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Specialty Coffee Legend Erna Knudsen Passes Away at 96

The coffee industry has learned that Erna Knutsen, a legend in the specialty coffee industry who is credited with coining the term “specialty coffee,” passed away on 16 June, just short of age 97.

Knutsen was born on 31 August 1921 in a small Norwegian village above the Arctic Circle. Her father Edwin emigrated from Norway to New York alone, working in the shipyards and saving his money for two years until he could bring his wife and daughters Clara, Erna and Anne to join him in 1927. Four more children would follow in the Depression years, all born in New York. Her first job was as a secretary for a Wall Street firm, one of the few office positions open to women at that time. After being told she would never make it as a trader in the coffee world, Knutsen proved the naysayers wrong. In the late 1970s, she began her career as the only woman green coffee broker in the United States founding Knutsen Coffees, Ltd.

Knutsen became a worldwide name in the business, winning many awards. One of her most valued honours was the Golden Coffee Bean awarded her by Norway when she was in her 80s. Knutsen helped establish the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), and in 1991, she received the SCAA’s first Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2014, the year she announced her retirement at age 93, Knutsen was honoured at the SCAA opening ceremonies.

In the 1980s, Knutsen met and later married John Rapinchuk. Rapinchuk was born on 20 December 1951. Together, they spent the next thirty years discovering new restaurants, traveling the world and ultimately working together at Knutsen Coffees. Rapinchuk passed away on 12 August 2016.

If you would like to donate in Erna Knutsen’s name, please contact Café Femenino at https://www.cafefemenino.com.

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