Urban Foraging: Spicing Up the Circle at The Spice & Tea Exchange
Spice markets are not as ubiquitous in Sarasota as they are in some regions of the globe, but The Spice & Tea Exchange (TSTE) on St. Armands Circle has enough international inventory to make up for it. Paulette Callender, an entrepreneur from Tampa, opened the shop in January 2009 after learning about the franchised business model. A former career world traveler, she became enamored of the markets abroad and the idea of importing products from Indonesia, China, Turkey, Japan, the Himalayas, and beyond.
“When I found one of these concepts, I fell in love with it, and I’ve always loved St. Armands,” says Callender, who previously worked in radiology and launched the business with her husband, Gordon. “The highlight is that we make all of the blends in the store. We’re always dehydrating, grinding, mixing, and blending. It’s a lot of fun.”
The shop carries 170 spices, 16 naturally flavored organic sugars, 28 salts, 30 loose-leaf teas, and more than 75 hand-mixed signature blends. On the shelves are accessories such as mortars and pestles, spice racks, and pink Himalayan salt serving blocks.
Bourbon black walnut sugar, Spanish sweet paprika, tomato tarragon olive oil, and Malaysian ginger curry are among the exotic finds, and some of the bestsellers are the Tuscany blend, the backwoods hickory rub, and the espresso steak rub.
“I use our Vik’s Garlic Fix with everything (we put chives and shallots in it). I love to make curries and experiment with our autumn blend, our English roast blend, and our spiced ham blend,” says Callender, who also has a 4-year-old TSTE franchise in Boca Grande and a 1-year-old spot in Key West. “Our blends come in 1-ounce baggies for $4.89, which yields a few servings, so you can try things without committing a lot.”
For the coveted Florida Sunshine blend, a local distributor delivers the oranges, lemons, and limes, which are then dehydrated and turned into zest in-house. The Sarasota staff even created the Italian Street Fair blend with smoked black peppercorns, peppers, onions, and garlic.
Because many of the store’s regulars are serious foodies and local chefs, Callender organized a monthly chef series, the first of which was hosted by chef Chris Covelli. Attendees can learn about gourmet cooking while mingling with culinary celebrities.
On the wall behind the cash register is a map covered with pushpins, where shoppers can identify their home countries. Every continent currently has a pin. That is part of the fun for manager Theresa Martin, whose love for cooking is so deep she cannot wait to share it with her diverse clientele.
“You never know who you’ll meet here—people from all over the world,” Martin says. “It’s always an adventure.”