If variety is the spice of life, what do you call the variety at Winter Park’s Spice & Tea Exchange? Impressive, would be my answer.
The Spice & Tea Exchange is just what this area had been missing. Until this cute little boutique came along, about the only choice the home cook (or professional cook, for that matter) had for fresh spices and spice blends was the baking aisle at Publix with its rows of prepackaged bottles from national companies. And for the most part, all you can find there are the alphabetically arranged usual suspects of the spice world.
But walk into the Spice & Tea Exchange and a cook is a kid in the culinary equivalent of a candy shop. Yes, you’ll find the usual suspects here, too. But you’ll also find the unusual, such as beer or Burgundy wine powder, a variety of cinnamons from different regions of the world, and much, much more.
There are whole sections devoted to flavored sugars and salts, which are my favorites. A trip to the Park Avenue store is worth it just to sample the truffle-infused salt and try to come up with new ways to use it.
And then there are the spice blends, with such unique combinations as Florida Sunshine and Pirate’s Bite (does not actually contain pirates, but oh what a bite it has!). The
spices are blended on the premises by the owners, Bryan Behling and Jeffrey Schrader. The two men bought the franchise last year and moved to the Orlando area from Tampa, chucking their corporate jobs and literally spicing up their lives. They say they get great pleasure from talking to the people who wander into the store, chatting about herbs and spice blends and discussing how to use them in favorite recipes. What’s really terrific is that at the Spice & Tea Exchange you’re not locked in to buying a whole bottle of a spice that’s just going to sit and slowly fade in your cupboard. Most of the ingredients here can be purchased in smaller amounts, packaged in little baggies. You may also opt to buy larger amounts, or have them packaged in bottles or grinders to give as gifts. And with tea being part of the equation, there’s a vast array of exotic leaves for you or your tea-loving friends.
The walls of the small shop, which was previously a clothing store, are lined with apothecary jars filled with the various comestibles. You’re welcome — encouraged, even — to open the jars and take a sniff. And if you don’t see, or smell, what you’re looking for, Behling and Schrader will be happy to help you find it. It’s that personal touch that helps take it beyond the supermarket (I like the kids at my Publix, but they don’t know squat about spices, except what aisle they’re on).
I used to stock up on such things as truffle salt (I like giving it as a gift) when I visited New York. Sorry, Dean & Deluca, I’ve got a new source right here.
The Spice & Tea Exchange is at 309 Park Ave. N., Winter Park. They’re open Mondays from 11 a.m.m to 6 p.m., Tuesdays through Saturdays 10 a.m to 7 p.m. and Sundays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The phone number is 407-647-7423. Here’s a link to their Web site.