The dramatic black-and-gold-flecked bar inside Gold Leaf Spice & Teas on Gabilan Street in Oldtown Salinas seats just 11, so sometimes—especially while the Saturday farmers’ market is going on outside—the place is standing room only. The draw? Terri Madrid, the owner who cheerfully greets her regulars by name, and her green matcha—often iced with a bit of limeade, in a riff on an Arnold Palmer.
“Matcha’s our number one best seller,” Madrid says, smiling with pride at having introduced so many locals to the ancient Japanese brew. Her customers swear by its energy-boosting properties; scientific studies suggest that it offers a range of heath benefits. She demonstrates proper preparation of the tea, using bamboo utensils and a ceramic bowl.
Madrid speaks with authority, not only about the 200 or so teas, tisanes and blends she offers (hot, iced or in loose form) but also the 149 herbs and spices and 20-plus plain and flavored olive oils and vinegars that she carries. A natural teacher, she enjoys sharing her knowledge as well as swapping recipe ideas with customers.
The idea for Gold Leaf came after Madrid was laid off from a corporate finance job in 2008 and couldn’t get so much as an interview; she was overqualified for every job for which she applied. One night she had a vivid dream about “a bar without alcohol where people could come in and [experience] fellowship with each other.”
“I’ve always been an avid tea drinker,” she says. “I grew up on Lipton tea.” But the grocery store brand is a far cry from the flavorful loose teas now filling her shelves—everything from classic Earl Grey to Monkey-Picked Oolong, which legend says was originally harvested by trained monkeys from bushes inaccessible to humans.
“I planned out the business in rich detail before I opened it. I read everything I could find, in books and online,” she says. She conceived of the name in a reference to the value of tea leaves throughout history.
Her family has done everything from helping decorate the shop to working behind the counter. Her husband Tom envisioned an apothecary shop, which led to the rows of sleek black and white ceramic jars of loose teas arrayed on the shelves.
Madrid keeps the interior relatively dark to protect the teas, spices and oils, which are all heat and light sensitive. The darkness and heady aromas make for an exotic air, as does the décor, which has a slightly Asian feel.
Madrid was initially interested in the herbs and spices she carries for their medicinal value but quickly fell in love with their culinary uses as well. “We started pouring spices on everything, like kids in a candy store,” she says, laughing, and not long after she opened her doors, the shop became a gathering spot for cooks and foodies as well as tea lovers.
All of the teas and spices are available for sampling, and there’s no minimum purchase. If you need just a teaspoon of something, she’ll happily supply it.
Like every good bartender, Madrid also dispenses advice and encouragement, inquiring after people’s families and helping with business quandaries.
A tireless supporter of all things local, both in person and with her Facebook friends, Madrid promotes the Saturday morning farmers’ market and sends customers to Fluff Cupcakery, The Bakery Station and Crush Consignment, all within a few blocks of her own shop.
Gradually, Madrid’s dream has become a reality. Thanks to her, lucky locals are getting to know a new kind of watering hole—and each other.
Gold Leaf Spice & Teas • 8 W. Gabilan St., Salinas 831.753.7700
At Edible Monterey Bay, our mission is to celebrate the local food cultures of Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey Counties, season by season.