By Jeffrey V. Smith
Entering The Spice and Tea Exchange of Idaho Springs is an experience. Anyone who comes in the business is immediately transported into a world of exotic smells and colors. The first visit can be overwhelming, and time consuming, once an exploration of the store’s many unique offerings begins. With hundreds of jars and packages containing an enormous assortment of the area’s freshest spices, herbs, teas, rubs, sugars, olive oils, seasoning blends and salts lining the walls—plus a custom blending center—the possibilities of adding flavor to just about anything become endless.
The Spice and Tea Exchange, 1634 Miner St., is set up to explore, open jars and smell and the enthusiastic, knowledgeable owners can help with any specific need or general flavoring question. They can also point out less obvious choices and open a whole new world of flavor. Finding fresh ingredients for cooking beyond the basics can be difficult in mountain communities. Thanks to The Spice and Tea Exchange’s new owners—Sadie Peak, her fiancé Nathan Shultz and mother Terri Miller—that has changed around Idaho Springs. The three, who took over the recently opened franchise location this May, continue to focus on freshness and quality as well as implementing their many creative plans for the business.
“We have spices for steaks, chops and chicken, fish and seafood, worldly spice and salt-free, and we have a whole row of salts. We have smoked salts and infused salts. We have our full pepper wall. We carry all different types of paprika: Hungarian, Spanish, a smoked sweet and a smoked hot,” Peak said. “We are also a tea-heavy store. Everybody loves our teas. We’ve been really well received and have a lot of people coming back and really enjoying our flavors.”
In all, The Spice and Tea Exchange offers more than 140 spices, over 80 exclusive hand-mixed blends, 16 naturally-flavored sugars, salts from around the world and more than 30 exotic teas. All of it comes in small quantities and is guaranteed fresh. “Everything is super-small batch, so everything here is fresh within four to six months. We don’t use any artificial flavors or preservatives,” Peak said. “You can see the freshness when you look at the [red] color. When you buy turmeric at the grocery store it’s almost grayish. When we are bottling this, we have to be careful because it will dye what we’re wearing.” The owner of nearby Azteca Restaurant began using the paprika once he saw its freshness and red color.
Peak has an extensive background as an herbalist and is a certified wellness coach, making her especially qualified for her new position as the store’s owner. A personal health issue prompted her to learn about healthy living and eating, and now she’s excited to transfer that knowledge to others. “I have Lupus, it’s a pretty serious autoimmune disease. It almost killed me, so my mom and I really dove into holistic medicine and really learned a lot about it so I could get better. And, we were able,” she said. “Once we figured that out, I was like, ‘I’m really passionate about this. I should probable stick with it.’”
According to Peak, food is health. “You’re getting so much when you’re eating healthy and participating in cooking your own food,” she said. “There is a certain special thing it gives you. It gives you some confidence, it gives you some light and joy. So, we are really about teaching. It’s not complicated.”
It was “kismet” when Peak, working in nearby Central City, met the founder of The Spice and Tea Exchange—a company based in Florida—who had recently retired and moved to Idaho Springs to open one last store. “He and I just hit it off and he was like ‘you’re personable, you’re fantastic. Can I steal you?,’” she said. She told him if her best friend Danielle Thompson could come along, she would do it. “So, I snagged her, and we’ve been here since… running the store from day one.” When the store’s owner, Clay Freeman, offered her the opportunity to buy the business, she enthusiastically accepted, with the support of Shultz and Miller.
Although just getting started, Peak and her crew are always seeking new ways to show off their products, like their First Friday Tea School and weekly Friday tea tastings. “Every Friday we have one tea out for tasting, and then on the first Fridays we do Tea School where people can come in and I’ll actually be teaching about how to brew tea and different types of our more advanced style teas. We’re going to feature three teas. I’m going to talk about how to brew them. I’m going to talk about the leaves and the oxidization,” she said.
One main focus of the store, according to Peak, are its custom blends of fresh herbs and spices mixed by hand in house. She can and will custom blend anything from hard-to-find ingredients to old family recipes. “We can make any custom blends… I get a lot of people that have a specific chili recipe and they will come in and ask me to blend that up for them. That is never a problem. We carry all the raw spices, so we can make all the custom blends, but we do sell them by the ounce as well. I have some pretty crazy things.”
Despite the variety and uniqueness of their products—and popularity with local chefs—Peak is actually focused on the average cook. There are even free recipes in store and on the website as well as a blog with cooking ideas.
If salt is your thing, the store offers an entire wall dedicated to smoked, infused and flavored salts, as well as Himalayan salt in various forms. “Smoked salts and infused are meant to add flavors at the end of cooking. We have a hickory smoked salt in our backwoods hickory rub, which is a really beautiful rib or brisket rub,” she said. “The spicy salts include the scorpion pepper salt, which is the third spiciest pepper in the world, and the ghost pepper, the eighth hottest in the world. We have Sriracha salt too. If you love Sriracha, you’re going to love it. We also carry a whole line of salt-free spices that are good for people eating low sodium, or for those who need to stay away from salt.”
The fresh tea selection is unmatched in the area. “I am a chai lover and this is the most traditional chai I have come across. It is fantastic,” Peak said. “Everything is super fresh. These are all hand-blended specifically for us. They are proprietary blends to The Spice and Tea Exchange, so generally you can’t get these flavor profiles anywhere else.”
Peak hopes to continue the vision of the store’s original owner and franchise founder, Freeman. “He decided he wanted to do his next big venture, so he left the cooperate company and part of that package was opening one more store, and this was his store,” Peak explained. “His goal from the beginning was to open it and sell it. He was grooming me from the beginning. Nathan and I talked about it and we were like, it’s not work and we love being in here. We just are constantly enjoying and creating and smelling.”
Local restaurants have discovered the store’s offerings and are taking advantage of the fresh herbs and other products to elevate menu items. In addition to Azteca, Pick Axe Pizza features their blackened seasoning, Main Street Restaurant uses the Bloody Mary Spice Blend and Georgetown Candy Company uses many of the raw spices to infuse in candy and ice cream. The head chef at MTN Prime uses the jerk and chili lime seasonings and a custom blend is made specifically for her. The Buffalo and Westbound and Down also uses many of the products.
Keep up with upcoming tastings, classes and more on the store’s Facebook page, which also features recipes and cooking ideas. The company’s main website also includes creative recipes and ways to spice up meals. Call 303-993-8018 to learn more.
The Spice & Tea Exchange of Idaho Springs
1634 Miner Street
Idaho Springs, CO 80452
Originally published in the July 2017 issue of the MMAC Monthly
Photos by Jeffrey V. Smith