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Erna Knutsen

Updated: Mar 22

Empowering women in the coffee industry and launching the term: terroir coffee.

Woman playing guitar in Hawaii
Erna Knutsen the pioneer playing guitar in Hawaii

Erna Knutsen born in 1921. Bodø, Norway. Her family immigrated to the USA during the big depression in 1926. She spent her childhood and youth years in Brooklyn and Queens. As the neighbors were mostly Italians, which made her fall in love with coffee and Italian cuisine.

Since coffee was considered a cheap luxury in Norway, she was used to great coffee from Norway. Every morning Erna used to grind coffee beans and make up a great cup of coffee.

Erna Knutsen, a pioneering figure in the coffee industry, left an enduring legacy through her innovative contributions and unwavering dedication to specialty coffee. Born in Norway, Erna embarked on her coffee career as a secretary in a coffee trading firm, where she developed a fascination for exceptional coffees that stood out from the more commercial varieties. This early exposure sparked her journey towards becoming a trailblazer in the world of specialty coffee. 

Influence on the coffee industry.

Erna Knutsen's most notable contribution to the coffee industry was coining the term "specialty coffee" in a 1974 publication of Tea & Coffee Trade Journal. 

This phrase not only defined a niche within the coffee market but also set new standards for quality, identity, and distinction in coffee.

By giving language to the specialty coffee movement, Erna provided clarity on coffee origin, tasting terms, processing techniques, and industry practices, shaping the way consumers and professionals perceive and appreciate coffee.


Erna Knutsen's influence extended far beyond terminology; she was instrumental in fostering direct relationships with coffee farmers at origin. Her emphasis on establishing personal connections with producers highlighted the importance of ethical sourcing practices and quality control. 

Through her newsletters from Knutsen Coffees, Ltd., Erna shared her deep knowledge of coffee with a generation of industry professionals, inspiring them to pursue excellence and innovation in their craft.

Erna's commitment to gender equity and inclusivity in the coffee trade was another hallmark of her career. As a passionate advocate for women in coffee, she paved the way for greater representation and empowerment within the industry. 

Her leadership, entrepreneurial spirit, and dedication to promoting specialty coffee as a global movement earned her recognition from the Specialty Coffee Association of America, including two prestigious Lifetime Achievement Awards.

Woman talking in the 60s casino
Erna Knutsen the pioneer talking about speciality coffee

In celebrating Erna Knutsen's legacy, we honor her as a visionary who transformed the landscape of specialty coffee through her pioneering work, advocacy for quality and authenticity, and unwavering commitment to excellence. 

Her impact continues to resonate throughout the industry, inspiring future generations to uphold her values of integrity, innovation, and inclusivity in their pursuit of exceptional coffee experiences.

We at Jacobsen og Svart are thankful for the work that Erna Knutsen has done for the industry. Not only highlighting Terrior and specialty coffee as a term but also standing at the forefront of the women in the coffee industry.

Happy Women's day!

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