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Spicetrekkers.com - On the hunt for the world's best spices and blends

On the hunt for the world's best spices and blends

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Pu Erh 101

Pu Er 101

Pu erh is perhaps the most singular of the seven tea families. It’s known as the least accessible tea category, especially because of its distinct and sometimes intense flavours. You don’t need to be a tea expert to appreciate its elegant side- suffice it to say a single taste has hooked more than a few first-timers. With the growing enthusiasm for tea of the last few years, pu erh is getting more and more popular. And as we become ever more accustomed to its characteristic taste, we can treat it a little like a hearty cheese or even a nice piece of dark chocolate.

Pu erh is an aged, fermented tea that can be found in many forms. In the most common, the leaves are compressed into little cakes called bing cha, in little nuggets called tuo cha, or in the shape of a brick. Yunnan province, in southwest China, is where the majority of pu erhs are produced. Pu erh originated in Yunnan, where wild tea trees, aged over 1,000 years, still grow in the forests. Once upon a time, the tea leaves were harvested then compressed to facilitate their transport to the village of Pu’er, on old commercial center for tea exchange. This is how, with time, the name Pu’er came to be associated with particular type of tea. Continue reading →

Staff lunch: our favourite eggplant recipes

There is a great multitude of different eggplants in various shapes and colours- it is, after all, a vegetable that is grown nearly globally. In the Mediterranean, it’s used in classics from ratatouille to Greek moussaka. It’s commonly found in Turkish cooking and numerous Middle Eastern countries, as well as India and China. In many of these dishes, it’s better to salt the eggplant to draw out some of its water. This will also reduce its bitterness, particularly for larger eggplants.

Eggplant is slowing winning the hearts and mouths of Épices de Cru, although its still not universally beloved (it’s one of Philippe’s least favourite ingredients, though he still cooks it with remarkable ingenuity!). To persuade you of the eggplant’s value, or just cook with it more, we present you with a few recipes that appear on the menu for staff lunch regularly and always to rave reviews.

Baingan Bharta - Indian Style Mashed Eggplants
Baingan Bharta – Indian Style Mashed Eggplants
Baba Gannoush
Baba Ganoush
Eggplant Zaatar Salad recipe - Spicetrekkers
Eggplant Zaatar Salad
Yuxiang Qiezi - Fish Fragrant Eggplant
Yuxiang Qiezi – Fish Fragrant Eggplant

On the trail of Pasilla de Oaxaca

On the trail of Pasilla de Oaxaca

Pasilla de Oaxaca is, without a doubt, one of the eternal favourites of our company. We can also say that, with time, it’s become one of our customers’ favourites too. Pasilla de Oaxaca is more than a simple chile- it’s a witness to the knowledge, traditions, and characteristic terroir of the corner of Mexico in which its grown.

Oaxaca is a Mexican state situated at the junction of the grand Sierras, on the central plateau where the valley of the same name is found. It’s an agricultural region that’s been inhabited for millennia. The highest plateaus can reach 2000 m above sea level. It is there, in the misty rainforests sprawled on the plateau’s summit, that the Pasilla de Oaxaca is grown. Our Pasilla de Oaxaca is cultivated by the Mixtec and Zapotec Indians in the Sierra Mixe (watch our video describing the winding road that brings the chilies from the highlands to us). Continue reading →

The Rules for Making Your Own Masala Chai

Posted on by Marika

The Rules for Making Your Own Masala Chai

I make really good chai masala blends. Having grown up in a spice company with a personal obsession with tea, I make my chai masalas with love, experience and an need for strong, emotional beverages. Subtlety is not my strong suit.

I have been trying to get people to make their own chai masala for years. Why ? “I don’t like cinnamon,” or “clove is too strong for me,” or my favourite, “is that cardamom I see? I don’t think I like cardamom…” is something I often hear from our customers. Well, liberate yourself! Chai simply means “tea” and masala simply means “spice blend,” so all you need to make a good masala chai is tea and spice. Choose only the spices you like and create a unique blend suitable to your palate.

The Rules for Making Your Own Masala Chai

But wait? How can I just add the spices I like and make a masala chai successfully? By following these simple rules of course! Continue reading →

Meet the Staff: Oksana

The employees at our headquarters, nicknamed “2222,” work with our teas and spices every  day. It is they who, over time, have made this company what it is. We invite you to join, each month, a conversation with each one of them.

Meet the Staff : Oksana

Oksana is the embodiment of good accounting: earnest, dependable, and kind. Never one to shy away from a difficult problem, she can be relied on for sensible and effective solutions. Oksana is one of our longest-serving employees, and, considering her almost total implication in every aspect of the company, we look forward to her working with us for years to come.

Where are you from? 

I was born in Kiev, Ukraine. I moved to Montreal in 2001.

Where did you work before Épices de Cru?

I was the chief accountant at an office supply and repair company for a number of years in Ukraine. I actually quit my technical studies at Kiev Polytechnic University when we decided to open the company. It grew quickly, and soon I was studying accounting! It was the early 90’s and we entered the market at a good time. It was a difficult and important job, but the company was like a baby, I loved watching it grow. Continue reading →

The Sichuan Pantry

Twice Cooked Pork - Sichuan Cooking

Spices are our main concern at Épices de Cru, but the truth is spices often present their flavour best in combination with the many sauces, pastes, and other ingredients developed by the world’s great cuisines. So we present our series on pantries of the world- important ingredients to have on hand before delving into any regional cuisine.

Sichuan is, arguably, the foremost of Chinese cuisines, famous for its use of spice. And it’s not just the lovely, pointed heat of Sichuanese chiles! The unique numbing, citrusy flavours of Sichuan Peppercorn, the peppery bite of Cassia, and the sweet, aromatic, and deeply appealing Chinese Five Spice are essential elements of Southwest Chinese cuisine.

Still, these legendary spices would present a one-dimensional a dish if they weren’t enhanced by the sweet, sour, spicy, or umami tastes- in sometimes millennia-old ingredients- from these Sichuan pantry essentials.

Black Bean Sauce (dou chi)

Dou Chi

This chunky, fabulously pungent sauce is made from fermented black soybeans. It is the oldest known soybean product- once referred to by the word “shi”, meaning “great desire”, or, “addiction”, a reference to its unstoppable umami punch. Our addiction to dou chi is at its most intense for China’s most famous brand: Lao Gan Ma. This renowned brand is the starting (and often ending) point for trying black bean sauce. Continue reading →

Toast of the Town: Why Roasting Spices Works

Toast of the Town - Why Roasting Spices Works

When it comes to spice toasting, roasting, or grilling guides, it seems there are plenty of how-tos, but few whys. Something about enhancing the flavour. Roasting spices is easy: it simply takes a pan at the exact perfect temperature, constant stirring, attention, and nervousness, and an ever-present sense that you’re doing it wrong. So why go through the stress of watching yet another pan full of cumin burn anyway? Which spices are worth the effort, and how can we use spices once we’ve toasted them?

It’s true that not all spices roast well- some will burn or simply lose their flavour if exposed to too much direct heat. Cinnamon, for example, is a famously sensitive spice. It, like bay leaf, should only be roasted for a few seconds, and carefully. Of course ground spices will burn almost instantly if dry roasted- which is why this blog refers only to whole roasted spices. Continue reading →

The many faces of Jasmine

The many faces of Jasmine

Jasmine is one of the most popular fragranced teas in the world. Here, it’s best known as an accompaniment to meals served in many Chinese restaurants. It’s a tradition inherited from dim sum, which are found mostly in southern China and Fujian, where Jasmine tea is served whatever the occasion. This tea is enjoyed almost universally thanks to its herbal and floral aromas that offer a delicate and comforting infusion.

Surprisingly, jasmine was not always cultivated in China. If you a little go back in time, you’ll find that the jasmine flower arrived in China around 1700 years ago via the Silk Road. Jasmine in fact originated in the Middle East and North Africa. Today it can be found in abundance in many of the Chinese provinces known for tea. Continue reading →

Three Quirky Spices that Will Soon Be Your Best Friends, Part 2

Three Quirky Spices that Will Soon Be Your Best Friends Part 2

Earlier this year, I wrote a piece on some spices that work wonderfully in all sorts of dishes, but are still somewhat unknown. The reaction was quite positive. To my joyous surprise, you proved your curiosity and creativity- daring to venture into our store to try the named spices. When you finally learn to let go in the kitchen and listen to your intuition, the possibilities are endless. Today I propose you (re)discover three other lesser-known spices.


Three Quirky Spices that Will Soon Be Your Best Friends, Part 2

Did you take pity on the old Greek cookbook that’s starting to gather dust in your library? Perhaps you happened to throw it open, only to land on a recipe that calls for mastic? And now you have an old can of mastic that’s gathering dust in your pantry and you’re taking pity on it. Luckily, I have thousands of ideas for you! You should know that mastic is a resin (not unlike pine sap), with a light piney flavour that’s absolutely delicious. The easiest way to use it is to simply pour a tear or two into your coffee- you’ll see this sometimes in Greece and Turkey. Mastic is a great addition to any savoury dish, notably in sauces. This chicken recipe is a great example. This spice is just as loved in desserts, like this updated classic. Continue reading →

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