An inspiring leader, who shaped the specialty coffee culture

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.”
– John Quincy Adams

Knutsen emigrated from Norway to the USA when she was 5 years old. In her early 40s, she accepted a job as a private secretary in a California based company that imported coffee and spices. Once she got into it. She not only discovered her passion for quality coffee, but also her natural talent for leadership.

During the 1960s -1980s women were not permitted in cupping rooms or allowed to roast beans. Knutsen wasable to handle the challenges that she faced. She did not mind that some of her male colleagues were laughing at her. Instead, it motivated her even more to fight for her dreams. Knutsen successfully  specialized in selling high quality arabica beans to the growing number local micro-roasters. Step by step, she improved her coffee expertise. To exceed the expectations of her customers she learned the art of cupping and developed meaningful relationships with roasters and farmers.

She worked hard and was resilient for the inevitable ups and downs. Her great sense of humor turned out to be one of her most effective management tools.


Knutsen became an outstanding specialty coffee importer and expert in a male-dominated industry. She was one of the major organizers that created the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA).
Knutsen also introduced the term ‘Specialty coffee’. In 1974, the ‘Tea & Coffee Trade Journal’ featured an
interview with her. In which she used this term to refer to high quality beans that had been cultivated in particular micro climates.

In 1985, she founded her own specialty coffee import company: ‘Knutsen Coffees’.
She predicted a great future for specialty coffee and continues to inspire people from all walks of life.
In 2014, at the age of 93, Knutsen announced her retirement. She gave an inspiring speech at the Specialty
Coffee Association of America’s Opening Ceremony:
(Her speech starts at 0:08 Min ) Here:

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