Specialty coffee is a woven tapestry of individuals, from roasters to baristas, producers to farmers. All week long we’ll be profiling personalities who work in the Rwandan specialty coffee industry. All from Rwanda coverage made possible by Fair Trade USA.

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Cupping with to Laetitia Mukandahiro is a bit like taking batting practice next to Joey Votto. She is a capital P Professional, and represents a unique facet of the Rwandan specialty coffee industry: the 20-something female cupping expert, prized for their palates and dedication. Her career path speaks to the enormous promise of Rwandan coffee, both in the cups we enjoy in the West and in the lives of the individuals here in Rwanda who make those cups possible.

Ms. Mukandahiro was born in the village of Musasa, which is located near the noted Dukendekawa washing station. She started out as a hand picker at that washing station, but soon received training as a cupper; her keen palate distinguished her from her peers, and soon after she was hired by Gilbert Gatali, then head of the Rwanda Smallholder Specialty Coffee Company (RWASHOSCCO). She’s since gone on to serve on multiple COE juries in Rwanda, and is now the head cupper for KZ Noir, a company that owns several quality-driven washing stations in western Rwanda, and whose Rwanda operations are helmed by Mr. Gatli (who we’ve profiled in further depth here). She cups with a focus and casual ferocity that is anathema to the cupping-as-machismo antics commonly observed in the West; she will lap you on the table, and she’s thinking and processing for cup quality and defect twice as fast as you are, and the whole thing is both humbling and awesome.

Ms. Mukandahiro is also a gifted roaster and barista. At the end of our session at the KZ Noir lab in Kigali, she prepares for us several drinks from a custom blend she’s created using 3 of KZ Noir’s coffees, from the Shangi, Nkora, and Karenge washing stations. She’s learned much of her barista technique from Youtube, and has recently begun training service workers at boutique hotels in Kigali on French Press and espresso service. Gilbert Gatali sees a bright future for Laetitia on the international coffee service: “Give her just a bit of time, and 2 years from now she will be the barista champion of Rwanda. We think she’ll be our Katie Carguilo!”

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