Q Graders are all about quality. After all, it’s in the name – the Q stands for quality. What kind of quality are they interested in?
The job of Q Graders is to support and promote the quality of coffee around the world. Their work helps the coffee industry because they work to standardize protocols and improve communication between coffee professionals.
When certified coffee cuppers are qualified to look for and evaluate coffee in standardized ways, a cupper in Africa will evaluate and describe coffee in the same way as his counterpart in Europe.
How does a person get certified as a Q Grader, and should you get certified?
What Is A Q Grader?
To get certified as a Q Grader, a person has to complete a six-day course that includes a series of exams.
By the end of the program, they are recognized as trained professionals that can effectively determine the quality of coffee through appearance, smell, and taste.
Q Graders objectively grade and score coffee following strict cupping protocols. Their scores and technical reports can help people all along the coffee chain improve the quality of coffee. That, in turn, increases the amount of specialty-grade coffee.
All Q Graders are licensed by the CQI (Coffee Quality Institute) and are the backbone of the Q Coffee System.
The CQI is a charitable trust of the Specialty Coffee Association of America that provides coffee quality improvement services in coffee-producing countries.
Q Graders are trained to follow strict protocols established by the Coffee Quality Institute and the Specialty Coffee Association.
How does the system work? Coffee producers send samples so they can be evaluated in the Q Coffee System.
Three qualified cuppers, or Q Graders, rate the coffee. They examine the appearance of the green (unroasted) coffee and then evaluate the characteristics of the roasted coffee.
Ok. So, should you get a Q Grader certification?
Many coffee professionals never get certified as Q Graders. They can be effective in their jobs without going through the certification program.
For others, getting certified is the backbone of their job. Many coffee purchasers, roasters, importers, and business owners need to receive that formation in the standards used around the world.
Whether or not you get certified may depend on what your employer, or potential employer, expects of you.
Q Grader Coffee Certification
As I mentioned, getting certified as a Q Grader involves a six-day course and a series of exams.
The training and preparation aspects of the Q Grader coffee certification course last three days. That’s followed by three full days of exams.
The course teaches cuppers to accurately evaluate and grade coffee following the SCA standards and using the SCA cupping form.
To get the Q Grader certification, you have to pass all 22 Q Grader exams. These 22 exams are advanced, and only experienced cuppers will make the best of the course and pass the exams.
Once a student passes all the tests, they are given a Q Grader license. That license needs to be renewed every three years, which involves attending a Q Grader calibration course.
The Q Grader course is an option for any professional coffee tasters who want to perfect their abilities in sensory analysis and, more specifically, flavor perception in coffee.
Many people who have worked in the coffee industry for years participate in the course and learn more than they did in their job roles.
It is an extremely educational program and is the highest qualification for coffee tasting available.
It’s one of the most complete ways to become a coffee cupping expert. The full Q Grader course and exams can cost thousands of dollars, depending on what country you do it in.
The course covers:
- An introduction to the Q system
- SCA cupping protocols
- Cupping calibration
- Cupping for defects
- How to evaluate and grade roasted coffee quality
- Evaluation of green coffee, and
- How to identify organic acids
The course uses these resources:
- SCA Cupping & Brewing Handbook
- SCA Arabica Green Coffee Defect Handbook
- SCA Green Coffee Classification Chart
- SCA Cupping Protocol
- SCA Cupping Form, and
- Le Nez du Café Aroma Kit
There is also a course for Robusta coffee, called an R Grader. The two courses are similar in structure and content but focus on different species of coffee.
Q Grader Exam
What do the Q Grader exams entail? The short answer is, a lot! The exams are given over three days and involve taking (and passing!) 22 tests.
To become a Q Grader you have to pass these tests:
- Sensory skills test to identify salt, sour, sweet tastes
- Cupping skills to determine flavors, and other characteristics of coffee
- Olfactory skills
- Triangulation skills test (your ability to differentiate the odd coffee in 3 samples)
- Organic acids matching pairs
- Green coffee grading
- Roasted coffee grading
- General coffee Knowledge
- Roasted sample identification
Only a small percentage of students pass the test on the first try. You can take the retest within the next 18 months, and the good news is that you can retake only the tests you didn’t pass.
There are also shorter training programs called Pre-Q. This three-day program goes through all the training without the exams.
What’s the benefit of taking a Pre-Q?
You’ll invest less time and less money, and you’ll be prepared to pass the full course.
If you’re interested in taking the Q Grader course (and passing the tests!), you will embark on an intense sensory experience.
If you’re not used to that kind of intense coffee cupping, you can prepare for the experience ahead of time.
To prepare in advance, cup as much coffee as you can. Design your cupping sessions so that you cup coffees that are completely different as well as coffees that are quite similar.
For instance, you can cup and evaluate coffees that have different origins, processes, and fermentations.
Consider buying a kit like the Nez du Café to memorize the aromas and flavors in coffee. You can also study manuals like the SCA cupping protocols and the SCA cupping form.