There's something of the apothecary about Taos Spice Merchants. Shelves of hand-labeled jars line the walls with powders and seeds and liquids of every color. There are scales for weighing, stoneware crocks and bowls, and thick, heavy books on the table. And while you might not get a tincture to cure your ills, you will certainly find whatever spice your kitchen cabinet is lacking.
Eliza Collins presides over the shop, wearing a rustic linen apron and looking every bit the spice merchant. She owns the shop, along with her daughter, Delta Bayer, and son-in-law, Patrick Trujillo, who came up with the idea of a spice shop after visiting one in Florida. This epiphany, said Collins, turned into a true family business when Taos Spice Merchants opened their doors on September 19, 2017. Even grandson Finn, 13, helps out at the shop sometimes.
The fruits of their labor are staggering. The shop boasts more than 220 different spices, as well as spice blends and rubs, chiles from near and far, naturally infused and smoked salts and sugars, and a "buffet" of olive oils and balsamic vinegars. Every item for sale is also available to smell and taste, and you can even custom-order your own blend of spices.
"These days, people are going back to the hearth," said Collins. "They're cooking for themselves and making healthy and interesting food." With that interesting food, comes the need for spices you might not find on a supermarket shelf. But Taoseños no longer need to look out of town (or on the Internet) for unusual spices and herbs.
There was a time when one might have despaired if one's recipe called for nigella seeds, or epazote, or cubeb berries. But Taos Spice Merchants has all these things and so much more: dried culinary rose petals, hibiscus, jasmine and lavender. Six distinct paprikas, four types of cinnamon, 10 varieties of peppercorn. You can even buy grains of paradise (and who wouldn't want to?).
"I love spice shops," said a Colorado resident, Melinda, stopping by Taos while taking "the very long way" to Oklahoma. "We've been coming to Taos for years, and there's never been anything like this." She takes her newly purchased jar of chipotle chiles and pops the lid. "I'm gonna be sniffing in the car!" she said as she walks out the door. She seems almost giddy with the prospect.
There is something electrifying about being surrounded by such exotic variety. Collins herself admits she's still learning about the bounty that the world of spice has to offer. She keeps a stash of reference books in the shop, so if a customer has a question, they can look up and learn together. Shop attendant Sonya also joins in the education. "Every time I come to work, I learn something."
Their enthusiasm is contagious; anyone who stops by the shop will be offered a taste of basil-infused California olive oil or raspberry sugar or Ceylon cinnamon. (I highly recommend the apple balsamic vinegar.) The Spice Merchants can't wait to share their products with Taos.
"It's an extra stop," Collins acknowledged. "But it's guaranteed fresh, and you can buy exactly what you want, and how much you want."
Everything is sold by weight, so there will be no excess spice lingering at the back of your pantry, turning grey and flavorless with time. You can come by with a recipe, and the Spice Merchants will help you find what you need. Or if you're looking for inspiration, sign up for one of their in-house classes on everything from concocting curry or red chile to making your own sauerkraut. The Taos Spice Merchants have, quite literally, something for everyone.