DIY Coffee, Sugar, and Spice Grinders

The other day, my lovely friend Moe posted a picture of an interesting product she found on the shelves at Trader Joe's--their "Sugar, Chocolate, and Coffee Bean Grinder." It was a little plastic pepper mill filled with coffee beans, bits of chocolate, and sugar meant for grinding over coffee or other foods. Pretty great idea, she commented, but would be better with perhaps a little bit of salt added.

As soon as I saw the post on her page I realized that this would be SUCH a great (and very easy) item to make at home rather inexpensively. It would be a great and totally unique gift idea, and would also lead to some fun experimentation to see what other foods and beverages would benefit from a little sprinkle.

And so I present to you my DIY Flavor Grinders (or "Sugar and Spice Grinders")--inexpensive pepper mills (I found these at Target for $7, but you could probably find them even cheaper elsewhere, or use ones you already have at home!) filled with a mixture of espresso beans, cacao nibs, raw sugar, coarse sea salt, and crushed cinnamon sticks. They take just a couple minutes to assemble, and you can then start experimenting by grinding them over fun treats.

Need some ideas? Try grinding these over:
  • buttered toast (like cinnamon toast to the 10th degree!)
  • oatmeal or cream of wheat
  • ice cream
  • yogurt
  • buttered popcorn (one of my favorites!)
  • coffee
  • hot chocolate or cocoa
  • steamed milk
  • cocktails like eggnog, coquito, white russians, hot toddy, etc.
  • fresh ginger tea
  • a bowl of cereal or granola and milk
  • warm chocolate cake  
  • brownies
  • a peanut butter sandwich
  • sliced fruit like bananas or pears
  • apple pie
  • cinnamon buns and/or coffee cake
  • vanilla cupcakes
  • and more!
These keep really well for months, and can be customized to your liking. Substitute any of the ingredients for other whole spices or flavors you like. Some alternatives include: dried coconut flakes, star anise, cardamom pods, dried ginger, dried orange or lemon peel, crushed red pepper or even black pepper for a bit of heat, etc. I would avoid using vanilla beans as they are too moist and would cause the other ingredients to cake up.

This would be a great project to make with kids, too! Let me know if you end up trying it out. The recipe is below. I've also included the PDF label below for you if you'd like to make and give these as an easy last-minute holiday gift.

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DIY Flavor Grinders (Coffee, Sugar, and Spice Grinders)
The size of your pepper mill will determine the amount of filling you need. I've provided amounts for a medium sized mill that holds about 1 cup of the spice mix. Multiply as necessary.

5 tablespoons roasted whole coffee beans (use plain or pick out your favorite flavor such as hazelnut or vanilla)
4 cinnamon sticks 
4 tablespoons cacao nibs (available at well-stocked supermarkets like Whole Foods, gourmet markets, or online--can't find them? substitute 3 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder.)
2 rounded tablespoons coarse sea salt
4 tablespoons raw sugar or rock candy sugar
Equipment: 1 new or cleaned, empty pepper mill. It's OK if the mill previously held pepper in it--the coffee will eliminate any pepper flavor.
Combine the coffee beans and cinnamon sticks in a large zipped bag and use a meat tenderizer, rolling pin, or other heavy object a few times to crush coarsley (the coffee beans should break into 2 or 3 pieces and the cinnamon sticks into about 1" slivers). You can also do this with a pestle in a mortar.

Pour coffee and cinnamon in a bowl and add the cacao nibs, coarse sea salt, and raw sugar. Stir well to mix up and combine, then pour into your pepper mill, filling it to the top. Seal and shake to evenly distribute the ingredients inside. Set the pepper mill grinder to the coarsest setting for best results.

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