10 Minutes With Gerra Harrigan

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Gerra Harrigan
Trader
InterAmerican Coffee
Boston, Massachusetts

What other coffee jobs have you had?

When I was 15, I got a job at a coffee shop about four miles from my house. It was the Coffee Exchange in Providence, Rhode Island, and it was run and owned by Bill Fishbein who later started Coffee Kids. It was an amazing job. It was 1986 and the Coffee Exchange was serving espresso, offering French press coffees by the cup and playing jazz! Bill was way ahead of his time. I went to college in Boston and because coffee was the only thing I knew how to do, I applied to work at George Howell’s Coffee Connection. Another visionary coffee guru and another stroke of good luck to work for such an amazingly progressive coffee company. I was a utility player for CC and worked at a few of their shops in Boston, and it was there I fell in love with coffee. It was from the La Minita farm in Costa Rica, and I had no idea coffee could taste so good.  In 2002, I reconnected with an old Coffee Exchange friend, Rik Kleinfeldt, who was starting his own roasting company and asked if I wanted a job. I was the first full-time employee of New Harvest and I did everything. I spent 10 amazing years learning as much as I could about coffee and growing the wholesale side of the business.

Gerra with the InterAmerican crew at the triathlon on the Cape they did to raise money for Coffee Kids.

Gerra with the InterAmerican crew at the triathlon on the Cape they did to raise money for Coffee Kids.

What’s your favorite part about working in coffee?

I think my favorite part of working in coffee is knowing I belong here. I am and have always been a very shy person; couple that with being a bit of an odd duck, and I always felt on the outside looking in. Not in a “poor me” kind of way but in a “one of these things is not like the other” way. From the minute I started working in coffee as an awkward teenager to today, I feel like I fit in. I think of the coffee industry as the Land of Misfit Toys and I am the polka dotted elephant. In coffee, everyone has a home, a calling, and a place they belong.

Where do you ideally see yourself in 10 years?

10 years? Yikes! Settled in as a green coffee trader and enjoying the garden I will have certainly planted by then.

Gerra (right) with her mom, Gerry, and sister, Kate, on a trip to South Africa.

Gerra (right) with her mom, Gerry, and sister, Kate, on a trip to South Africa.

Who and what inspires you?

On a personal level, the women in my life inspire me. From the woman who birthed me to the girls I birthed. My amazing sister, my closest friends—I am surrounded by strong, brilliant, determined, graceful, inspiring women. On a professional side, it’s both the folks that have come before me, the pioneers of our industry, as well as the ones coming up behind me and changing everything. Those that created this industry to those that carry it. They have almost nothing in common outside coffee and joining my herd of polka dotted elephants. Bill, Charlie, George, Rik, Rob, Todd, Erin, James, Sarah, Teresa and countless more!

InterAmerican crew at the 2013 MANE Conference, which Gerra used to organize and produce when she was with New Harvest Coffee.

InterAmerican crew at the 2013 MANE Conference, which Gerra used to organize and produce when she was with New Harvest Coffee.

What are you drinking right now? 

I am drinking a natural Ethiopia Yirgacheffe Misty Valley roasted by Gracenote Coffee in Massachusetts. It’s everything I love about a cup of coffee; it’s delicate and pretty, fruity and lively.

Gerra with her daughters and nephews at the holidays.

Gerra with her daughters and nephews at the holidays.

Crazy/memorable coffee experience you’d like to share?

The first “cupping” that I held for wholesale customers was in 2003 and my boss was away. My task was to determine what they wanted in a house blend. I was SO excited to be hosting this group of folks at the roastery. I made my own evaluation forms, brewed all the coffee an hour ahead of time in airpots, and put out a spread of oranges and caraway scones. I assaulted their taste buds, then served them lukewarm, stale coffee. It was beyond a disaster but they could not have been more gracious. I think of how we cup now and the protocol, the standards, and I have to laugh. It was only 10 years ago but so much has changed.

Gerra with her husband, Bill, and daughters Stella and Nora.

Gerra with her husband, Bill, and daughters Stella and Nora.

What do you do when you’re not doing coffee?

I’m raising two daughters and with my amazing husband Bill and trying to carve out a happy life. I like to ride old three speed bikes and stay up too late reading overdue library books.

 

About the Author

Sarah Allen is co-founder and editor of Barista Magazine, the international trade magazine for coffee professionals. A passionate advocate for baristas, quality, and the coffee community, Sarah has traveled widely to research stories, interact with readers, and present on a variety of topics affecting specialty coffee. She also loves animals, swimming, ice cream, and living in Portland, Oregon.