We are always excited to hear about new retail businesses opening in Ocean City, particularly when they cater to our culinary interests. As such, when we heard that the Spice & Tea Exchange would be opening an Ocean City location, we had to see (or in this case, smell) for ourselves. Owner Joy Quinn-Whalen gave us a crash course in the store’s offerings, which includes spices and teas (obviously), as well as handmade rubs, gourmet salts and peppers, accessories, grains, olive oils, sugars and gifts.
You might recognize the Spice & Tea Exchange from their Alexandria, Annapolis, or Rehoboth locations. As loose leaf tea enthusiasts, we visit the Rehoboth location from time to time to restock our tea pantry, but we had never taken much time to examine the spice selection, which we quickly learned was a major mistake. The spice selection is intense…in a good way. Seasoning spices arrive in every flavor, for every style of cooking, from the rarer spices to your more run of the mill offerings. “We do have a lot of the hard to find spices but really we cater to your average cook,” said Joy, pointing out that the staff is available to give advice on cooking-uses for spices. There are also helpful recipe cards placed throughout the store, with additional cooking tips and recipes found online. ‘Find your way to flavor’ is one of their taglines, and with an abundance of flavors pervading the store, it’s safe to say there is a flavor for every palate here.
“We have over 75 custom, handmade rubs that come with easy instructions on the labels,” explained Joy as she showed us the blending station. The specialty blends and rubs are handmade at the store with gourmet herbs, spices, salts and sugars. “By blending ourselves, it helps us keep everything super fresh,” said Joy. “You can tell just by opening the jars and smelling.” Blends and rubs are available for meats, seafood, veggies, and even desserts. Of course the Ocean City location will lend itself heavily to grilling and seafood blends, Joy pointed out. What’s more, you can buy in small or large quantities, depending on your usage.
In addition to the spices and blends, the store also showcases various salts, peppers, and sugars. We smelled a few of each, inspiring us to get in the kitchen to cook up something delicious for dinner. “I think people are getting more and more familiar with the uses of salts,” said Joy as she gave us a whiff of the bacon-smoked salts, which are ideal for mac and cheese, baked potatoes, or even for the rim of your Bloody Mary glass. There are also spicy salts, for adding a little heat to your cooking, as well as smokier salts for BBQ rubs. The same goes for the peppers, which run the gambit from spicy to mild. The most popular at the moment is the Aleppo pepper, which Joy described as “a really nice, versatile pepper” perfect for steaks, tuna, chicken and pastas.
In the tea section, expect an equally expansive selection of flavors and types: black, green, white, herbal, rooibos, oolong and pur-erhs. The gourmet loose leaf teas range from traditional to the more adventurous blends, with a collection of tea accessories available as well. “Our teas are really aromatic and flavorful,” said Joy as she pointed out a few of this season’s popular teas like the blueberry black, peach, blood orange and earl grey. She also noted teas that were ideal for mixing with other drinks, for example, using the peach tea as a base for sangria, using blood orange for punch, or berry white as a base for martinis.
The rest of our tour revealed gift ideas, grinder blends, rice and grains…we were quickly racking up a hefty list of ‘must-have’ items. Our ears also perked up when Joy mentioned the possibility for Chef Demos in the off-season. “We are always looking for things we can do to engage the community,” said Joy. The staff is also encouraged to cook with spices and share their ideas with one another and with customers.
The Spice & Tea Exchange is located in the 67th Street in the Town Center, in the space where the coffee shop was formerly housed. The Town Center is quickly becoming our new go-to spot, with Dolle’s for candy, Sweet Frog for frozen yogurt, Mione’s for pizza, Longboard for drinks, Summer House for a new outfit…rainy day shopping and snacking at it’s finest.