Despite all my complaints about take-out tea, it’s really not that bad here in this corner of the US of A. When I have to make a choice about where to buy take-out tea, I can think of at least 3-4 different places where I can get a semi-reasonable cup of loose-leaf (no teabags!) tea that tastes actually acceptable. We have Tealuxe, which I suppose was the original tea-only store, we have stuff at Peet’s, we have Toscanini serving up teas from Mem Tea, and there’s this place called Dado Tea, opened by some Koreans.
Tealuxe has gone down in quality over the years — at least over the years I’ve been visiting/living in Boston. I remember when I first discovered this shop, they had probably more than a hundred different kinds of tea that were actually all rather decent. Some were better than others, but all were pretty acceptable. They also had some very interesting varieties that are hard to find elsewhere in the States, and certainly unavailable as a take out. Bilochun comes to mind, but that was only one of many. Their tieguanyin was also much, much better than the one that exists now (or maybe I just got a lot more picky…??). Either way, over the years you can tell they began cutting some corners by cutting down the varieties of tea that they sold as well as some of the quality in the tea leaves they carried, due in no small part to their overzealous expansion after their initial success. I even remember them having a mirage like store that existed near Columbia U in NYC and a store in Copley, 5 minutes from their Newbury shop. So much for that.
I’ve already commented on Peet’s before — solid choices, decent selection, predictable, somewhat boring, but at least realiable. It’s a nice change of pace from the other stores, and good to have around as another variety. The impossible-to-ignore whiff of coffee beans in the store makes sitting there and drinking their stuff a bit unbearable, but otherwise, it does what it’s supposed to do.
Toscanini’s, which is really an ice-cream joint, serves tea from Mem Tea. Mem Tea is really a trading company that buys and sells tea, and their head office is, I believe, in Somerville. I’ve met their owner once at a Dudley House tea tasting thing (which was geared towards people with zero prior knowledge). The owner used to buy and sell coffee, but I guess he saw the light. Anyway, Mem Tea is a blessing, because what they do is they provide decent loose leaf teas to a variety of stores around Harvard Sq and beyond. The grad student cafe, Gato Rojo, for example, also serves tea from Mem Tea. What they do is they enable smaller operations that would otherwise sell you Twinings (or worse, Lipton) teabags to sell you real loose leaf tea instead. That is credit enough. Thanks to them, and thanks to Toscanini carrying a rather respectable selection of their teas, I have been able to vary the kinds of take-out stuff I drink more often than I would have otherwise. That, and they are closer to Lamont.
Lastly, there’s Dado. Dado used to be just a store on Mass Ave. between Harvard and Central Square. It’s really in no-man’s land, but I suppose rent is cheap there and it was still close enough for the type of clients they are after, which is your somewhat affluent NE well-educated liberal, to walk over and enjoy their selection. The teas they have are, first of all, rather expensive. For a take-out cup to cost me anything more than $3.00, it better be good, but alas, good it usually is not.
I’ve tried a few different kinds of teas there, and I don’t go very often, but from what I remember, their teas are really not all that great. Their Puerh, for example, is a raw Puerh, which is a good thing, except it’s a raw Puerh with less than 10 years of age, which makes it a really bad thing. It’s not ready for drinking yet.
Worst of all though, Dado usually serves your take-out tea with FAR TOO LITTLE TEA LEAVES. This is the first sin of take-out tea — a teatender who does not give you enough leaves. It makes for an insipid, tasteless, and overpriced cup of warm water. There’s absolutely nothing worse than a cup that is simply too big for the amount of tea you’re going to give me. Maybe I should go again and see if they improved, for I have not gone for a long time. I will report back on that.
They also serve tea within their establishment and let you use Korean tea ware to brew tea. However, Koreans are not exactly a tea-drinking people anymore. I suppose that’s material for another day.
So, even though I complain all the time, I should at least count my blessings. When I was at Oberlin, the only option was Stash teabags sold through a coffee joint. This is, at the very least, tea leaves that are in a recognizable form.