I have to admit that I was concerned when spice maven and entrepreneur Joy Quinn opened her third Spice & Tea Exchange store just steps from the Rehoboth Beach Boardwalk (the others are in Annapolis, Md. and Alexandria, Va.). After all, that is the high-rent district, and I wondered whether the taffy/cheesesteak/fries/corndog crowd would embrace a sort of upscale foodie specialty shop.
Boy was I wrong! As one of the esteemed tour guides for EatingRehoboth.com food tours, I get to roam the streets of Rehoboth Beach even more than I usually do. And every time I lead a crowd of Eating Rehoboth guests into Spice and Tea Exchange, the place is busy, and our tourgoers love it. In fact, it’s hard to stay on our time schedule because most of the guests end up lining up to buy something.
Part of that success has to be attributed to Joy’s friendly and knowledgeable staff, ably led by the perpetually smiling GM herself, Brenda Pfautsch. In fact, Joy and Brenda recently signed up to take one of the Eating Rehoboth tours (after politely making sure that the day’s stops didn’t include their store). Sort of like a short version of a Busman’s Holiday, I guess.
The first thing you have to do when you enter Spice & Tea Exchange is to inhale deeply (with a polite nod to Bill Clinton, of course). The panoply of aromas is an olfactory Tilt-A-Whirl, and it will stay with you during your entire visit.
The store is cleverly organized, with single tastes like Vietnamese cinnamon, nutmeg, burgundy wine powder, star anise and lots more – including particularly intense catnip – all grouped together. Their custom spice blends such as Baker’s Secret, Earthly Delight, Herbal Garden, Italian Street Fair and Parfume de Sel (to name a few) are all gathered in another area of the store. Specialty blends in cute grinder bottles (like it hot? Get the Pirate’s Bite!) are scattered on tables in the center of the store, with spice-related items like pepper/salt grinders, salt pigs and other culinary bric-à-brac near the front.
One of the values added to their custom blends is that many of them have been created specifically for chicken, or beef, or fish, or shellfish or whatever. The staff is very knowledgeable about what goes with what, and I have repeatedly heard customers ask questions like, “What would be a good, unusual spice for my meatloaf?” -- or perhaps their crab dip, spiced shrimp or just a chip dip that is (mercifully) not made of Lipton Onion Soup. Enough already with the onion dip.
So the foodies among us can break out of our parents' dry soup-mix shackles (though there are a few that I still like, mostly made with Knorr-Swiss mixes) and create something entirely their own.
Start with sniffing the various jars (Brenda and her loyal minions encourage the practice) and channel your inner Martin Yan, Frugal Gourmet or even Bobby Flay. Think of that little container of sour cream (perhaps with a dollop of Hellman’s) as a blank palette upon which you will paint your very own taste experience.
There is a little table toward the back where Brenda’s Spice Girls (and Boys) will combine spices just for you. They also sell most of their custom blends in tiny ZipLocs so you can try something out before committing yourself to a big bagful. They also sell little “samplers” with most of the stuff you will need to make curry dishes, gingerbread, fish dishes, and seasonal goodies for autumn and spring.
Foodie picks so far include: the pizza seasoning (try it on popcorn!), the Pirate’s Bite (It’s HOT and delicious, not unlike The Foodie, in fact…), the Bourbon Black Walnut Sugar (I sprinkle it on fried Oreos), the Backwoods Hickory Rub (sprinkle it on your breakfast bacon!) and the Crazy Chicken (let raw chicken sit in this overnight before BBQing or roasting). There are so many more, and as you sniff your way around the store, remember that they will blend your very own custom combo if you ask.
Speaking of culinary bric-à-brac, chunky stainless salt and pepper grinders are located on the front left-hand wall as you enter. Other goodies, including all sorts of tea infusers also populate that area along with thick, slightly pink and very heavy blocks of pure salt harvested from the Himalayan mountain range of Pakistan. The most popular are the Pink Salt Slabs that can not only be heated Dos Locos Stonegrill-style, but can be frozen for keeping sushi, vegetables and dips cold at the table. The dense slabs of pure salt retain the heat and cold long enough to make any meal a party.
And don’t forget the teas! The assortment of dessert teas seems to be one of the best sellers, but you can buy little bags of individual teas to satisfy your personal taste. There are all sorts of variations on black tea, green tea, herbal tea and even an unusual chai-like blend of ground Japanese green tea and milled cane sugar. They call it Matcha Tea. My chai-loving friends love this stuff.
If you have carelessly left the area without visiting Spice & Tea Exchange (or worse yet, not dropped in with one of EatingRehoboth.com’s tours), then, (1) shame on you, and (2) it’s OK you can always take a tour, just don’t forget next time, and (3) don’t worry – everything we have discussed here and more is available for sale at their website. Just click here to check it all out.
Spice & Tea Exchange is located at 10 Rehoboth Avenue, on the south side near the Boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach.
Their current hours are 7 days 10-8, and off-season (after 9/30) Thurs. and Mon. 11-5, and Fri., Sat. and Sun. 11-7. Of course, all places start out with the best of off-season intentions; so if it’s the dead of winter, give them a call at 302-227-3327 just to make sure. Follow the Rehoboth store on Facebook by clicking here.