Anywhere to get really top notch whole leaf tea?
I mean where you can actually buy bags of tea and take them home. Where's the good stuff? I can't find it and I've been looking.
Where have you been looking?
Tealuxe offends some as a Starbucks wannabe for faux tea snobs, but their roster of tea is extensive and of high quality.
While we're on the subject of debatable Starbucks wannabes, Peets Coffee and Tea proffers a smaller selection than Tealuxe, but again, it's hard to find fault with the quality. I positively adore their Earl Grey with lavender, although they seldom carry it in-store anymore.
As far as local places, a place called Tea Zone has opened up in Somerville, next to Tacos Lupita on Elm Street. I've not been yet.
Dado Tea (2 Cambridge locations) always vaguely annoys me, particularly with their pricing (a large hot tea for over 2 bucks? Come on, it's not *that* good), but they've got the goods.
I don't recall if Qingping in the South End sells their tea by the bag, but if rare and exotic teas are your thing, it's worth it regardless. The owner imports all the teas directly from China, including hard-to-find white and fermented variants.
[Full disclosure: I love Peets, and am literally a card-carrying Starbucks fan.]
The best place to buy tea is online at Upton Tea in Westborough, MA. They are strictly an online store. I stopped in once to their warehouse in an industrial park and they were not really able to deal with a walk-in very well. Their website is great though. In addition to an amazing selection of teas from around the world, they have special teapots and infusers and other tea paraphernelia. Their website is http://www.uptontea.com/shopcart/home...
I am also a big fan of Upton Tea. They have a truly *huge* selection of top quality teas. I began purchasing from them when the Coffee Connection (which had a great tea selection) closed, back in '94.
Even though they're mail order, they're located just west of Boston, (in Hopkinton, not Westborough, unless they've moved recently) so Ground Shipping should get anyone in the Boston area next day delivery.
One of the nice things about Upton Tea is that you can buy sample sizes of their teas for a dollar or two, and try a lot of teas for a small amount of money. (Caveat: I think they limit the number of samples you can buy at Christmas time.)
I just went to Tea Zone on Thursday night (after my first Lupita visit - where's that pork been all my life?!), and sniffed around. They had several whites, greens, reds and blacks (all the big names - silver needle, darjeeling); they had open jars for smelling and vacuum bags for selling. The guy politely let me browse as I wished but watched my every move, hoping to help (I was the only customer). I sniffed the black tea sample jar and he said, "smells too fruity, right? I had an herbal in that jar a few days ago." And he let me smell the big jar, which smelled as English Breakfast should. So he's paying enough attention to remember the jar mixup (yay), but he hadn't washed the fruity scent out of the jar (huh?).
I didn't ask, but didn't see any quality identifiers such as "Orange Pekoe," "Tippy," etc. It all looked whole leaf to me.
I did not buy anything, so can't vouch. The guy said they'd only been open for a month. I can't tell if it's a franchise, a chain or a sister, but the eponymous URL (http://www.teazone.com) points to a store in Portland, OR with the very same logo.