Barista Magazine

OCT-NOV 2018

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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Page 106 of 115

107 She will be remembered not only for her dedication to and recog- nition of high-quality coffees, but also for bulldozing across gender barriers. When news of her passing spread through the coffee world this summer, tributes popped up around the Internet from countless professionals whose lives she had touched, from longtime colleagues and friends, to a new generation of people who continue to be inspired by her tenacity and commitment, and her vision for a brighter future for people from marginalized communities. Erna was born in Norway in 1921, and was a secretary for decades before taking a job with Bert Fulmer of B.C. Ireland, a coffee-brokerage based in San Francisco. Fascinated by the complexity of coffee and the industry around it that she saw from her secretary's desk, she longed to get closer to it. One day in the offi ce, she met a young man selling coffee from his family's farm, Sumatra Mandheling. She was entranced by these coffees, and asked to try them at the cupping table with the men from the offi ce. She was denied. Still, she felt so confi dent in the coffee that she offered to buy the entire container. Bert said if she could sell it, the coffee was hers. It was gone within a month. Ten years later, Erna bought the company and renamed it Knutsen Coffees Ltd., where she worked until she retired just before her 93rd birthday. In her acceptance speech on that SCAA Expo stage in 2014, she jokingly asked her partner, John Rapinchuk, if she was actually retiring, which elicited loud guffaws from the many who knew of her legendarily resolute work ethic. "My G-d what a celebration," she said with wonder to the audience. "I thought [this award was being given] because I was going to be 92 next month—93! 93! Sorry! I didn't think I'd be alive but it's coffee that kept me awake, believe me." The author never had the privilege of meeting Erna, but she was lucky enough to talk to a number of longtime coffee professionals who not only met her but knew her well, and whose lives were changed by her work as much as her exceptional character. They remember Erna as innovative and fearless, with incredible wit and humor. We're honored to share their stories and memories of Erna here with you. Dan Cox, president and owner; Coffee Enterprises, Burlington, Vt.: "Erna was one of a kind and a groundbreaker. About 10 years ago, I hosted a retirement party for Erna, and about 75 coffee people at- tended from all over the world. During the many toasts and accolades being bantered around our table, we created a song we named Erna Baby to the tune of Santa Baby, and it was a riot and she loved it. I think I still have the words somewhere. She was a great, great coffee trader. Her love of coffee and John was endearing and true to the core." Oren Bloostein, founder and director of coffee; Oren's Daily Roast, New York City: "I have built my company to seven stores and a factory over the last 33 years …. My business plan all those years ago included starting with the best green coffee, and I was told by people I spoke to in the industry that Erna had the best. Of course, she was in [San Francisco], and I was in [New York City], but that didn't get in our way. I called her up and introduced myself, and our fi rst order of seven bags of seven different coffees was on the road—the very expensive road. Her company was still called B.C. Ireland back then, but she owned it. I continued buying coffee from Erna until she closed up her company. I think that I never would have had coffee as good as we have had over the years, and that I wouldn't have been as demanding a cupper as I am, if it weren't for Erna and her quality and our shared joy of Learn about the unique benefits of plant milk & order today. No longer just a dairy substitute... Alternative milks fill more cups everyday. 1-866-776-5288

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