For one of my birthdays I gave myself a lovely handpainted porcelain teapot, and the presence of the pot led me in turn to the pleasant custom of taking afternoon tea. Teatime, however, has not led me to exploring endless varieties of assorted leaves and blossoms. My teapot and I limit ourselves to the daily ritual of Moroccan mint tea.

My mint tea story begins in Tangier. Some years ago, as I was wandering through the Casbah in the gentle spring sunshine, I lost my way. Suddenly filled with fatigue, I sought a place to sit down. The flower-filled courtyard of a quiet cafe beckoned to me.

I order a cup of coffee, but the waiter shook his head and insisted, "Tea." The seat felt good and I was in no mood to argue. "Okay, tea," I agreed. And in moments a little man with a sprig of jasmine tucked behind one ear appeared, bearing a silver tray. On the tray were two pots, one filled with boiling water, one empty. Accompanying the pots were a cone of brown sugar wrapped in violet tissue paper, boxes of tea, fresh mint leaves and a shaker of rose water.

The waiter deftly brewed my first glass of mint tea, raising the pot high in the air after the tea was steeped and pouring the steaming amber fluid in a perfect arch into the waiting glass. Not a drop was spilled. The drink itself was delicious and refreshing, and the image of that afternoon has been engraved upon my palate ever since.

Tea was introduced to Morocco by British traders during the 19th century and swiftly married by the locals to the leaves of the ubiquitous mint plant; the combination has been the national social beverage of this non-alcoholic society ever since.

Moroccan mint tea is a beverage easily translatable to the Washington scene. Unfermented green tea is always available at Oriental grocery shops and often to be found at the supermarket. For the mint, leaves fresh from the garden are best, but if you don't have a garden some supermarkets and vegetable stands offer mint bunches during the summer. The best and cheapest dried mint comes from Middle Eastern markets throughout the city. Skip the little tin cans of dried mint peddled by the monster spice companies. Sweeten the tea in the pot with brown sugar, adding more in the glass if desired. The final ingredient, the crushed extract of rose petals known as rose water, can be found in gourmet shops, MiddleEastern markets and at the prescription counter of many drug stores.

This all may seem like a lot of trouble for a glass of tea, but it's cheaper than a trip to the Casbah. During hot weather, incidentally, mint tea and infusion of mint are both delicious on the rocks.

Moroccan Mint Tea A teapot 2 heaping tablespoons green tea 8 tablespoons fresh mint leaves, stems removed, or 4 tablespoons dried mint Sugar to taste Sprinkling of rose water

Rinse pot with boiling water. Discard water. Add tea and mint leaves. Fill pot with boiling water.Add sugar to taste to pot. Let it steep for 10 minutes.

Infusion of Mint

Follow above directions omitting the green tea. As this tea contains no caffeine, it is excellent for children. CAPTION: Picture, Glass courtesy of Martin's China, Crystal and Silver Shop, Inc. By Bill Snead