Mortar and pestle
Our mortar and pestle is used for almost every meal — for black pepper and other spices; or for making pastes of garlic, ginger, chilis, or black beans. Because it’s so heavy, it also makes a handy weight. If you’re using freshly ground spices (and you should), a mortar and pestle is extremely convenient (or you could use an electric grinder). There are a few things you should keep in mind when you’re looking for one, though.
A quick story — one of my (BRF) first times using a mortar and pestle was right after moving to Australia. Together with my new PhD supervisor, we were cooking a big Indian meal. He had a small, ceramic mortar and pestle, and put me in charge of grinding the spices. It took 3 hours. The cumin and the cardamom weren’t that hard. But I’ve never even attempted to grind cinnamon by hand, ever again.
The food was spectacularly good, though. Fortunately. But I’d use an electric grinder for the cinnamon, that’s for sure.
Bigger really is better: Most of the hard work of grinding is done for you, with a pestle so big and heavy. Also, the bowl to the mortar is so large that you’re less liable to knock spices all around the kitchen.
Materials matter: Wood is nice, but you don’t have the weight of the pestle to do the grinding for you. Ceramic is nice, too — but make sure that the bottom of the pestle, and the inside of the bowl, are not polished. Rough surfaces make it much easier to grind spices.
I’ve always been able to find a suitable mortar and pestle in Asian supermarkets (Thai, or Indian especially). You can find electric grinders anywhere.