Then came the day I threw a few cinnamon sticks (also called quills) in my herb grinder. That's when we really met, and I learned that cinnamon is less like a flavor of boxed cereal and much more like a small fire that burns sweet, a gentle sun ray spiked with electricity, or a languid kitten that dreamily pricks you with its tiny claws. Oh, cinnamon.
This transformation of the herb from familiar to delightfully powerful and somewhat exotic, is the effect of experiencing the plant in a more complete way. Grinding the herb right before using it eliminates the time that the ground herb sits around, all the while dissipating it's precious constituents directly into the air, or allowing light to break down the herb's natural chemicals. So, maybe cinnamon can serve as an example of how alive these fresh ground spices can be.
A couple years ago, I bit the bullet and bought myself a coffee grinder and dedicated it solely to herbs and spices (no coffee allowed!). The payoff has been all these super sexy new relationships with herbs I used to think were mundane. Mustard seed! Cumin! Black pepper, for crying out loud! Who knew black pepper had floral notes??
In the case of cinnamon, it's helpful to break up the quills into pieces. Sometimes wedging a table knife into the slits of the quills is the easiest way to break up a tough one.
If I'm being meticulous, I'll wash the grinder between each spice (to avoid contamination of herbs with each other). I've also heard of grinding rice between herbs as a way of "cleaning" the grinder. Do you have any good spice grinder tips?