my brother wants whole spices for xmas that he can grind up in his spice grinder. what are some interesting things to get him? he loves to grill and spicy marinades.
black pepper corns
and for extra measure:
whole, dried chili peppers such as ancho
Second the cumin idea, because it's used in such a wide variety of cuisines. Also, try some whole dried chiles. I grind those in my spice grinder, and they're wonderful in rubs and marinades.
If I were to change careers mine would be a spice merchant. I have 87 different spices and am forever toasting them and grinding them to make different seasonings, rubs and so on. Amongst my favourites are (in addition to already-mentioned peppercorns, coriander, juniper berries, allspice, etc.):
ajwain (or ajowan)
annato seeds (must be ground in a grinder - they are as hard as little pebbles!)
grains of paradise (one of my all-time favourite spices)
tons of interesting chiles (toast over dry heat then grind)
bay leaves are lovely ground (i.e. in making Herbes de Provence)
mustard seeds (using my mortar and pestle)
dry some citrus peel to grind
various coarse artisanal sea salts
Great minds! I was about to recommend World Spice as well. An ounce of each whole spice they offer if the budget allows! Whole Spice is one of the few places that offer Tasmanian pepperberry, which is a very interesting pepper! Very late "burn," but not overwhelming. A bit pricey, but also rare and for anyone into the unusual, it's hard to beat.