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Guest Interview: Spice & Tea Exchange

Feel free to grab a cup of tea! Then sit back and join me as our Guest Reviewer, Bill Iadonisi, takes us on a tour of The Spice & Tea Exchange at Downtown Disney. Take it away, Bill!

Walt Disney World is always in a state of flux. You never know when a cutting-edge attraction, show or store will make its appearance. That‘s what makes the World such a magical place; guests are continually experiencing unique and exciting things. Case in point…a tasty new shop called The Spice and Tea Exchange, which opened in Mickey’s Pantry on November 9th, 2010, in the Market Place in Downtown Disney.

The Big View

This new store is a wonderful addition to Disney’s culinary arsenal, and is conveniently sandwiched between The Earl of Sandwich and Wolfgang Puck Express. Every product found here is natural and no preservatives or chemicals are ever used, ensuring top flavor and freshness.

Front Desk

I had the opportunity to speak to Consulting Manager, Lisa Coleman, who gave me an interesting insight into the company and its marriage with Disney:

The Spice & Tea Exchange (TSTE) was founded in 2006 by Clay Freeman and is headquartered in St. Augustine, Florida. There are now 20 franchised stores (and growing) nationwide, and the location in Downtown Disney is the company’s first corporate location.

Lisa advised me recently that “Disney invited us to come in as a part of Mickey’s Pantry, their existing culinary goods store, and believed that the fit would be perfect for us.” The store is neatly tucked into a corner of Mickey’s Pantry and its walls are lined with beautiful glass apothecary jars filled with amazing spices and loose teas. The products are sold in small resealable packages, and are guests are encouraged to “open the jars and smell.”   

I had the opportunity to check out some of the wares, and the spices have a rich and pungent aroma that demonstrates how concentrated and fresh they are.  Lisa adds “You only have to use a small amount; a little goes a long way and the flavors are amazing.”

KELA-LISA-ASHLEY-FRIENDLY STAFF

Samplers

Lisa continued by explaining the highlight of The Spice & Tea Exchange: “Using our own recipes, we create our delicious spice blends by hand, including dozens of rubs for steak, chicken, seafood, BBQ and more. We have pasta seasonings, curries, salt-free blends, you name it.”  

I inquired about the tea selection and she added: “We also have an extensive line of exotic loose teas — Black, Green, Oolong and Herbal Blends; there is something for everyone”.  Like the spices and blends, the teas exhibit a strong, heady aroma, again indicating that you will not need much to make a cup.

Tea Time

The shop also carries a variety of individual spices, including six types of paprika, cinnamon, whole nutmegs and much more, as well as organic, naturally-flavored sugars, and sea and mineral salts from around the world.  Many of the salts are infused with natural ingredients such as Italian black truffles (which smells heavenly!), Ghost Pepper (the hottest pepper on the planet), olives (tangy and salty), and lime-coconut (great for margaritas!). As for the sugars, try raspberry or strawberry in your fruit salad, tea, or coffee or on baked goods; and sprinkle the habanero or sweet onion sugar on your cornbread, roast chicken or hot corn on the cob. YUM!

Salts

All types of sugars

The Spice & Tea Exchange’s most popular spice blend is the “Florida Sunshine” grinder. This has pure Brazilian Atlantic sea salt blended with lemon, lime and orange zest, which is hand-peeled fresh from the fruit and dehydrated. It also incorporates mild green peppercorns, rose petals and a little ginger. This tasty treat can be used as an everyday table salt — great for chicken, seafood, salads, veggies, and much more. The combination of salt and citrus accent enhance everything you put it on. I tried a sample and it’s fabulous!

“So what is the hottest blend?” I asked.  Without hesitation, Lisa stated: “The Pirate’s Bite grinder, which has six different hot chilies, two peppercorns, cumin, coriander, fennel and sea salt. Instead of hot sauce, grind this spicy blend on pizza, chicken wings, burgers, or on anything else you want to add a bite to. It’s spicy, but has amazing flavor as well.”

Grinder Blends

In addition to the spices and teas, The Spice & Tea Exchange also sells gourmet accessories, including tea balls, infusers, mortars and pestles, salt pinches and bamboo bread boards.

Gourmet Accessories

Mortar and Pestle

Bamboo Bread Board

One of the most interesting items for sale is Himalayan Mineral salt blocks. According to Lisa, “You heat them up in an oven or grill and when they reach temperature, you actually cook on them on your tabletop. Dazzle your friends by preparing scallops or marinated beef right before their eyes. Since they are natural mineral salt, they are bacteria resistant and the food will pick up a hint of the salt. You can freeze them and serve shrimp, sushi or a cheese selection on top for a dramatic presentation.”

Himalayan Salt Blocks and Stones

Another novel item is the Himalayan Grater salts, which are small chunks of pink mineral salt. You hold them over your food and shave them with a micro-grater. The salt is milder than regular salt and like everything else here, natural. It’s also a great conversation piece at meal time for your family and friends!

Himalayan Grater Stones

I asked what guest reaction has been so far and Lisa said, “Fantastic! Because our culture is heading in a healthier direction, many people want to prepare their food with chemical-free, non-processed ingredients. With the popularity of the Food Network and other television cooking shows, folks are interested in going back to basics: cooking and eating more natural dishes (and teaching their children along the way). Our store fills a need: accessible, fresh quality ingredients blended with care and love. It’s an affordable luxury…so come in, open the jars and smell!”

Spices for the Kids

Even Pastas!

Lisa finished by saying that The Spice & Tea Exchange’s partnership with Walt Disney World is a very tasty one, and that the company’s dream for an entire storefront in Downtown Disney may be realized in the future. This delightful shop is open 365 days a year — 9:30 am to 11:00 pm Sunday through Thursday and 9:30 am to 11:30 pm Friday and Saturday. They also have a website where you can order anything from their full line of products, check out hundreds of recipes, and see a list of their additional nationwide locations (www.spiceandtea.com).

I believe The Spice & Tea Exchange will do very well in the Market Place. Disney’s huge diversity of restaurants makes it the premiere place to dine, and as any gourmet knows, spices are the heart and soul of any dish. Now there’s a magical place to discover those here as well. Check it out –- you are cordially invited to “Come in and Smell the Spices!”

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11 Comments

  1. Griffin says:

    I’ve been wanting to get to this place and check it out! Thanks for the article :)

  2. Tracy says:

    We checked out this shop in December, and picked up two of their grinders – one for us (Baker’s Secret) and a Florida Sunshine for a family member for Christmas.

    I absolutely LOVE the Baker’s Secret blend. During the holidays I made truffles and this was perfect to grind over the cooling chocolates for a little extra flavor. I also love putting it in my coffee & on my pancakes or toast. I highly recommend this grinder!

    We are hoping to sneak over there in May to pick up the Florida Sunshine grinder for ourselves!

  3. Galloping Gourmand says:

    I had been wondering about the salt and spice blends and how it’s different than what you can make at home. Thanks for the article. I’m interested in trying to create a salt-crust grill of some sort. The specialty salt and spice blends should be perfect for that. The only issue will be getting it up to Fairfield County, CT!

  4. Jenn says:

    I keep forgetting about this place! Haven’t been there yet so need to get over there in May!

  5. Shelley says:

    Very informative! We were there this past December and it looks like their area of Mickey’s Pantry has definitely grown in selection. I don’t remember seeing everything you mentioned. I can personally vouch for the Black Truffle Sea Salt (I think that’s the name). It is delicious and a little does go a long way!

    Can’t wait to go back in October!

  6. Shayne says:

    Very cool! I’m going to have to get over there in December with my mom. We are both tea drinkers, and the spices sound great also.

    I’m interested in the Pirate’s Bite grinder for my husband. He loves crushed red pepper on his pizza and pastas, and I think he’d really like that spicy blend! Those salt blocks look pretty cool too.

  7. Bill says:

    I agree with all the readers, this is an amazing and unique addition to Downtown Disney. As anyone knows who reads my articles, we love dining at Disney at least 2-3 times a month. After sampling many of the wares during my interview with Lisa, my wife picked up several spices and grinders. That night we sampled them and they are everything Lisa said and more. Just a little of the Ghost Pepper salt (And I mean just a pinch!) gave a wonderful zing and flavor to our burgers and wings. We have many Disney recipes at home and will return to add to our collection, and try them on our favorites!

  8. AJ says:

    Bill! I think the Ghost Pepper salt would be right up my alley!!! You’ll have to bring it along on our next restaurant trip!

  9. John B says:

    I’ve purchased several sugars and teas from here and have always enjoyed them. Blueberry sugar in blueberry pancakes! Pear and caramel tea! Yum!

    Small word of warning: if you are a premium AP holder, you only get 10% off spice and tea exchange, not the normal 20% merchandise discount.

  10. Kim says:

    John, awesome tip about the premium AP holder discount. Good to know! Did you say blueberry? Blueberry sugar? Adding that to my list!

  11. This place got me to spend $50 on spices but I don’t regret it – I got enough ideas for grilled chicken meals to last for years!!! Thanks Bill!

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