Drink - Victoria Moore enjoys a cup of Moroccan whisky

In hot Marrakesh, you pay a dirham or two for a cup of dusty water ladled out of a plastic barrel on the street, and the Moroccans squabble furiously if they think they have been short-changed by a centimetre or two of liquid.

Ease yourself away from the raggle-taggle procession of locals fetching and carrying and going about the day's chores, and you will not need to part with a single coin to stop the dryness in your throat. Mint tea is the thing. Even though it is hot, it still refreshes; and in Morocco, it is drunk at all times, pressed on you like a handshake the minute you enter a house, a shop, a souk or, if you are not just treading the tourist path, an office. There, mint tea lubricates the day, served steaming hot in small glasses, so heavily sweetened you almost feel your teeth dissolving before you can swallow.

The wonder is that you can take the tea out of Morocco and it still tastes good. Even here, away from the burning sun and the fetid smell of outdoor butchers' shops and hot climate drains in which mint tea creates pockets of sweet freshness, it is delicious.

I discover this at the end of a damp Saturday when, thoroughly depleted by Oxford Street and its crowds, I fall into a Moroccan tearoom. I am torn between a general need for tea - darjeeling with milk - and a desire for a sugar boost that has me lusting after a tall glass of "fat" Coca-Cola, primped up with a slice of lemon and ice (a chunk of lemon is as essential to full-sugar coke as cucumber peel is to Pimms, although few people recognise this).

"Have mint tea," says my friend, whom I find already sipping a glassful, "it's so restorative." And it is. Slightly syrupy, so burning hot that the sweetness does not cloy, and as clean-tasting as a spring garden, it makes me feel better almost immediately.

The Moroccans consider mint tea - jokingly dubbed "Moroccan whisky" - to be their national drink. It is made with gunpowder green tea, fresh spearmint (to underline its national significance, the best species of mint for making tea is called "Moroccan") and a fearsome amount of sugar (typically, one-third of a cup for every six cups of water).

But mint tea is no more Berber than tea is English. In fact, tea was introduced to Morocco by British merchants who brought it from the Far East in the 1850s. Still, there's a fair case to be made that, whatever the provenance of its ingredients, Moroccans have made mint tea their own drink. Certainly, it bears almost no resemblance to tea in its delicate but irredeemably nursery Anglo-Saxon guise - all china teacups and jugs of milk to take the tannic edge off the taste.

Sweet and sour flavours are typical of Arab cuisine. Dried fruits, nuts, honey and aromatic spices such as cumin are often used to flavour rich, meaty tagines. Similarly, even though it is drenched in sugar, mint tea retains a trace of bitterness from the tea leaves, and it is flavoursome in the mouth.

Then there is the case that mint tea is made to a markedly Moroccan ritual, easily elaborate enough to match that of a country-house high tea. The tea is brewed in a beautiful, silver-plated, ornate bulbous teapot. The tea glasses are set out on a tray, called a sinya, which rests on three legs. And the mint, sugar and tea are kept in small cylindrical boxes to match the material of the tray. After a feast, guests drink mint tea that is poured theatrically into their glasses from a great height from two different pots. Imagine attempting that in the nursery under nanny's strict supervision.

But, as I find, you can tear mint tea from its homeland, and it loses neither its calming properties nor its allure. Drinking mint tea in England is not like trying to belly-dance in Burton-on-Trent.

This article first appeared in the 30 October 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Divorce your husband and watch him get rich