The Coffee Roaster’s Story
Michael LeDonna grew up in an Italian-American family in Brooklyn, New York. Coffee played an important part in all the extended family gatherings. It started with “American” percolator coffee served with cake after dinner, and ended after midnight, with Medaglia d’Oro espresso roast, made in a Neapolitan cafeteria stove-top pot, and served with Italian pastries and cookies.
“I always looked forward to these times, when the family shouted their conversations across the long table while drinking coffee into the early morning hours,” Michael says.
As a teenager, Michael traveled to lower Manhattan for high school, and soon discovered the coffee houses of Little Italy and Greenwich Village. He also discovered the few exotic shops that sold “gourmet coffees,” fascinated by the idea that coffees from different areas of the world could taste significantly dissimilar and could be blended and roasted for different tastes.
One day he bought a quarter pound of ‘Tip of the Andes,’ brought it home and drank it, and fell in love with specialty coffees.
“I have been trying to re-create that experience in my 40+ years of roasting. When it happens, it’s always a joy. The rest of the time, the promise of a potentially peak coffee experience drives my roasting, blending, and brewing.”
In 1985, Michael bought his first 12 Kilo Dietrich Coffee Roaster and within a week burned several batches of coffee and had a roaster fire. In those days, there was no training available.
He asked roasters, suppliers, and anyone he could talk to in the coffee industry for roasting information and got the universal response, “Learn like we did—on the job!” So he did!
Later, the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) was started, and they provided information to roasters and coffee house owners.