The woman who walked into Savvy Spices on a recent Friday morning was in the wrong place: She'd been looking for tamarind, which isn't a spice but a fruit. Yet she was in no hurry to leave. "It smells wonderful," she said. Which Deb Johnson took as a cue to introduce some of the 130 spices and 60 blends created and curated by her and her husband.
The Johnsons' goal, after all, is to broaden people's taste for, well, tastes. "Spice use in this country is a fraction of what it is in other places," says Dave Johnson. That's one reason sample jars are scattered throughout the tonily austere showroom.
Savvy Spices opened in November, after Deb and Dave — both chemists — gave up their day jobs. But "we've been spice-blending for 25 years," says Dave. Along the way, they've visited markets in Istanbul, Greece, Spain, Budapest and Mexico City.
Their selection is similarly far-flung. Along with familiar choices like paprika, you'll find galangal root and annatto, black cardamom and "Grains of Paradise."
Savvy Spices also offers custom blends — everything from tailgating rubs to garam masala. Often the blends are "designed for a Western palate, to act as a stepping stone," says Dave. And as befits a pair of chemists, the Johnsons never stop experimenting: They've been perfecting a meat rub, "Steak a la Dave," for 20 years.
But the goal never changes: "The idea," Dave says, "is to demystify spices."