Update On All Things Q

This article appeared in CQI's 2018 Annual Report. Head here to read the report in its entirety.

CQI’s Q Program provides a credible and verifiable system to identify quality coffees and bring them to market. This system applies to both Q Arabica (Specialty Grade) and Q Robusta (Fine Robusta grade), creating a globally shared language for quality evaluation. This common language is at the heart of what CQI does. The Q Program allows buyers and sellers to better articulate their needs and provides producers with a tool to increase competitiveness. Independently of geographic, linguistic, or cultural barriers, buyers and sellers benefit from a shared understanding of product value linked to quality, allowing for more effective negotiations.

In 2018, CQI made global efforts to make the Q Program more sophisticated, current, and relevant to all participants. Here we review some of the highlights.

CQI has 56 international Q Grader Instructors who teach our Q Arabica and/or Q Robusta Program. Our instructors are held to the highest standards; only about a dozen people enter the training program each year, which can take up to three years to complete. To enter our instructor training program, the candidate must be accepted into the Q Program, have professional references, pass a calibration, and complete the Q Assistant Instructor course. In 2018, eight people achieved the status of a fully endorsed Q Grader Instructor; these individuals will teach our program globally.

The Q Robusta Program has helped promote understanding and acceptance of the robusta species, which is lesser known in specialty coffee than the arabica species. Still, robusta has immense value to the coffee sector, due in part to the plant’s resilience and higher production, which make it an appealing alternative in light of the increasing challenges posed by climate change—especially if the cup quality is there as well. In 2018, CQI made key updates to our Q Fine Robusta Standards & Protocols to ensure the program reflects current trends and standards. We also compiled a brand-new Green Grading handbook for Fine Robusta, which helps users identify robusta defects and understand how they affect cup quality. We look forward to seeing how these Q Robusta resources are used to connect quality-forward coffees to appreciative buyers and for the benefit of producers. You can now purchase the Fine Robusta Standards booklet as a digital download here.

Because CQI delivers courses all over the world, it’s important that our instructors have a consistent supply of specific coffees to draw from for these lessons. This is where our curated Green Coffee Library comes into play. This invaluable tool supplies all the coffees used in our Q Arabica and Q Robusta course exercises and tests, including cuppings, triangulations, and sample roast identifications. (We completed the robusta arm of the library in 2018.) The library was created in partnership with longtime CQI collaborator Mané Alves at Coffee Lab International (CLI) in Vermont, USA. Our Q Processing Program has its own coffee library, furnished by Café y Procesos, in Colombia. The library allows us to standardize the coffees used in our educational program. Regardless of where in the world a Q course occurs, we can ensure the same learning opportunities to everyone. We’re grateful to our partners who have helped make it a success.

After becoming a Q Instructor, I have an even better understanding of many core concepts of coffee quality. I’m eager to share this valuable knowledge, particularly in my home country of Mexico, where our coffee sector is struggling to earn higher prices for their coffee. As a Q Instructor, I will do my best to help increase coffee quality and positively impact people’s lives, in Mexico and beyond.

—Sylvia Gutiérrez, Director of the Mexican Specialty Coffee and Coffee Shops Association (AMCCE), Q Arabica Instructor, Mexico

CQI’s Q Program doesn’t revolve solely around training—rather, it’s part of a larger system that enables coffee quality evaluations and even Q certification of coffee lots. Helping to make this run smoothly are the 25 CQI In-Country Partners (ICPs), who carry out Q Coffee evaluations, offer training opportunities to calibrate Q Graders, and work collaboratively on quality-improvement initiatives. A Q Coffee evaluation is managed at the local level by our ICPs and is carried out by three independent licensed Q Graders assigned by the ICP, who analyze the sample. This Q evaluation is the method used to produce a Q Coffee Certificate, and Q Graders play a critical role in connecting quality-differentiated coffees to markets by objectively evaluating and certifying coffees. Q Coffees can be viewed on the CQI website, with owner contact information available.

Being an In-Country Partner is very important for us. As an ICP, we become a link for all Q Graders in Honduras, and we are able to perform evaluation for Q Coffees in our laboratory, creating a connection to the international market. We are able to provide, jointly with CQI, the required training and evaluation for cuppers in Honduras, which allows them to speak a common language.

—Orieta Pinto, IHCAFE’s Quality Assurance Manager

Post-harvest processing is a vital step in coffee production, allowing coffee growers to develop and refine flavors. From improving the consistency and baseline quality of coffee to even introducing innovative coffee styles to the market, processing is one of the best ways for producers to differentiate their product in the marketplace and earn premiums. Recognizing the important influence that post-harvest processing has on coffee quality, CQI’s Q Processing Program certifies different stages of professional competencies in this field. Its scientific and technical approach to processing coffees focuses on improving quality, proposes good practices, and aims to increase producers’ competitiveness and reduce their risk. CQI designed the Q Processing Program to meet the needs of students with different backgrounds and careers in the coffee supply chain. The program is offered at three levels: Level 1-Generalist, Level 2-Professional, and Level 3-Expert.

The Q Processing Program has been a turning point in my coffee career and, more importantly, in my coffee understanding and my daily practices at origin. I work with many different farmers with very diverse infrastructure, abilities, challenges, and resources, but all of them are in the pursuit of high quality. Through the Q Processing training, I’ve been able to understand the importance of well-structured systems that reduce risk and allow farmers to increase certainty and quality when processing coffee. I truly believe that education in processing is a key pathway for farmers all around the world, and I feel pleased and committed with CQI to build a strong processing industry.

—Jesús Salazar Velasco, Founder, Cafeólogo, Mexico

CQI has now certified over 350 Q Processing Professionals. The Level 1 course has been offered across the U.S. and Europe, as well as in Australia, China, Colombia, Japan, Myanmar, Rwanda, Taiwan, and Thailand. The Level 2 course has been offered in Brazil, China, Colombia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Myanmar, Taiwan, Thailand, and the United States.

In partnership with Texas A&M University, CQI is debuting our first Level 3-Expert course in 2019.

I had worked over the years with many different wet mills, where I saw decisions made with trial-and-error methodology. After receiving my QP Level 2, I came away with more technical information, as well as very interesting concepts that gave me an idea of how to apply simple methods to better control the quality at the critical points of fermentation and the drying process. I’m interested to learn more concepts and methods at QP Level 3!

—Anabella Meneses, Quality Control, Santa Felisa Coffee, Guatema

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