I'm a big believer in the principle of giving people higher-end versions of things they need. Nicole and Maggie wrote a post about this not that long ago, but I'm not remembering enough keywords to pull it up in a search (Update: here it is!)
Anyway, here are some ideas if you want to go that route:
For the tea lover, check out Lupicia Tea. They have "plain" tea and tea that is mixed with other ingredients for flavor. I usually prefer a good plain black tea to flavored, but their flavors are pretty awesome. My sister in law gave me a couple of tins from their Australian collection, and when we visited a Lupicia shop during our trip to Torrance I bought several tins from their Hawaiian collection. I also signed up for their newsletter, which comes with a single tea bag sample every month. Every single tea of theirs I've had, I've liked. It is definitely a step up from my usual stuff, and my usual stuff is pretty darn good. Plus, their tins are really pretty.
For the chocoholic, try giving a tasting set of single source chocolates. I first discovered the joys of single source chocolate during a visit to San Francisco, when I stopped by Dandelion Chocolate. It is really fun to try to the different bars and taste the subtle differences. You can order from them (and their chocolate is soooo good), but if you're looking for something more modest, Trader Joe's has a "tasting passport" box that is pretty good, too.
Nice lotions and bath gels are a good "upgrade" gift, too, but in this case you need to know two things: (1) what sort of product the person usually uses, and (2) what smells he or she likes. If someone usually uses a supermarket shower gel, Bath and Body Works or The Body Shop will be an upgrade. If they're usually using Crabtree and Evelyn, you'll have to go even more upmarket. L'Occitane would be an option in that case. Lush is another good option for this sort of gift. Their Dream Cream is a personal favorite of mine. I'm obviously no help on scents, but a light citrus-y sort of thing is usually safe. If you give a bath gel, include the matching lotion. That makes the gift more luxurious feeling.
Another good gift-finding approach is to find a gift that fits an interest, but that the person might not splurge on. This is how I got my first Kindle- Mr. Snarky knew I wanted one but also knew that I'm slow to spend that kind of money (back then, they were more than $150!) for an electronic gadget, so he bought me one for Christmas. This sort of thing only works once- when that Kindle broke, I replaced it almost immediately because I love having an ereader so much. (If you decide to give an ereader, you might want to check out my old post at Tungsten Hippo about it- I recommend giving a few short ebooks to go along with the new ereader, to get the recipient started. That post recommends some good "starter" books, but really, you could browse the entire site for more ideas. For instance, today's post has a taster flight about travel, which would be a good "preload" for an ereader being given to a frequent traveler.)
I've also gotten some good blank notebooks, which I suspect were chosen because people know I like to write. This can be tricky, though. Some people have really strong preferences on notebooks. Moleskines are generally considered good (bonus points if they have a special collection item that fits the recipient's interests). I use a Moleskine for the idea notebook that I started keeping after reading the books about being a scanner/renaissance soul. It is not my preferred size for carrying in my purse, though, so I also carry a smaller notebook for ideas about things to write and snippets and phrases I might use. These tend to come to me at random times and fly away if I don't write them down soon, so I like to carry a notebook in my purse. I have a 5.5 x 4 x 1 inch notebook that I bought on a trip to New Zealand that I'm using right now. I actually find that to be a bit too small for good writing flow, though, so as soon as I fill it up, I'll switch to a 5 x 7 x 0.5 inch notebook my in-laws gave me. I find that size works much better for writing.
|Current notebook in front, next notebook in back|
Books- electronic or otherwise- are another set of "go to" gifts. If you have any scientists or engineers on your gift list this year, two good options are What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions from xkcd's Randall Munroe and WTF, Evolution?!: A Theory of Unintelligible Design from Mara Grunbaum (who runs the awesome WTF, Evolution tumblr).
That's all I have. If you're looking for toy gift ideas, you might want to check out the series of posts I did on this awhile back: