The Peppermill to Rule them All
Though more people have peppermills these days, most don't do a good job. This one ($29.95), made by Kuhn Rikon, is almost perfect. The wide, ergonomic base is easy to fill and can hold plenty of pepper. The grinder, a precise ceramic burr, has grind settings for anything from pepper powder to roughly cracked 'corns. And since the grinder is on the top of the base, it won't leave ground deposits wherever it's stored.
This isn't just for black pepper—it can handle anything from cumin to cardamom, so it's worth having two or three for frequently used spices.
An Electric Spice Grinder
For day to day cooking, a coffee grinder to pulverize whole spices is the single most valuable thing a spice-happy cook can own. My favorite ($13.99) comes from Proctor Silex. I dig the retractable cord for easy storage and a grind button that doesn't get jammed after repeated use.
A Mortar and Pestle
Rare, Hard to Find Spices
New spices grant an opportunity to play in the kitchen. As a stocking stuffer, consider some rare gems like grains of paradise or black garlic (sourcing information at bottom of articles). Grains of paradise are an ancient spice with strong clove and citrus notes that scream holiday cooking. Black garlic is the funky fermented cousin of the plain 'ol allium that's received encouraging gourmet attention of late. Both are still not that well-known despite their substantial culinary potential.
Regional Spice Blends
Regions and countries with proud culinary histories have produced some pretty awesome spice blends. If you're traveling from one, or you're visiting an expat, this is a great way to bring a taste of home. If you've got a New Orleans connection to shop for, there's nothing like some Tony's (price varies by package; starts at $1.35). I love this stuff: it's got an addictively peppery, herby, spicy bite.
Or you can always make your own custom spice blend to dole out as gifts. Try mixing equal parts kosher salt, turbinado sugar, ground coriander, and ground grains of paradise with two parts lime zest. It's awesome on red meat. And you can take all the credit for it.
Glass Storage Jars
Everyone wants an organized spice cabinet, and a popular solution is small tins and a magnetic rack. I've seen plenty, but none that I'd want to give someone. Tins rust, gum over, and can fall off the rack if overfilled. Plus most racks aren't modular: you can't keep adding tins as you go.
A better bet is an assortment of glass jars (prices vary by size; $0.99 for four fluid ounces). They last forever, come in a range of sizes for those who buy in bulk, and allow you to see your spices easily (the lids can be labeled). I'd prefer an attractive set of glass in a cabinet to some flimsy wall-mounted tins any day. Your cluttered cook with four kinds of paprika will thank you.
An Indian Spice Kit
Indian cooks often stores spices in kits ($22.95) called masala dabbas. They allow you to easily house frequently combined spices like cumin, coriander, and ground chile and store them all together. To make it really special, pre-load it with some whole spices for your cook's favorite blends, like garam masala or chili powder.
'Herbs & Spices' by Jill Norman
A brilliant, beautiful guide for experts and beginners alike. Herbs & Spices ($19.80) isn't a cookbook; it's a David Attenborugh-style guide to herbs and spices both common and nigh unheard-of, replete with tasting notes, histories, and preparation ideas. The photos are stunning, and the enthusiastic inspirations within these pages will turn any cook into a full-fledged spice hunter.