My 21-year-old son has discovered a new beverage: tea.

You have to understand that it was not by choice. You have to understand that one month ago, he was the poster boy for every energy drink on the market. If it was caffeinated, sweet, high-protein or “a special blend of herbs and supplements,” he would take a crack at it. Hot chocolate was his hot beverage of choice—he never let a sip of coffee or tea past his lips, as far as I can tell. Sure, he had plenty of alternatives growing up; but once out of the nest, his preferences were clear.

So what tipped him over into the world of tea?

About a month ago, he traveled to Ukraine to take a job teaching English for eight months, prior to further travels. Knowing he would not have access to his usual beverage and dietary choices, before he left he weaned himself off of caffeine – including the energy drinks – and prepared for the unknown with an open mind.

What he found in his new hometown of Kiev in the way of easily available cold beverages would make a dentist’s teeth curl; all manner of sweetened sodas and “juices”, and of course plenty of beer, wine and vodka. It was all too much on a regular basis, even for him. And he was still a little unsure about the water.

Then one day he sent an e-mail: “Sitting here this morning eating my kasha and drinking my tea—how Ukrainian can you get?!”

Here I would like to say, I remembered my own travels as a 20-something, and the light-bulb went off: Just about anywhere else in the world, some form of tea is cheap, easily available, culturally acceptable (if not the beverage of choice), and more or less safe (water must be boiled first to make it; then you can save the leftover boiled water for drinking). It has enough caffeine to refresh one, but not so much as to upset your nerves. It has a “binding” quality that helps to counteract “traveler’s trots.” It is a great way to facilitate meeting people, whether in their homes or in a café (the simple ritual of making tea, or the pleasure of sharing time over a cup, require less language than goodwill). Enjoying a cup of tea is a great excuse to people-watch. A person drinking tea is less likely to be identified outright as an American (which can be useful, depending on the circumstances.)

My son comes home (maybe) next August. I can’t wait to see what his choices will be by then.