaurant chains Don the Beachcomber and Trader Vic’s in the 1930s and 1940s. Despite taking influence from the islands of the Caribbean and Polynesia, this cocktail movement is actually far more home grown than many realise. 

Although these two soulful styles may seem uncannily similar at first glance, a closer look reveals just how different they actually are. Both delicious in their own way, the humble tropical and Tiki cocktails will continue to quench the thirst of eager imbibers the world over.

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