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 & Tea Exchange” which opened in Mickey’s Pantry on November 9th, 2010 in the Market Place in Downtown Disney. 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. The spices and teas available here are a cut above anything you will find in your local grocery store. Every product is natural with neither preservatives nor chemicals, ensuring top flavor and freshness.
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 nationwide with more growing, 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 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 which 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.”
Lisa also explained 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 you won’t need much to make a cup. 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 smell 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, and 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!
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 as well as mild green peppercorns, rose petals and a little ginger. This tasty treat can be used as an everyday table salt; it’s great for chicken, seafood, salads, veggies, and much more. The combination of salt and citrus accent enhances 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.”
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. 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 bacterial 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.” 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!
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) – just like Grandma used to make, but updated for today’s tastes. Even if you are traveling and can’t cook your own meals, our spice blends will jazz up your pizza, add a zip to your morning tea, or give your salads just the right tasty touch. 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!”
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!”
Contributed by: Bill I. (NDH #35). Bill is our resident historian.