I am in Phoenix for baseball spring training. Luckily for me, Penzey's Spices has a brand spanking new store in Scottsdale.
What an incredible, lovely, wonderful (let me see if I can get any more effusive) opportunity. They have spices, herbs and blends categorized and organized from A to Z. Each product has a sample jar you can smell before you buy. This enabled me to do side-by-side comparisons and realize that some of the products I had been told were "best" weren't to my liking.
For instance, I had always heard that Tellicherry peppercorns were the best. But I liked the Malabar better, so that was what I bought. And you'd think that the French pepper blend would be delightful, but it smelled like a barnyard to me.
I ended up buying several kinds of cinnamon. The Vietnamese extra-fancy cassia cinnamon was complex and deep. I didn't like the smell or the Korintje, but was intrigued by the Ceylon Cinnamon - it is more citrusy and doesn't have the deep bottom notes. They recommend it for fruit dishes, so I bought a small jar.
Their prices are really good. Most 1/4 ounce jars were under $3. Vanilla beans had come down in price to $6 for 3 or $23 for 15.
They sell herbs, spices, mixes and salt - and that is pretty much it. Empty jars. But no accoutrements, cooking tools, books, art, or anything else to get in the way of the full spice experience.
I only spent $37, but my friend Tony was so inspired that he decided to replace all his herbs and spices and add some to his collection. He ended up with $370 worth - 4 boxes - and had to buy a new piece of luggage to get it all home.