CQI presents a series of occasional profiles of Q certified professionals who are working in the industry. It’s an opportunity to learn a little about diverse career paths and how certification has impacted an individual’s professional journey. This series is sponsored by Eximware Commodity Management and Sourcing Solutions, one of Coffee Quality Institute’s valued supporters.
Our first profile subject is Rebecca Williams, Senior Coffee Development Technologist for Lavazza Professional. Williams became a Q Grader in 2018, and she graciously answered our questions about her experience.
What was the certification experience like? When in your career did you decide to get certified, and what prompted you?
When I started with Lavazza Professional (then Mars Drinks), I knew very little about coffee. I’m a classically trained chef and primarily worked in the foodservice industry until now. I was given the time and space to learn as much as possible when I first started with the company and about 6 months in, my boss floated the idea about getting certified. Having this credential, would give not only me but my company instantly recognizable legitimacy in the industry. For me, it was also confirmation that all of the things I was teaching myself about coffee were valid. I was terrified, and also determined, to meet this challenge. My colleagues supported me through countless blind tasting exercises that I would encounter during the exams. The week of the certification was a fever dream of telling myself that I could do this and frantically studying. My instructor (proctor?) Todd Arnette was very encouraging and reassuring to everyone involved.
Has the certification changed your career outcome or impacted your work?
Since joining my company, I have earned a promotion. I do believe that gaining the Q certification was factored into that. It has given me the confidence and credibility to speak on many topics with authority.
The whole reason Q grading exists is to support differentiation that provides higher income for coffee producers. You have had an interesting pathway in your career, seeing more of the restaurant and service industry than some coffee professionals. Do you think that changes your understanding of the industry as a whole? Do you have any thoughts as to things the coffee community at large might do to support producers especially as we come out of the pandemic?
I think working in the restaurant industry, above all else, taught me just how hard labor can be and how little one can be compensated for that work. I think Q grading is a great effort towards improving the earning potential of coffee producers and we must continue to find ways to bring value to the beginning of the supply chain. It seems like the biggest effort currently is through utilizing what would normally be waste (cascara + coffee leaves) to make new products. Giving more value to the hard work producers are putting in already can change lives.
Do you have any suggestions for people considering adding a Q certification to their toolbox?
My number one suggestion is to treat every tasting you can as practice for the Q. If you cup coffee on a regular basis, try to make every session a blind tasting. My team and I cupped coffee with blind codes for the better part of a year so I could hone my origin identifying skills. Find someone who can give you basic taste tests. Hone your sensory skills in creative ways – tasting chocolate and listing out all of the attributes you can find. Every time you correctly guess the origin of a coffee or identify the odd cup out in a triangle test, pause in that moment. Marinate in that confidence. Being a Q Arabica grader is documented affirmation of all of the work you’ve done to have a comprehensive understanding of the coffee industry/supply chain and to hone your palate at the cupping table.