Bangladesh Artisans

“Face-to-face, transparent relationships with producers is the only context in which Fair Trade can flourish.”

-Stacey Toews, co-founder, Level Ground Trading.

We think our coffee tastes amazing. Whether it’s Tanzanian, Colombian or Ethiopian, we know that a cup of coffee made with beans bought at Ten Thousand Villages is going to be outstanding. And we know this from experience. If you’ve bought coffee from us in Canada anytime in the last 20 years, you’ll have bought some of the best beans in the business.

In 1997, Level Ground Trading was started by four families who wanted to come together to improve the lives of disadvantaged producers through trade. They wanted to make a difference. And they looked to Ten Thousand Villages for inspiration.

Hugo Ciro, co-founder and co-owner of Level Ground, was introduced to the difference that fair trade can make while volunteering for Ten Thousand Villages, then called Self Help Crafts. In the warehouse in Abbotsford, Hugo saw that when people came together to do good, they could make a real impact. It’s an experience that moved Hugo, so when his family came together with three others, he knew how they should proceed.

By 1998, Level Ground had secured a partnership with farmers in Colombia, and had bought, shipped, roasted, and packaged their first run of coffee. As soon as they were ready, Ten Thousand Villages came knocking. In fact, Ten Thousand Villages was Level Ground’s very first customer!

Level Ground has maintained their connection to Colombia, but have grown considerably since then. They now import coffee from Bolivia, Peru, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and the D.R. Congo, and have expanded into tea from India, rice and coconut oil from the Philippines, spices from Sri Lanka, vanilla from Uganda, dried fruit, and sugar.

Each relationship that Level Ground has is built with the intention to last. They believe, as we do, that long term fair trading relationships are the best way to make real change. It’s also the best way to ensure top quality products.

Transparency and accountability also set Level Ground apart. They publish the financial details of every bulk purchase they make from producers, detailing the ‘conventional’ price at the time of purchase, the fair trade price paid, the fair trade premium paid, and more.

Level Ground also invests in social programs in farmers’ communities through Fair Trade Premiums. The recipient communities use these premiums to invest in educational scholarships, health care and economic development.

Level Ground takes the fair trade relationship even further than most other fair trade coffee companies. Each business relationship that Level Ground maintains is also a personal one. A farm co-operative working with Level Ground doesn’t deal with a faceless offshore corporation. On the contrary, Level Ground’s owners make a point of visiting with producers to understand their unique situations and opportunities. As they’re fond of saying, “We shake the hands that farm the land.”

“But wait,” you’re thinking, “I thought we were talking about Ten Thousand Villages’ coffee.”

The truth is, we are. For many years, every bag of coffee in Canada with the Ten Thousand Villages logo on it has also carried the Level Ground Trading logo. We trust this organization that’s founded on the same principles as we are to maintain positive relationships with farmers, trade fairly, ethically, and environmentally, and roast the very best beans they can find.

For pushing the boundaries of environmental stewardship, transparency, accountability and flavour, we tip our hats to Level Ground Trading, and look forward to the next 20 years of partnership.

Is there anything as disappointing as bad coffee?

Maybe you’ve been there: it’s the afternoon, and your morning buzz is long gone. Five o’clock is still hours away, but you need something to keep you focused on that deadline – so you fill your cup with whatever is left in the pot from this morning’s brew. Unsurprisingly, it’s stale, sour, and burnt-tasting. In a word: horrible. And no one deserves that.

While fresh coffee is undeniably superior to stale coffee, there are a lot of factors to keep in balance when you’re trying to brew the perfect cup. There’s a lot more to making a full-flavoured cup of coffee than meets the eye.

Growing

It all starts with the plant. Most coffee drinkers now know that there are two primary species of coffee plant – Arabica and Robusta – and that specialty coffee is almost exclusively Arabica. Arabica beans are much more pleasantly flavoured and have a lower amount of caffeine than Robusta. Almost 100% of the Fair Trade coffee beans sold are Arabica beans.

As any gardener knows, plants are delicate, and respond to whatever is happening in their environments. When you plant tulips in the shade, they take longer to bloom. If the soil is low in nutrients, the plants suffer. Coffee plants are the same. The best coffees are grown at high altitudes. This allows each plant to grow slowly, producing a dense bean with complex flavours.

Coffee growers experience years when the product isn’t up to standards. More or less rain than usual, unseasonable temperatures, disease, and other factors can lead to changes in the yield and character of every year’s crop. Most of the time, this isn’t a bad thing, and true connoisseurs are even known to seek out specific crops from regions around the world in search of exotic flavor notes.

Coffee from Level Ground is grown in South America and Africa, exclusively at high altitudes. Some places, like Bolivia and Peru, see very consistently flavoured crops, year in and year out. Others, like Tanzania and Congo, can see big fluctuations in flavour profile year to year.

Roasting

It’s important to trust whoever is in charge of roasting your coffee. Roasting coffee beans is, in some ways, like cooking a steak: there’s a very narrow window where the roasting (or ‘cooking’) time perfectly complements the bean. Too little, and the coffee can taste thin and acidic, too much, and you end up with coffee that tastes like charcoal! Like cooking, it’s as much an art as it is a science.

At Level Ground, they adjust their roast for every new shipment of beans. Every tiny adjustment affects the flavour of the final cup of coffee, and it can often take a dozen experiments to find the best roast for a particular crop. The attention to detail and pursuit of quality is what makes Level Ground coffee so spectacular – and it’s why we trust them to roast the coffee with our name on it.

Grinding

Grinding the coffee is the first chance you have, as a coffee drinker, to make your coffee better. By grinding the beans, you’re unlocking all the flavour compounds stored within the bean and making them available to be extracted.

Lots of people buy pre-ground coffee, and for good reasons – it’s convenient and consistent. The issue with pre-ground coffee is that it quickly loses flavour. If you are choosing pre-ground coffee, store it in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. This helps keep the grinds fresh for as long as possible.

If you do grind your own beans, take the time to figure out what grind works for you. The rule of thumb is that the less time the coffee is in contact with water, the smaller the grind. This means if you’re making espresso, you want a very fine grind, while a French press requires coffee ‘chunks’ in comparison.

Beyond that rule of thumb, you can fine tune the grind size if you’re unhappy with the flavour of your coffee. A burr grinder – one that uses two ceramic or metal ‘gears’ to grind the coffee – produces a more uniform grind size and therefore a more uniform extraction of flavour. If you’re finding that the coffee you’re drinking is muddy tasting or lacking clarity, consider investing in a burr grinder.

Brewing

If you’ve done your best to choose high quality coffee, roasted by an expert, ground with precision, you should be home free – but you’re not. To truly perfect a cup of coffee, the brew method matters, too.

The main thing that matters is the ratio. This is where a lot of people get lost. Coffee extraction is a delicate operation, so eyeballing the amount you add will just lead to imprecise results – and that means bad coffee. Coffee experts suggest that unless you’re making espresso, the ideal ratio of water to coffee is around 15:1 to 18:1, by weight. This works out to about 55 grams of coffee for every litre of water. This ratio stays the same whether you’re using a coffeemaker, a French press, or a single cup pour over.

If you’ve perfected the ratio, and time and again are ending up with sour coffee, your equipment may be the culprit. Many countertop automatic coffeemakers heat the coffeepot from the bottom. Even though it’s not a lot of heat, this extra heating after the brewing process can scald the coffee before you’ve even poured your first cup. If you are using an automatic machine that heats from the bottom, the best advice is to serve quickly! As soon as the coffee has finished brewing, get the carafe off the heat and into cups. This will minimize the adverse effects.

Drinking

Now comes the best part.

Contrary to what you might hear, black isn’t best. What you like is best. Add milk, cream, sugar, soy, Splenda, or coconut oil – whatever helps make that cup taste perfect.

Take a moment to enjoy your coffee. We all have days when it’s all we can do to fill our travel mugs before rushing off to work, but whenever you can, take the time, relax, and think about how much care has gone into your drink. From the (fair trade) growers who pick the coffee cherries by hand, high in the mountains of South America or Africa, to Level Ground in Victoria, BC, where the beans are precision-roasted, tested for excellence, and packaged. From there the coffee makes its way to you, for you to honour, delight in, and savour. Isn’t all that worth a few moments in the morning?

In only a few short weeks, university and college students will be packing their bags, hitting the road and saying (tearful – at least on the parents’ side) goodbyes before settling into campus life.

They’ll also be decorating their new dorm rooms.

Recently, dorm décor has become more posh. While some students are still decorating their rooms with anything they can haul off the curb (and, of course, you’ve got to love their reuse-and-recycle style) there’s a new trend toward shelling out for shiny, new and perfectly designed dorm decor.

According to the National Retail Federation’s annual survey conducted in the U.S., college consumers planned to spend a whopping $6.23 billion on dorm furnishings, or an average of $114.21 per person in 2016. Big box stores have even been known to remain open well into the night to accommodate the surge of first year students trying to stock up on lamps, bedding, knick-knacks and toiletries. The trend is coming north too.

Luckily there’s a middle ground between curbside finds and blowing a budget at a big box store. By decorating with fair trade items, not only will students avoid big September crowds, they’ll avoid cookie-cutter décor, own pieces that are meant to last – and show new friends that they’re living their values.

stuffed pink elephant and pencil crayon picture frameAre you the kind of person whose eye is drawn to eye-catching colours, textures, and patterns?  Do you avoid drab spaces? Are you tired of homes where every piece of furniture looks like it was assembled with a tiny Allen key?

If this sounds like you, you’ve almost inevitably had the experience of falling in love with a dazzling piece in a store, buying it, and bringing it home – only to realize there’s nowhere in your home to properly show off your new prize.

The truth is that getting ‘mismatched’ pieces to fit together is not easy. This is why eclectic home décor is such a challenge – it’s also who so many people love designing this way. When an eclectically designed room comes together with the right balance, it can seem like magic.

Images that helped inspire the summer collection from Ten Thousand Villages Canada.

Fibre into fabric. People into relationships.

The crossing of threads becomes a crossing of paths,

Forever intertwined, connected to community.

A year ago, when Purchasing Director Kristen Fromm was beginning to build the 2017 summer collection, there was not yet a clear direction for the release. The lines and few images above, from the team that builds collections in the US, was the only starting point.

There’s something special about a handcrafted tablecloth. Whether hand loomed, printed, or embroidered, each one carries personal touches. There are always tiny imperfections – imperceptible to anyone but the maker and you– that reinforce the ties between your purchase and the life of the person who made the piece. It’s a special thing.

But if you’re not the kind of person who uses a tablecloth every day, you may be wondering what you’re going to do with the tablecloth outside of hosting a fancy meal a few times a year. Is it worth the investment, even when they’re a fantastic price?

We think so – and we’ve pulled together five awesome ways to use your tablecloth, even if you’re more inclined to show off the grain in your live edge table.

  1. Picnic In The Grass

Oh, Canada. Our country turns 150 this coming weekend and communities from coast to coast are planning to throw the ultimate bash.

But fireworks and festive frivolity aren’t the only ways to celebrate the Big-150. Considering this country provides everything from white sand beaches and pastel sunsets, to swaying wheat fields and staggering rugged mountain views, perhaps one of the most Canadian ways to celebrate is to head outdoors to marvel at it all. So should you decide to plant your umbrella, lace up your comfortable shoes or grab a paddle? Here are seven family-friendly activity ideas to add Canada Day spark to your summer.

The sound of hammers on metal reverberates around the Croix-des-Bouquets neighbourhood of Haiti’s sprawling capital Port-au-Prince. Hundreds of makers, mostly men, are continuing the tradition of a uniquely Haitian art form, one that is helping families plan for the future.

Every day, decommissioned oil drums are brought from the port to Croix-des-Bouquets. The drums arrive full of oil, which is sold at the port. Deemed too expensive to ship back empty to their countries of origin, the drums are discarded by the shipping companies, but they don’t go to waste.

The barrels are brought 10 kilometers from the port to Croix-des-Bouquets. Some are brought by hand. Others ride on the roof of taxis. Eventually, they make it to metal shops, where skilled makers do something extraordinary with a hammer and chisel.

Fer-de-coupe, what we call Haitian cut metal, almost never made it off the island. The first known cut metal in this unique style was practiced by a Haitian blacksmith named Georges Liautaud, whose work making metal crosses for the communal cemetery impressed visiting American artist DeWitt Peters, sometime around World War Two. Encouraged by the American, Liautaud began breaking down fuel cans, drawing freehand designs on the flattened metal in chalk, and then cutting and hammering the material to give it three-dimensionality.

As Liautaud’s work began being featured in museums around the world, he gained disciples at home, eager to learn how to transform trash into something that could be featured in art galleries. These disciples developed into a community of artists, a community that remains active today.

In 1972, the Comité Artisanal Haïtien (CAH), a non-profit co-operative, was formed to reduce competition between makers to help artisans earn the income they deserved. Today the organization represents more than 200 makers.

In Haiti, the unemployment rate is near 40%. This means that most of the makers with CAH produce metal art as a primary income. Many are their family’s sole income providers.

One such provider is Bouchard Jean Roosevelt. Bouchard is 40, and has been working in a Fer-de-coupe workshop for the past 20 years. He began outside of CAH, making copies of other designs, before apprenticing with one of the craft’s great teachers, Hubert Bernard.

Bouchard told us, ‘Before I worked with Hubert….I was not making much money. Once I trusted myself enough to create my own pieces, I realized I could make it on my own. Now, I have my own workshop that helps me make enough money to take care of my family and my workers.’

Thanks to CAH’s fair trade programs, Bouchard is able to send his children to school. School is technically free in Haiti, but in reality only about 40% of Haitian children can afford to attend.

In the evenings, Bouchard likes playing soccer, and spending time with his family.

As Father’s Day approaches, we’re thinking about the makers in Haiti, who with ingenuity and drive have pursued excellence in their craft. Thanks to his partnership with CAH, and their partnership with Ten Thousand Villages, Bouchard has built a business that thrives. This is the world that fair trade envisions: one where people like Bouchard can turn drive, skill, and heart into a bright future for their families.

It’s a warm morning in Lakhmipur in lower Assam, India, and Gobin Hazarika is wandering between his tea bushes, bending down to check for pests and insects. Everything is under control.

An organic operation, Hazarika keeps the pests at bay by planting Neem trees among the plants or burning tobacco leaves on his two-acre Meen Mohan Tea Estate.

Father’s Day is coming, and we have a hunch that you haven’t gotten around to finding a gift yet. Cheer up – you’re not alone! If there’s one thing that everyone who has worked in a Ten Thousand Villages can agree on, it’s that Dads are notoriously hard to buy for. As Father’s Day approaches, we thought we’d give you a head start, and suggest six of our most popular gifts for Dad.