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Donald Schoenholt: A Life Dedicated to Coffee

Welcome to the world of coffee, guided by the exceptional personality of Donald Schoenholt. A master roaster and renowned taster, he has left his mark on the global coffee industry throughout his seven-decade career. Discover the man behind the cup, his legacy, his achievements and his lasting impact.


Donald Schoenholt was raised in the intoxicating aroma of coffee, a passion that has sculpted his destiny. Born into a family dedicated to coffee, he began his journey at the age of 11, learning the subtleties of coffee tasting alongside his father. At 14, he was introduced to the complex art of roasting, heralding the start of an exceptional career.


In 1975, Donald took over the reins of Gillies Coffee Company, founded in 1840. As President and Chief Roaster, he led the company with an innovative vision. He breathed new life into specialty coffee in the United States in the 1970s, bringing worldwide recognition to the American cup.


Donald's adventure goes beyond Gillies. Founder and first President of the Roasters Guild along with being co-founder and first President of the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), he shapes the industry with vision and innovation. He was instrumental in the development of the Specialty Coffee Traders' Green Coffee Contract, participated in the SCAA's first strategic planning committees, and was among the founding members of the SCAA Green Coffee Arbitration Panel. In response to the $465,000 theft from the SCAA, Donald spearheaded the "SCAA First Responders" initiative, raising a quarter of a million dollars to ensure the organization's very survival. 

He has also contributed to governments, the United Nations, the World Bank, the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, private companies, NGOs, museums, educational institutions and the media.


Donald's list of honors is a majestic succession, reflecting his exceptional influence in the coffee industry. Among these honors is the Drachman Award for Coffee Excellence, a well-deserved recognition of his outstanding contributions. In 2004, Gourmet Retailer Magazine also named him one of the 25 most influential people in the coffee industry, underlining his major role in setting standards and trends. His knowledge and professional integrity have been recognized in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Tokyo Shimbun, The Times of London and other prestigious press reviews. His title of Tea and Coffee Personality of the Year in 1998 attests to his impact beyond coffee, highlighting his distinctive presence. Donald was also recognized with the Specialty Coffee Lifetime Achievement Award, the industry’s highest honor. These distinctions reflect not only his mastery of coffee as a roaster emeritus, but also his global influence in coffee culture. These awards illustrate his ongoing commitment to excellence in coffee.


Alongside his career, Donald has been a strong advocate of ethical practices in the coffee industry. He has supported initiatives such as Coffee Kids®, Grounds for Health, Coffee Quality Institute (CQI), Women's Coffee Alliance, Coffee Trust®, and Cup for Education. Under his leadership, Gillies became the first certified fair trade, organic and Bird Friendly roaster in New York.

As the recipient of multiple awards from major coffee-producing regions such as Jamaica, Costa Rica, Tanzania, Colombia and Brazil, Donald Schoenholt has established lasting links with coffee-growing communities around the world. These distinctions illustrate his deep commitment to quality and ethics in all facets of the industry.


More than a coffee professional, Donald represents a true passion. As Coffeeman Emeritus at Gillies Coffee Company, he inspires coffee lovers across generations. His legacy lives on in every bean, adding a note of sophistication to every tasting experience.


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