After my Belizean Spice Haul―I happened across the Spice and Tea Market on Av. Rafael E. Melgar in Cozumel, Mexico. The street is a tourist trap with diamond shops, pharmacies, bed and bath vendors, and a myriad of knick knack stands. Ultimately, you’ll come across a little storefront painted in red with a tiny brown sign.
The Spice and Tea Market, as quaint and modest as it appears on the outside, actually opens up into a series of little rooms, like train cars. Along the walls of each room are shelves neatly organized with jarred spices, teas, and mixtures that had been carefully cultivated or mixed. The smell of brewed tea lures visitors to the back room; it is there that samples can be tasted.
The shop is run by local ladies who work with indigenous locals who grind their own spice and tea mixes. This is a holistic inspired shop, so there are tea blends for weight loss, relaxation, and *ahem*, enhancing your libido. But I would take these claims with a grain of salt.
My husband and I were led around the shop where we tasted some delicious teas such as Apple Pie and Lover’s Delight, also known as Mayan Tea. Apple Pie was very fruity, but tart like a Granny Smith apple. Meanwhile, the Mayan Tea tasted of chai (cloves, cinnamon, and allspice) with cocoa. The teas are unique in that they have a slight chalky texture, but a natural taste that was quite refreshing. Usually “chalky” is not considered pleasant, but it worked very well with the teas sold here; think oversaturated hot cocoa powder.
We bought three blends: Guacamole, Mayan Spice, and Chicken Seasoning. The most fascinating thing about these blends is that so much care was placed into the concoctions. Each package contained four small vessels. With the exception of pink salt and annatto seeds, each vessel in turn contained its own unique spice blend. So, you essentially get up to 4 different blends with each pack. Even though some of the spice blends are named for what they go best with, they can actually be used on anything.
The main downside to purchasing these blends, however, was that they did not have ingredient labels. Even though the shop is legit, you have to go with the flow as far as trusting the concoctions; you’ll be told the ingredients orally. If you suffer from crazy allergies, then try them at your own risk. But if you’re adventurous and don’t mind taking a chance with the unknown, then go for it!
The most impressive purchase for me, though, was the vanilla extract. It was so rich in aroma that I was stunned to not smell a hint of alcohol. If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to use vanilla bean paste, you might know it for its sweet, vanilla bean perfume. This vanilla I bought is even stronger in scent than vanilla bean paste.
As a side note, most vendors sell vanilla at Cozumel’s port, but if you ever go there with the intent on purchasing vanilla, be wary of cheaply priced vanilla because it is usually watered down, made poorly, and sometimes may not even contain real vanilla. In these cases, it could even contain coumarin, an aromatic chemical substance that smells like vanilla, but can be toxic in moderate amounts to liver and kidneys. Be sure to check the ingredients label and get your vanilla from a specialty shop as opposed to a tourist knick knack vendor.
I urge you to visit this gem if you ever find yourself in Cozumel. Over the course of the next few months, we will be experimenting with our spices!
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