In Memoriam: Godmother Of “Specialty Coffee”

July 23, 2018

Erna Knutsen, the ‘godmother of specialty coffee,’ passed last week, according to the Specialty Coffee Association. Knutsen is known for being the first to coin the term ‘specialty coffee,’ giving a name to the movement of special coffees versus commodity coffees.  

Beginning her career as a secretary in a coffee trading firm, her interest in specialty coffee grew until she eventually established her own customer base and founded her own coffee trading company, Knutsen Coffees, Ltd. She sent newsletters about the movement, which quickly became well-known amongst the community. These newsletters focused on Knutsen’s helping people to understand the new specialty coffee movement, what it meant, and tricks of the trade.  

Knutsen was passionate about the coffee industry, becoming a leader through sharing her story and inspiring others in coffee. She was also a proud advocate for women in the coffee industry.  

The Specialty Coffee Association of America recognized Knutsen as the first recipient of the SCAA Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991, and again honored as a founder of the specialty coffee industry in 2014 (see her acceptance speech here). She will be remembered for her leadership and innovation in specialty coffee. The specialty coffee community observes her passing with the greatest respect and sadness.