MEET DIANA JOHNSTON LEDEZMA, NEWLY APPOINTED HEAD OF OPERATIONS
The new Head of Operations at Difference Coffee is Diana Johnston Ledezma, a multi-award winning coffee roaster, taster and connoisseur. She took a few minutes out of her busy day to talk about her background, offer her thoughts about the coffee industry, and to share some top-notch advice about how to brew the perfect cup at home.
Do you remember the first time you ever had coffee? What was that experience like?
That memory is incredibly vivid, both emotionally and sensorially. I was 4 or 5 at the time: I still remember the aroma of cinnamon and coffee drifting through the corridor of my grandmother's house in Mexico. My grandfather worked on the coffee farms and sometimes brought back green coffee that my grandmother would roast on the stove, then grind with cinnamon.
I was allowed a little bit with milk as a kind of café con leche, and I remember it each time I smell coffee and cinnamon together. In Sweden, they love cinnamon rolls with coffee - fika is their name for it - and I completely agree.
What was your first coffee-related job?
I had a job at Starbucks in high school: a friend introduced me to the manager, and the next thing I knew I was being trained as a barista. They were still making coffee manually, so I learned how to brew and taste coffee, and how to pair it with food. This was the foundation that I built upon, driving my passion for truly high quality coffee. 17 years later, here I am!
What have been the most important milestones in your career?
After high school, I moved to Northern California to study at Berkeley, and began working for Peet’s Coffee and Tea. My master's degree then took me to St Andrew's University, where I realised that the constants in my life were the desire for knowledge and the love of coffee, so I focused on working within every part of the industry, to truly know the product.
Competitions entered my life in 2012. My first was actually a wine competition, and I won. Then, in 2014, I moved to London to work for Workshop Coffee. This was where I began my journey in roasting.
I am especially excited by the exceptional green coffees that Difference Coffee buys, working with some of the most prestigious farms in the world, growing some of the rarest coffees you can find.
In 2017, everyone thought I had gone completely mad. I was the Head of Training for Taylor Street Baristas - a very busy job - but I decided compete that year in every coffee competition I could: 10 competitions in nine months, finishing in the top three in three of them, and performing well overall.
In 2019, I competed in the UK Roasting Championships. I took the title and was flown out to Taipei to compete on the world stage: that was quite an experience!
From coffee farmers to roasters and baristas, the coffee industry is a very male dominated field. What has been your experience as a woman working in this industry?
Whatever I've done in coffee, I've usually been the only woman. Things might be shifting for the better, but I would still say that the further I go in my career, the more often I find myself in a room of men. However, lots of men have been incredibly supportive of me; in fact, quite a few have asked me to mentor them.
Talking to them, they often tell me that they believe that as a woman I have had to be better than a man to have come as far as I have, so I'm the person they should be learning from. Despite the difficulties I have faced, the fact that my story inspires others, regardless of gender, makes it all worthwhile.
What is the next big competition that you are currently preparing for?
Because I am the current UK Roasting Champion, I would like to defend that title next year.
Interestingly though, and likely due to my success in competition alongside my many years of experience within several fields in the industry, I am now being asked to judge the competitions. I have spent the last couple years being invited to judge the UK competitions as a Specialty Coffee Association certified judge, and these invites continue to grow. Just last week I had the privilege of being invited to be an expert judge for the Coffee Masters. In the upcoming year I am looking forward to continuing on a world level, with this year's aim to act as an international judge for the Cup of Excellence.
What are you most excited about in your new position as Head of Operations at Difference Coffee?
Where to begin? I am especially excited by the exceptional green coffees that Difference Coffee buys, working with some of the most prestigious farms in the world, growing some of the rarest coffees you can find. The farmers' passion and dedication is exceptional, and it is a true privilege to be working with them. I am also excited to be working with a brand that truly values quality, and aims to be the best. This matches with what I believe in, and what I have pursued both in my career and my personal life.
My favourite Difference Coffee has to be the Panama Esmeralda Geisha because of how floral and delicate and complex it is - a coffee with a flavour journey.
Do you have a favourite Difference Coffee?
My favourite Difference Coffee has to be the Panama Esmeralda Geisha because of how floral and delicate and complex it is - a coffee with a flavour journey. From the moment it finishes brewing, you can bring it up to your nose and find beautiful aromas of jasmine and stone fruit. Then, on the first sip, your palate is introduced to a harmonious, balanced cup. As it cools, the effervescent acidity rises just enough to bring forward and showcase notes of ripe peach and apricot, complementing the floral notes that underpin this beautiful coffee. Great structure, complexity, and balance... like a great wine.
What would you recommend to those who are new to Difference Coffee and can't decide which coffee to try?
One way is to start from flavours you know you really love. For example, if you want to experience something complex, but tasting deliciously of classic coffee, try the Hawaiian Kona. If you like more chocolatey flavours and want something quite rare yet iconic, you can start with Jamaica Blue Mountain. It’s literally like taking a bite of high quality chocolate. Or you could try the Panama Esmeralda Geisha, an incredibly rare coffee that doesn’t quite taste like coffee. But the beauty is that we have a range, so you don’t have to choose. You can experiment with one of our discovery boxes, or try the ultimate collection, so you can share.
What are the most common mistakes people make when brewing capsules at home?
Water is incredibly important as it makes up most of the beverage. It is also what extracts the coffee, ultimately deciding what flavours are drawn out. I could get really geeky about the specific composition of water that brews the best coffee and why that is from a scientific perspective, as the content of magnesium, calcium, bicarbonates, and pH is important, but let's keep it simple for now and pick a brand of water that is easy to find: Volvic. Another great option for those who don't want to use bottled water and want a convenient at home option is something called 'Peak Water'. It is a jug with an excellent filter specifically designed for coffee that you can adjust to your needs. It produces some excellent results, and can be found on our online shop.
And always keep your equipment clean, so that old oils and compounds from the last brew aren't left there to taint the flavours of the next one.
Wine and coffee share many great properties. Like wine, coffee quality is heavily tied to variety, processing, and terroir. The altitude at which it is grown, the soil type, the aspect, and the climate all make a huge impact on the final cup.
Many of Difference's clients also love good wine: do you find similarities between the two?
Wine and coffee share many great properties. Like wine, coffee quality is heavily tied to variety, processing, and terroir. The altitude at which it is grown, the soil type, the aspect, and the climate all make a huge impact on the final cup. Variety also plays a role in where it can be grown and what it will taste like. And whether something is "single estate" or not will also, like wine, determine the consistency and control over that product year after year.
When we look at it from a sensory aspect, there are similarities as well. Both good wine and coffee look for balance, complexity, intensity of flavour, length of flavour, and how it sits on the palate after you have swallowed it. I could write thousands of words on the subject: maybe I should!
ABOUT BILL KNOTT
Bill Knott worked as a chef for 10 years before turning his hand to writing; since then, he has written for a host of publications worldwide, including a stint as restaurant critic for the Daily Telegraph. His Gannet column in the FT's How To Spend It spanned three decades. He has also featured frequently on television and radio.
When not travelling the world in pursuit of great food and wine, or as an ambassador for the international humanitarian charity Action Against Hunger, he lives in West London, surrounded by cookbooks. He never skips lunch.