Entering The Spice & Tea Exchange is a multisensory experience. Colorful spices in glass jars sit in clean rows atop timber-frame shelves, flaunting rainbow hues. One wall is dedicated to peppers, another to salts ranging from black truffle to merlot sea salt, and yet another to sugars like mango habanero, wild blueberry, and bourbon black walnut. There are walls of herbs, and custom blends. Loose-leaf teas have their own section. The bar offers samples of teas and popcorn with special salts. Then there's the blending theater, where you can watch staff create new mixes behind a glass wall.
This Old Town Scottsdale establishment, formerly called Old Florida Spice Traders, was founded by Clay Freeman in 2005 in St. Augustine, Florida. By 2007, his then-wife Amy Freeman changed the name to what you read now. In 2008, she started franchising and became the CEO after Clay established his own shop in Colorado.
Store no. 74, the most recent addition, opened in Old Town Scottsdale at the end of January 2020. It's owned by Lisa and Steve Pokorny, who worked for the same company — he in finance and she in accounting. One weekend, Lisa joined Steve on a business trip to Fort Collins, Colorado. As they explored the area, they found The Spice & Tea Exchange.
For the Pokornys, it was love. Their goal was ultimately to have their own business — but it had to be fun. “We walked into the store and it was instant,” Lisa says. “I thought, 'Wow, I love this place and would love one of these stores.'” Though they put the idea on hold, they never forgot about it. It took three years to settle on the right spot.
The opportunity presented itself when Lisa read an article about how The Spice & Tea Exchange wanted to expand in the Phoenix area. The Pokornys took their chance, even meeting the CEO face to face.
Every location of The Spice & Tea Exchange carries a number of required teas, blends, and spices. The sourcing for the products, which are fair-trade and organic wherever possible, happens at the St. Augustine distribution center.
The stores can also submit blends that fit the ingredients of their region. If the blend is deemed viable for all the stores, it's added to the product list. The Pokornys have their own blend of rosemary and basil salt that gives a powerful pop of flavor to anything from salads to savory bakes.
The Spice & Tea Exchange plans to offer classes in the future. Tea 101 will explain the different types of teas, how they are brewed, and the relationship between time, temperature, and amount. There will be a salt class, a chef series (where a local chef will prepare meals using the store’s products), and a bartender series. The wellness classes will cover the possible benefits of the herbs and steepables.
“People laugh when they see catnip,” says Lisa as she points to the spice wall. “But if you can actually steep and drink it like a tea." She says it can have calming effects on humans.
Where you might see one or two paprika options in the grocery store, here there are six. Ditto for peppercorn. And you won't be here long without learning something. For instance, peppercorns come from the same plant. The variety comes from how they are processed when picked. “Same with tea,” Lisa says. “Tea comes from the same plant, camellia sinensis. It’s when it’s picked and how long it’s dried and fermented that makes a difference.”
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If you want to sample a particular tea, or get hands-on, no problem. "In addition to samples, we can brew any tea on the wall to go hot or cold,” Lisa says.
New spices come in every week, making each visit a little different. Aside from the vast selection of spices and teas, The Spice & Tea Exchange offers some retail. Mugs, teapots, colorful bamboo spoons, and salt blocks — with new accessories added every quarter. The Spice & Tea Exchange Gourmet Services provide custom blends for special occasions, like catering services and bridal favors.
At this time, customers may order through The Spice & Tea website (where you can also find some inspiring recipes). Shipping is currently free. To support the Scottsdale store specifically, give them a mention during checkout.