Coffee beans a source of passion, income for monastery priest (Savannah Tranchell, 2014)

NOTE: The following article is from the Yakima Herald, June 15th, 2014:

Father Michael Dunaway, the owner of Father Michael's Roastery, right, and Nikolay Apanasov, Dunaway's coffee czar, pose for a portrait beside the roaster at Dunaway's home in Goldendale, Wash.
Father Michael Dunaway, the owner of Father Michael’s Roastery, right, and Nikolay Apanasov, Dunaway’s coffee czar, pose for a portrait beside the roaster at Dunaway’s home in Goldendale, Wash.

GOLDENDALE, Wash. — Father Michael Dunaway is a convert.

First, to the Greek Orthodox faith from protestantism as a child when his father walked away from a near-millionaire lifestyle to join the priesthood.

And then as an adult, when he learned to drink coffee without cream.

“I’ve always, always loved coffee,” Dunaway says from his home in the hills of Goldendale. “I was an avid half-and-half drinker in my coffee until I took up roasting and found out you can roast coffee in a way that you don’t need milk.”

Now the Kentucky native roasts his own blends of coffee and sells them from his Goldendale shop under the name Father Michael’s Roastery. That is, when he’s not serving as priest for St. John the Forerunner Greek Monastery.


Dunaway came to Goldendale 12 years ago to serve at the monastery, located outside Goldendale on U.S. Highway 97. He’s been a priest for 20 years and served in Alaska before moving to Washington. Dunaway, 55, moved to Alaska with his family in the 1960s and followed his father and brother into the priesthood after spending years in the fishing industry, as a diesel mechanic, and in construction around the state. He, too, left commercial success behind in order to join the priesthood.

St. John's Bakery
St. John’s Bakery

Dunaway lives offsite with his family and his days are split between his priestly duties and his coffee roasting, which he uses to support himself. The sisters at St. John’s run St. John’s bakery and sell handmade items to support their mission. The monastery day begins at midnight, when the nuns rise and pray through the night. Dunaway holds the early morning services, returns to his home to work in the roastery and then goes back to the monastery for evening services.

“It’s a full life,” he says, but notes jokingly, “sleep is highly overrated.”

Despite his and the sisters’ busy schedules, he doesn’t worry about how much sleep a body needs, believing instead, “that God will sustain man.”

“I’ve worked with the toughest of the tough,” Dunaway says of his life before the church. “Nobody holds a candle to these nuns. They are brutal. And yet they are the kindest people in the world. And that’s a mystery. These nuns are amazing. It’s primarily why I’m here: I visited them 12 years ago and said, ‘That’s where I want to be.’ ”

Ministering to the sisters is Dunaway’s No. 1 priority.

The roasting is No. 2.

Fr. Michael preparing the roaster.
Fr. Michael preparing the roaster.

Dunaway learned the coffee-roasting business from his friend, Thomas Reese of Walla Walla Roastery. Prior to starting Father Michael’s Roastery four years ago, Dunaway built homes, but he needed some other way to support himself when the construction market hit bottom.

With Reese, he developed Father’s Blend, now one of Dunaway’s best-sellers. His goal is to create a beverage that he would enjoy, a medium-style roast — “because I’m scared of the dark, basically,” he jokes — that doesn’t need to be drowned with cream and sweeteners.

Fr. Michael watches the roasting process.
Fr. Michael watches the roasting process.

Dunaway imports the beans through responsible brokers and some direct-trade relationships with farmers in Central and South America, as well as Indonesia and Africa. The coffee is sold at St. John’s gift shop, the Glass Onion in Goldendale, Wray’s MarketFresh IGA in Yakima and by Dunaway at the Friday farmers market in Richland, which is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. through Oct. 31 at the parkway between Jadwin Avenue and George Washington Way.

The business is growing, and this year Dunaway is partnering with a Nikolay Apanasov, 25, of the Tri-Cities, who will help with roasting and marketing the beans. Dunaway’s son Seraphim, 17, and a family friend help with the business. Apanasov, a native of Russia, moved to the Tri-Cities in 2001 and graduated from Kennewick High School. He has a degree in mathematical economics from Rice University in Houston and says Dunaway is a longtime family friend. He began working with Dunaway late last year. His official title is “coffee czar.”

Fr. Michael checking the roaster.
Fr. Michael checking the roaster.

“I don’t like to take myself too seriously,” says Apanasov, who became interested in coffee in college, though he originally planned a career in high finance, before deciding he wanted to be involved with a company that could make a difference in the world.

“You can be part of the solution, or you can be part of the problem,” he says.

His focus right now is on the business side of Father Michael’s — growing the brand, building relationships with trade partners and releasing new products, such as a cold brew, which is sold as a concentrated liquid in 64-ounce brown jugs, a nod to Dunaway’s Kentucky moonshine roots.

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“I’ve never tasted a better cold brew,” Apanasov says. There’s so much to learn in the coffee world, he says, and so many places where your brew can go wrong — from bean selection to grinding to roasting to brewing. “With our cold brew, it’s all done correctly for you. All you have to do is pour it in a cup and mix in water or milk, and you have a premium beverage.”

The company released its cold brew last week at the Richland farmers market.

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“In the specialty coffee world, cold brew is kind of a new thing,” Apanasov says. “And people really like it. It’s the way to go if you’re making an iced latte. Much smoother. Much less acid.”

The coffee is not fair-trade certified, but Dunaway says they work with brokers who have good relationships with growers and are focusing on building more direct-trade relationships themselves. Currently, Father Michael’s Roastery produces about 500 pounds of coffee a month, but they hope for growth.

“We want to blow the doors off of it as much as we can,” Dunaway says. “We built a shop that allows us to expand.”

“We can still increase our roasting capacity,” Apanasov agrees.

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Much like the Yakima Valley’s winemakers, the roasters focus on developing the flavor profile of each type of coffee, adjusting roasting times and temperatures in order to tease out the delicate tones in each variety.

“It just depends on what you’re trying to develop out of the coffee,” he says. “Every coffee from every region has its own unique profile. We build those profiles the way we like them here,” he says, and adjusts to his customers’ tastes. “Our customers are not Portlandites, who like their coffee green and sour.”

Dunaway works to enhance the beans’ natural fruit tones and low acidity. The Indonesian Sulawesi is one of his most popular dark roasts, which Dunaway says is for people “who aren’t scared of the dark.”

The Father’s Blend mixes beans from Guatemala, El Salvador and Sumatra. “It’s nice and smooth, but it has a little kicker in it,” he says.

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Roasting coffee is “the 10th great mytery of the world,” Dunaway says. And each batch of beans requires adjustment to create a consistent product. Dunaway says they test every roast for defects.

“As it sits here or whatever, we have to change that roast a little bit here and there to keep it where we want it,” Dunaway says. He has resisted turning to computer programs to analyze his roasts. “I’m sticking with my nose and my eyes. I watch a flame and I smell the beans. It keeps more of an artisan effect to it.”

Even as his business grows, however, Dunaway never wavers from his devotion to the priesthood and to the sisters whom he serves. At the farmers market, he wears his Greek Orthodox attire of a black robe and full beard, which can draw interesting comments from customers. Children have called him Jesus, or, more often, St. Nicholas. “I tell them, ‘No, no. He’s just a friend,’” Dunaway says with a laugh.

“The way we dress is not by any means for show. It’s just sort of a death to the vanity of life,” he says. “It serves as a reminder for me of what I am and where my focus needs to be.

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“We have a great blessing being here. We want to pass that blessing on,” he says, nothing his company slogan, “From my hand to your cup.”

He sees his coffee roasting as part of his mission in Goldendale: earning a living that allows him to stay in ministry.

“Roasting coffee is hopefully part of my pursuit toward paradise. I’ll either be roasting here, or I’ll be roasting there (in paradise). I’m hoping to get it done here,” he says, and laughs.

“We have a lot of fun with it. We love the aesthetic life and the seriousness of life.

“And also we enjoy roasting.”

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