Next Generation Leaders

Queen of Beans

If anything can pull the Democratic Republic of Congo out of its economic slump, it might be high-end coffee. After all, eastern Congo was one of the world’s biggest producers of coffee before war decimated the plantations. But it takes more than new seedlings to grow an industry; professional tasters are needed to help growers and producers make the best out of their beans.

Linda Mugaruka, 25, is one of only a handful of professional coffee cuppers, or tasters, in Congo, and the only woman. Knowing how to identify the quality of Congolese coffee allows her to both help growers improve their methods and woo international buyers who pay a premium for quality processed beans. That translates into more jobs in a country that desperately needs them.

Griff Tapper for TIME

For that reason, Mugaruka, who works at a coffee-tasting laboratory in Bukavu, is training a new generation of cuppers, introducing Congolese women to the complexities, textures and aromas of their coffee terroir in weekly tastings so they can improve their crops. She hopes her workshops ensure that the next generation of cuppers will include more women. “Yes, I am the first, but I certainly won’t be the last,” she says. High-end chocolate- and tea­makers also require professional tasters, and both have the potential to create jobs in Congo.

Mugaruka has her sights on a Q certification, the highest level of coffee connoisseurship. The more she learns, she says, the more cuppers she can train: “Together we will make sure that when ­people hear the word Congo, they will think coffee, not war.”

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