Real gold fears no fire – Chinese Proverb
El Oro - ‘The Gold’ in English – is the name of the region where our coffee derives. As the name implies, El Oro has a rich tradition of gold mining. Zaruma, a city in El Oro, is where Mercer On Mission stays and where Arturo lives. I have spent most of my time walking the streets of Zaruma and exploring its natural beauty. One of the most popular gold mines in Ecuador, El Sexmo, can be found in the city.
The story behind the name, ‘El Sexmo,’ is interesting:
The mine once produced a 3.5-pound gold nugget, which was given as a gift to the King of Spain. Because the King was so impressed, he reduced the royal tax from one-fifth to one-sixth (‘Sexta’ in Spanish). The mine, from that day forward, became known as El Sexmo.
El Sexmo would go on to become the second most productive mine during the Spanish colonial era. However, production became the burden of the indigenous people. Workers would be sent underground, into the mines, to dig for gold. The workers would never be allowed to the surface; they were forced to work until they died…
Today, 500 years later, the mining industry still reigns supreme in El Oro. Unskilled workers have two options. Work in the mines for $25 a day or work at a plantation for $20. However, good luck finding a plantation that isn’t 20 miles away, aka a $10 taxi fare. Thus, workers turn to mining, and they never turn back. That is until miners are no longer needed.
Recently, mining engineers in Zaruma decided to detonate a bomb to create a new tunnel underneath the city – hoping to find a new golden resource. But, they miscalculated. A portion of the city collapsed, destroying homes, ruining a school, permanently closing a local market, and killing multiple people.
Zaruma’s mayor halted mining indefinitely. Thousands of workers lost jobs, and government officials no longer received a paycheck – the mining industry subsidized the salaries…
In need of an alternative, the local government of Zaruma reached out to Mercer University, asking them to explore the feasibility and scalability of a new industry: coffee. As the story goes, a year later, I sat in the mayor’s office, telling him my plan to establish cooperatives in El Oro, which will allow farmers to sell on a global scale. I told him that I will initially raise awareness of the quality of El Oro’s coffee through a company named Z Beans. The Z will stand for Zaruma. But, Z Beans will stand for commitment. A commitment to not run from Zaruma’s mining past, but to embrace it. A commitment to simply mine for a new type of gold: Oro Liquido – “Liquid Gold.”
To embrace this, at Z Beans, we have decided to change our packaging. From this day forward, our inside 'sealed-for-freshness' bag, will be colored gold. While the people of El Oro are a product of their past, they no longer need to be a prisoner of it. It's time to move forward. It's time for Oro Liquido.