I could talk to you about my coffee, but no, it’s better if I talk to you about coffee’s history in El Libano. A story about coffee in this part of the state of Tolima, about 120 miles from Bogotá, nestled as the gateway to Los Nevados National Natural Park. Spending a clear morning looking out over the landscape from El Mirador de la Polka is the best way to understand its beauty.
During the first few decades of the 1900s, El Libano was the third largest coffee-producing region in Colombia. Six coffee threshers, four casting molds, four corn threshers and even a chocolate factory, all located within the jungle, at the foothills of the Nevados. The secret to this region’s success might have been that it was a society that wasn’t founded by the spanish or religious conquistadors. Instead, the people who settled here were hardworking explorers from Antioquia who were connecting settlements by mule.
But the important thing here was the coffee and how much it was exported. Germans and Americans would visit the region to conduct business deals and then return home with the best coffee beans. In exchange, they would come with the latest european books and magazines that wouldn’t reach past Bogotá. El Libano ended up with its own printing press, its own magazines. All of this because of the coffee.
Then came the Russian Revolution, and these political and social ideas were quick to arrive in El Libano. They were especially quick to spread in a population that was almost all rural and dissatisfied. Then, around the time of the Great Depression, coffee prices plummeted and Europeans and Americans stopped visiting, causing the town’s economy to collapse. In 1929 the socialist party of Colombia planned to take over the main cities, including El Libano where these ideas were already popular. One day, 300 farmers, many of them coffee growers, came down from the mountains to storm the city. Even though the police were waiting for them, they managed to take control for one day, thinking that the same thing was happening in cities across the country. However, this wasn’t the case. There had been a change of plans, but that telegram announcing the change never arrived in El Libano. The following day, the national troops regained control and the revolution leaders were jailed and tortured.
So it is here, in El Libano, where I now have my coffee plantation: San Luis. I sell my production to Banna Coffee, my friends from Bogotá, and we’re working together to ensure fair prices and social positive impact: well-being for everyone.
Omar is one of the coffee experts who works alongside us, creating some of the best coffee profiles in Colombia and harvesting organic coffee to produce our coffee bars (Eat Coffee).
Author: Carlos Ospina Marulanda
Translation: Daniela Rey
Photography: Ana Gómez