Behind the Beans

The Coffee Roasters of the Lebanon Valley

For many of us, coffee is an essential part of our day, a step in our daily routine as predictable as brushing our teeth. But, just like your aunt at the dinner table asking if you really know where your food comes from, we beg the question, “do you know where your coffee comes from?”

Well, if you’re drinking a cup of joe from a coffee shop in the Lebanon Valley, it’s likely that your coffee was roasted here as well!

    What’s the difference between a coffee roaster and a coffee shop?

    Simply put, a coffee roaster is the person who transforms green coffee beans into the familiar brown coffee beans that can be ground and brewed. Often, these beans come from the “Bean Belt,” an area that includes parts of Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

    A coffee shop then sells the final product of these coffee beans, whether that be in bean-form, grounds-form, or Macchiato with two shots of espresso and room for cream-form.

     Meet Your Coffee Roasters

    East Indies has been roasting some of the world’s finest coffee for over 45 years. Entrepreneur and founder of East Indies, Walter Progner, spent much of his life traveling the world with his wife, Mim, in search of the highest quality teas and coffees. Mim, who continued the business after Walter’s passing, even became one of the world’s leading and most passionate authorities on tea. Not to mention, before her marriage to Walter, Mim had a professional career that included studying under famed chef Julia Child. And though Mim has since passed as well, East Indies is still a known roaster across the county, the country, and the globe.

    East Indies roasts their coffee beans in small batches with a commitment to producing specialty coffee that is consistently fresh and flavorful. And while you may think we’re calling it specialty coffee just because it tastes good, we’re not! It’s a real coffee designation.

    East Indies Coffee can be found at these Java locations: The Caffeination Station, Whirling Dervish Bakery & Coffee Shop, Timeless Café

    What is Specialty Coffee?

    According to the Specialty Coffee Association (yes, it’s a real thing and a real big thing too) “Specialty coffee is a coffee or coffee experience recognized for its distinctive attributes, and because of these attributes, has significant extra value in the marketplace.” There’s even a scale that can only be used by a certified coffee taster to determine whether a coffee qualifies as “specialty”. And unlike college, C’s don’t get degrees here as a score of 80 points or more out of 100 is required for “specialty” designation. Walter Progner, the founder of East Indies, was a founding member of the Specialty Coffee Association of America.

    Cleona Coffee Roasters

    From a way to save money on coffee in 2016 to a coffee roasting business in 2021 to a full-service bean-to-brew coffee shop in November of 2023, Cleona Coffee Roasters has truly grown from the ground (grounds?) up. Matt Zechman, the founder, owner, and operator of Cleona Coffee Roasters, had just graduated from high school back in 2016 when he was working as an EMT. Paired with a coworker who had quite the affinity for Dunkin’ runs (they’re contagious!), Matt found himself tagging along and was quickly hooked. Eventually, Matt started to look for a way to save money on coffee and thus began his coffee roasting journey.

    First it was a smattering of coffee gadgets at home: an AeroPress, a Chemex, a cheap hand grinder, among others. Then, after enlisting in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, it was being the “coffee guy” at army functions. Even while deployed in Afghanistan, Matt and a friend set up their own brewing company and he continued to study all he could about coffee. And finally, once back in the states, Matt took the dive into roasting…

    After his first attempt at roasting over the stove didn’t exactly pan out, Matt turned to a popcorn popper. But that burnt up after two roasts. Thankfully, he didn’t stop with the popcorn popper, and soon Matt began to find real success with his coffee roasting. After buying a 1.5 kg roaster in March of 2021, forming an LLC two months later, and completing his limited food establishment license that November, Cleona Coffee Roasters was up and running as a coffee roasting business.

    From there, Matt’s success has only continued, with his very own Cleona Coffee Roasters Coffee Shop opening in November of 2023. At the coffee shop, Matt brews his own coffee and sells local goods, bringing his roasting full circle from bean to beverage, all just minutes down the road from his hometown of Cleona.

    And despite the hours spent roasting, brewing, and selling his own coffee, Matt still finds time to serve the community as a part-time advanced EMT and a volunteer with the Annville Cleona Fire Department.

    Matt roasts-to-order every week, so while you may have to wait a week for your online order, each bag is guaranteed to be fresh. Cleona Coffee can be purchased online, across the Lebanon Valley, throughout neighboring counties, and at the coffee shop, located in 911 Rapid Response at 700 West Main Street, Annville, PA 17003.

    Cleona Coffee Roasters can be found at these Java locations: Whirling Dervish Bakery & Coffee Shop

    Sonder Coffee Company

    If you know the Java Journey, you’re probably pretty familiar with Swatara Coffee and Ancestor Coffeehouse. But behind these local favorites is a lesser known, yet just as essential name: Sonder Coffee Company.

    Just like Matt Zechman with Cleona Coffee Roasters, the start of Sonder Coffee Company involved a popcorn popper and a love for coffee. Before she ever encountered a coffee roaster, Ally Tumminaro found herself on her parents’ deck using a popcorn popper to roast coffee beans. And though the process was full of fun for Ally, the machine could only take so much before burning out. From there, Ally moved on to a one-pound French Roast air roaster with which came more fun and more coffee.

    Before long, Ally was convincing her father, Rick Stammel, that she was ready to go big time with the coffee roasting. And thankfully for Ally, and all coffee lovers in the Lebanon Valley, Rick was swayed, “It didn’t take long to convince him—corporate life is irritating and stressful. Coffee roasting is certainly not,” writes Ally on the Sonder Coffee website.

    The two were then off to Ponderay, Idaho for coffee roasting classes and it was at these classes that they learned and tried their hand at coffee roasting on a proper 10-pound roaster. The result? Ally and Rick bought their first roaster on the spot.

    Back in the Lebanon Valley, Ally and Rick got to work on Blue, as the roaster would become known, and began the process of finding their blend. And through a process that would make any cardiologist cringe, Ally and Rick eventually came to create their perfect blend, albeit shaky and dehydrated.

    That perfect blend is now the Ancestor House Blend, a marriage of nutty and malty Nicaraguan beans, and citrus-forward Colombian beans, which come together for a bright and robust coffee.

    With their new roaster and blend on hand, Ally and Rick began selling their coffee at the Red Canoe General Store in 2017. Two years later, they opened their first coffee shop, Ancestor Coffeehouse & Crêperie, in Cornwall. Then, after the Red Canoe closed their doors in 2019, Ally and Rick seized the opportunity and opened their Campbelltown Ancestor location in the space that was left in 2020.

    But even after two locations, things kept brewing for Ally and Rick and in early 2023, they acquired both Swatara Coffee Company locations. And though each of their locations has its own special feel, Sonder Coffee Company remains at the core of all four coffee shops.

    Today, Blue still roasts all of the coffee for Sonder Coffee Company. You can even pay her a visit at the Campbelltown Ancestor location… and maybe, accidentally, end up with a crêpe too.

    Sonder Coffee Company can be found at these Java locations: Ancestor Coffeehouse & Crêperie (Campbelltown and Cornwall), Swatara Coffee Company (Annville and Jonestown), and Whirling Dervish Bakery & Coffee Shop

    Sydney Roasting Company and Kitty Town Coffee

    It all started with a cat, a couple, and wait til’ you hear this, a popcorn popper. For Zanetta and Kenny Kok, those were the humble beginnings of what has become two thriving coffee roasting companies: Kitty Town Coffee and Sydney Roasting Company.

    Back in 2016, Zanetta began experimenting with roasting coffee in none other than a popcorn popper. As a former barista at a few local coffee shops (hello Timeless Café!), Zanetta found herself fascinated with the idea of transforming raw materials into a product that people could enjoy. Doing just that with coffee beans in a popcorn popper, Zanetta soon had friends enjoying a cup when they came over for dinner, and before long, they were calling with orders. But it wasn’t until Zanetta’s beloved cat, Sydney, suddenly passed away that her thoughts of launching a coffee roasting company turned into plans.

    First it was Kitty Town Coffee. Though they don’t consider themselves crazy cat people, Zanetta and Kenny named the company in honor of their feline friends (in fact, each coffee blend even has a cat’s namesake). But it’s not just the Kok’s cats being celebrated, the name also ties into a greater cause: for each bag of Kitty Town Coffee sold, a donation is made to a shelter in the amount that it takes to feed a cat for a week. These donations are sent to shelters across the country, with a different shelter benefiting each month.

    And while they specialize in roasting a smooth cup of joe, things were not always so smooth for Kitty Town. At the start of their business in 2017, Zanetta and Kenny had to turn back to the popcorn poppers to roast their coffee as the orders came in faster than their roaster, which got delayed in the shipping process. With a line of popcorn poppers set up, Zanetta and Kenny would run between the machines, with each producing about four ounces every five minutes.

    Today, their roasting procedure is much simpler, taking place in the old Bethlehem Steel building with two roasters that process about 25 pounds of coffee beans every 15 minutes. But though the roasters are surely easier than running 20 popcorn poppers at once, the Kok’s remain scientific in their coffee making approach, creating a lighter coffee than most roasters to ensure that the natural flavors of the beans are not burnt in the process.

    Just three years after starting Kitty Town, the Kok’s moved forward with a second coffee roasting brand: Sydney Roasting Company. Also named in honor of their feline friends, this one an ode to Zanetta’s late Sydney, Sydney Roasting Company got brewing in the second half of 2020 with the launch of an online store. Then, just five months later, the Kok’s opened their first café in Downtown Lebanon. And though they’ve since moved to a new location on Quentin Road, the café is still true to the Kok’s original mission of providing a place where people can grab a cup before work or stop by after for an evening pick-me-up.

    Order a bag from Kitty Town or walk into Sydney Coffee Co. and you’ll find the Kok’s mission in each sip and every visit… “We are crazy about creating the freshest and most delicious coffee, we just don’t feel the need to be pretentious about it.” (

    Both Kitty Town and Sydney Coffee can be found at these Java Locations: Sydney Coffee Company.

    Fat Puppy Coffee Roasters

    For all the dog lovers still reading after hearing about Kitty Town, we’ve got a T-R-E-A-T for you: Fat Puppy Coffee Roasters. Located in Myerstown, this family-owned coffee roaster has been brewing up “man’s best friend in a cup” for over 10 years.

    Proprietor and roaster Sean Firestine began roasting coffee as a hobby back in 2008. Working in a full-time position for the state in information technology, Sean predicted resistance when he presented to the idea of starting a wholesale roasting company to his wife, Jen. But despite knowing little about the coffee roasting process, Jen, who was also working at the time, met Sean’s idea with enthusiasm (she has since become the taste-tester for the company… and we’re not jealous at all.). So, with three kids (now four) and two full-time jobs, the Firestines began roasting and selling coffee out of their detached garage. Central to that operation was the family’s English bulldog, Roxy, who would greet customers as they sampled and purchased coffee. Roxy’s nickname? Fat Puppy.

    And though the name “Fat Puppy” may not depict artisan coffee, Fat Puppy Coffee Roasters is classified as a small batch artisan roaster according to industry standards. For Sean, this means not only sourcing the best specialty grade coffee beans from around the world but also roasting these beans carefully to bring out their unique personalities. Additionally, Sean roasts multiple times per week to ensure that each order is fresh.

    Fat Puppy Coffee can be purchased online from the company’s website, or on Saturdays at 113 East Main Ave in Myerstown, from 8 a.m. – 12 p.m.

    Fat Puppy Coffee can be found at these Java Journey Locations: Baked Sweet Coffeehouse & Bakery

    Join the Journey!

    Sure, we’re probably best known as the home of Lebanon Bologna… but clearly the Valley has got something going on when it comes to coffee roasting too. Taste for yourself this year on the fifth annual Java Journey, happening January 11th through March 9th. Click anywhere in this box to learn more!

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