Tag Archives: Fair Trade

Ten Thousand Villages empowers local artisans from around the world through my favorite hobby: shopping!

Last Friday morning, Chris and I really needed to find gifts for our moms for Mother’s Day. Chris’ mom’s birthday is actually May 8th, so he was in double need of shopping. On our way south to the Greenbelt, we decided to check out one of my favorite stores, Ten Thousand Villages, located on South Congress. With the weather warming up and our dog Lady in the car, I called ahead to ask if dogs were allowed inside. Their reply? “Of course dogs are allowed. Our policy is that if your dog is happy, then we are happy”. My kind of place!

Ten Thousand Villages stores are actually located throughout North America, selling handmade jewelry, home décor, and gifts, using the fair trade process. By shopping here, customers are supporting thousands of artisans from around the world. In fact, in 2009 Ethisphere Institute and Forbes Magazine voted Ten Thousand Villages one of the “World’s Most Ethical Companies”.

Handmade Arabesque Brass Mirror from Egypt sold at Ten Thousand Villages online

And that’s no surprise, considering that the global fair trade movement skyrocketed thanks to the diligence and vision of Edna Ruth Byler, the founder of Ten Thousand Villages over sixty years ago. After a trip to Puerto Rico where she was exposed to severe poverty, she vowed to find a way to truly help these individuals. With her entrepreneurial spirit, Byler believed that creating a marketplace for the beautiful crafts of these local Puerto Ricans was the answer. Her dream was to build sustainable economic opportunity that would allow their products to thrive. She saw that these local artisans were incredibly talented, and if she could connect them to the market, then they could have a way to improve their life quality themselves. Beginning by selling jewelry out of the trunk of her car, Byler has worked nonstop to empower indigenous and local creativity around the world. She bridged two worlds, working to create a mutually beneficial relationship between them.

Geometric Shesham Wood Puzzle made in India sold at Ten Thousand Villages online

When Chris and I walked in, we were both awed by the all the sights and smells. Everything in the store has a story and speaks to you. From the children’s wooden toys to the hand-painted pottery, nothing in the store is anything but absolutely stunning. Glancing around, I couldn’t help but notice all the items I was placing in my (dream and imaginary) shopping cart. Let’s see, I’ll take that lavender soap and that set of silver champagne flutes. Oh yes, that purse made of sea shells and that hand-woven tapestry. And all the jewelry, please. It is never-ending. Their jewelry selection is bold, yet elegant, and their household decorations are divine. Like a kid at Toys “R” Us, we gawked and ooohed over everything.

Handmade Pearls of the Sea Necklace from Indonesia sold at Ten Thousand Villages online

With a full day ahead, we finally remembered our focus: mamas. I found a peaceful, white mirrored-mosaic picture frame for my mother made in Bali, while Chris found his mother beautiful earrings and a bright coin purse shaped like a kitten. We both bought our moms some soaps from their amazing bath collection.

I could spend endless hours and max out all kinds of cards at Ten Thousand Villages. It’s nice because you can never feel too guilty shopping there when you remember the concept behind it. They have an amazing online selection as well, including gift registry options. If you haven’t visited this store or have a reason to buy someone (or yourself!) a gift, I highly recommend checking it out. The gifts will become even more meaningful knowing that they’re supporting individuals who are finding ways to make a living through art against all odds and hardships. I love how when you make a purchase, the store prints out a history of the item, letting you know exactly where it was made and by what population. There is something quite special about Ten Thousand Villages… not many stores have the ability to connect the world together through shopping.

For a little more information, below is the official vision and mission statements of Ten Thousand Villages.

Our Vision

One day all artisans in the developing countries will earn a fair wage, be treated with dignity and respect and be able to live a life of quality.

Our Mission

Ten Thousand Villages provides vital, fair income to Third World people by marketing their handicrafts and telling their stories in North America. Ten Thousand Villages works with artisans who would otherwise be unemployed or underemployed. This income helps pay for food, education, health care and housing. Ten Thousand Villages is a nonprofit program of Mennonite Central Committee.

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Filed under Local Austin, Pets, Shopping, Social Work

Texas Coffee Traders teaches how to get your tamp on!

Two Sundays ago, I woke up and became obsessed with making the “perfect” espresso.  My quick research showed that perfection involves several elements:

(1) An espresso machine capable of heating the water to temperatures that exceed 215 degrees (Fahrenheit).  The cheaper steam machines, which are sold for under $100, won’t cut it because the water doesn’t get hot enough.  After finding a bargain on Craig’s List, I was set in this department.

(2) Quality espresso beans. I’ve been using “Cuvee” beans, which are made especially for Cafe Medici on 10th and West Lynn.  Since Cafe Medici already makes the “perfect espresso,” I figured that I didn’t need to worry about this category.

(3) A burr coffee grinder with multiple settings. I was okay in this area, too.  According to my research, espresso beans should be finely ground so that the water sifts through the grinds as slowly as possible.  This leads to the water absorbing more of the espresso flavor.  I also learned that bladed coffee grinders can never get the beans ground fine enough for a quality espresso.

(4) A firm and proper tamp.  Now this part was confusing.  Upon further research, I learned that a “tamp” is both a noun and a verb.  “To tamp” means to pack the espresso grounds.  Experts advise that a person use an instrument called a “tamp” to execute this packing.  About 20-30 foot pounds of pressure should be applied.  Needless to say, I had my work cut out for me.

The logical first step in solving my tamping problem seemed to be finding a tamp.  Bed, Bath, and Beyond appeared to be a good choice, since they sell espresso makers and frothing pitchers.  However, the manager informed me that they don’t stock tamps.  He suggested that I try a nearby restaurant supply store, where I was informed that I might have some luck at Texas Coffee Traders.

Located at 1400 East 4th St., Texas Coffee Traders has the appearance of an abandoned warehouse from the outside.  But the interior is a coffee-lover’s paradise.  A selection of over 40 types of imported beans lines one wall, while another section is devoted to coffee-making paraphernalia, including: TAMPS!   One of the proprietors, R.C., began teaching me the intricacies of tamp selection.  These tamps ranged in price from $10 to $130, with the more expensive ones featuring upgrades that were both aesethetic (a leather handle) and functional (a spring load that creates the exact same amount of packing pressure every time).  R.C. explained that the spring-loaded tamp is necessary at his shop because each of his baristas might apply a slightly different amount of tamping pressure, which would lead to the espresso flavor varying.  Since his goal is to develop a reputation for consistently high quality espresso, that’s only possible if each barista uses the same tamping pressure.

After providing me with a delicious complimentary espresso, R.C. demonstrated how to properly tamp. Basically, you hold the tamp against the grounds, and then apply downward pressure while twisting in a one-quarter motion.  To achieve 30 foot-pounds of pressure, the barista needs to put a little bit of weight into the pressure application.

R.C. also demonstrated how the length of time that the water drips into the espresso grounds results in differing strengths of espresso (for example, pulling a low amount of water leads to a bold espresso, while pulling larger-sized drinks will lead to a weaker flavor).  He then opened various boxes of beans to share the unique aromas from the many coffee-producing regions.

I’ll definitely be going back to Texas Coffee Traders whenever I need coffee materials or advice.  As R.C. suggested, once I get my personal tamping technique down, I may need to stylize by upgrading to one with a leather handle…

-Chris

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