A Day On Don Eduardo’s Coffee Farm
“In 1890, when my great-grandfather died, my family found that he’d left a letter. Instructions with the letter indicated, first, that our family finca and this hacienda where we’re standing now should remain in our family. My great-grandfather had built this, the Zapata family home, and he was very concerned that it remain the Zapata family home.
“Second, the instructions indicated that the letter should be guarded carefully and opened only in 100 years.”
Speaking was Don Eduardo Zapata, host for our day in the country last Thursday, when we and some of our conference-goers from last week’s event toured one of the working coffee plantations in the hills surrounding Medellin, Colombia. Don Eduardo continued:
“In 1990, we Zapatas gathered here at our hacienda to open the letter, which read:
“‘I hope you have followed my wishes and kept the Zapata family home in the family. If that is the case and if any member of the family today is named for me, then the plantation and the hacienda are his.’
“My great-grandfather’s name was Eduardo,” Don Eduardo continued. “So the finca was mine.
“My great-grandfather made one more stipulation. He asked that, if there were a family member named Eduardo to inherit the place, the heir go to school to study how to make a business success of the plantation while, at the same time, doing something to help the people of Colombia and, especially, of this area.
“I did as my great-grandfather Eduardo had asked. I went to school. I studied hospitality,” Don Eduardo continued, “because I recognized that the coffee industry in Colombia is in crisis. I knew that I needed to find a new way to earn money for my family. Now I have opened our family’s home to visitors to this region who want to experience what it’s like to live on a coffee plantation.”
Don Eduardo, 70-something and larger-than-life, with a wide-brimmed hat and a wide, ready smile, proceeded to lead our group on a tour of his hacienda and of his finca. With the help of his plantation manager, Marco, he showed us how Colombian coffee cherries are picked by hand. Then he showed us how the outer casings of the cherries are removed to expose the beans inside. Then these beans are washed and filtered through an irrigation system that is as old as the hacienda and powered by gravity. The beans, separated according to size and quality, are then spread out on a wooden bed to dry in the sun.
“The sun gives the beans energy,” Don Eduardo explained. “There are other ways to dry coffee beans, but none is as effective as allowing the beans to soak up energy from the sun.”
Our tour ended in Don Eduardo’s fonda. Every finca in Colombia would have one, Don Eduardo explained to us.
The fonda is a family bar. Don Eduardo’s is like something out of the Old West. Above the wooden bar, from behind which Don Eduardo poured us all shots of the local firewater, aguardiente, hangs an old colonial-style door, suspended from the ceiling with rope.
“The door,” Don Eduardo explained, “was a place to keep meat, cheese, and milk in the days before refrigerators. Animals couldn’t get up there to eat our stores.
“The door also,” Don Eduardo continued, “was a place to keep a gun. Sometimes outlaws might come by. They’d come in to the fonda looking for a drink and for whatever else they could take. ‘Hands up!’ they’d shout. We’d put our hands up, just behind the door hanging overhead. Then we’d grab the gun hidden there and take our hands down shooting.
“Well, I never had to do it,” Don Eduardo assured us. “But it was not uncommon, years ago…
“These fondas were very important,” Don Eduardo continued. “Important in the history and the development of Colombia. In these small family bars across this country, much business was discussed. Many deals were done and many marriages agreed.
I don’t know if any unions, professional or otherwise, were agreed during our visit to Don Eduardo’s fonda. But I can report that our group polished off four bottles of aguardiente, whileDon Eduardo delighted us with stories of the old days…
P.S. We took photos of Don Eduardo, his hacienda, his coffee plantation, and his fonda…which we’ve posted to our facebook page. Go here to have a look.