Back to the Grind

Coffee had been in the blood of the Alvarado family for five generations, until Nicaragua decided it shouldn’t be. During the country’s Contra War in the 1980s, the government seized the family’s coffee farm—giving the clan little choice but to flee to America and settle in Austin. Now, years later, they’ve picked up where they left off.

Three years ago the family launched El Talisman Coffee Co., named after the family farm they’d lost. “It’s a way to honor my grandfather and his grandfather before him,” says Fernando, who works with parents, Yuri and Johanna, and sister, also Johanna, on the new venture. “[El Talisman] is also a symbol for good luck.”

Indeed, fortune has come back around to favor the family, who bought new land in Nicaragua and returned to work the brand-new El Talisman farm. Not that the process has been easy—having been gone for years, Fernando’s parents barely recognized the country when they returned. “It’s not the same place my parents were raised in,” says Fernando, who still lives in Austin with his sister but travels back and forth to help with the harvest.

With support from Fernando’s grandfather, also a coffee farmer, they found land suitable for growing coffee and got to work. Back in Austin, Fernando taught himself how to roast coffee beans—experimenting with a hand-crank popcorn popper at first until he got it right. The family started selling their dark- and medium-roast coffees—both whole-bean and ground—at the Barton Creek Farmers Market last year and hope to expand into retail stores and possibly even a coffee truck soon.

Though the Alvarados have mostly focused on building El Talisman, they plan to eventually help Nicaraguans on a deeper level by opening an orphanage and home for the elderly and disabled on their farm. In the more immediate future, they’re working on importing the coffee of their fellow farmers in Nicaragua through direct-trade, as opposed to fair-trade. “Through fair-trade, importers choose the farmers they want to work with and tell them the price they’ll pay them,” says Fernando. “We’re telling farmers to decide their own prices. The farmer does 70 percent of the work and the roaster makes more money for 12 minutes of work. It would be great to switch the system a bit and compensate farmers more.”

By Steve Wilson. For more, visit or call 512-809-5762.