I buy aardbei black tea every time I visit Amsterdam. And that is not a code word for another dried leaf that Amsterdam is known for. I bring an extra empty duffel bag, stashed in my suitcase, to fill up with boxes of strawberry tea purchased at Albert Heijn, the grocery store that is everywhere in Amsterdam. I stuff my cabinets with the little boxes, and I carefully ration it–afraid of what will happen when it’s gone. Afraid that I will need to go back to Lipton. Afraid that I will need to go back to Amsterdam. On select summer Saturdays, I brew a pitcher of strawberry iced tea, sweetened just right, and I remember my trips.
I tell myself it is ok to drink the tea. It is ok to savor. They will make more strawberry tea. I can try another strawberry tea. It may even be better. More mellow, more potent, or more strawberryrific. I can probably order strawberry tea online, but that is not what I want. I don’t want logical solutions to quench my thirst. I want to read the box in Dutch and say to myself that those are not even words–just jibber jabber in sentence form. I want to unwrap the teabag, to remember drinking tea from a little glass mug in a little cafe along a canal that I will never be able to pronounce.
I have been more generous lately, willing to share my tea with friends and family–not simply hoarding it for a future tea-free day. I haven’t run out yet–having been able to visit Amsterdam every now and then, even if on a 4-hour layover on the way to somewhere else. But it’s been two years, and my stash is low. I can buy other strawberry black teas here in America. I can live without it. But that is far from the point. When I open the cupboard, the little boxes of tea tell me the world is big. There are places to explore. There is more to be discovered. If the tea runs out, what will remind me of the joys of travel, and the ability of travel to show us new things, new places, new cities, and new teas.
I do have one consolation. In the same cupboard as the tea, there is a shaker of salt, purchased in the too-perfect-to-be-real town village of Halstatt, Austria, where it was mined in the mountain above town. I will still be able to remember the journey, but salt just doesn’t taste as good in my mug in the morning.