There are some people who know more than anyone else about how to evaluate the quality of green coffee. These are Q Graders and they have been through the Coffee Quality Institute’s rigorous training. It’s a specific training and the whole area of study ultimately adds value to the beginning of the coffee value chain.
Through Q Arabica and Q Robusta, the Q Program has become a tool of the trade, bringing specialized skills to coffee professionals around the world. By setting global standards CQI helps both buyers and sellers benefit through a shared understanding of quality coffee. Q courses are based on a standard language of quality in processing and sensory analysis. To become a certified Q Arabica or Q Robusta Grader, one must pass 19 tests. The courses consist of 6 intensive days, broken down into three days of practice and calibration followed by three days of testing - including triangulation, cupping, olfactory tests, roasted grading, green grading coffee, sensory skills, an organic acid matching pairs test, and sample roast I.D. skills. See the breakdown of a Q Arabica Course here and a Q Robusta Course here.
Through course evaluations, students share that the most important tools with which they leave the courses are:
- An in-depth understanding of the Specialty Coffee Association Cupping Form and the Coffee Quality Institute Fine Robusta Cupping Form, and how they are a helpful tool.
- The necessary calibration, references, and vocabulary to harmonize profile descriptors.
- Ability to identify different types of acids present in coffee.
- Different roasting protocols specific to cupping and roast deviations that could affect the cup.
- Understanding of green coffee evaluation and the potential impact to the cup.
By the end of the program, a certified Q Grader becomes a green coffee evaluation expert. This skill is a major advantage for many jobs and for others it’s absolutely necessary. Many workplaces require that their quality control personnel, roasters, green buyers, and exporters be Q Graders. Certified Q Graders share a common language of quality used by producers and buyers alike, facilitating communication and access to markets. After one is certified as a Q Grader, opportunities in the coffee industry expand because the Q Program is globally recognized by coffee professionals. Employers know the rigorous tests students must pass to become certified, and that they will reap the rewards of those graders’ knowledge in product quality, analysis of flavor profiles and consistency through evaluation. Hear from a handful of certified Q Graders below to see how the program is great for people in an array of jobs throughout the coffee industry:
Before taking the Q-Grader course this year in spring in Italy, I was only the head of marketing at UCC COFFEE in Switzerland. Right after my certification my career changed at the speed of light. Immediately after I have been assigned to develop a new specialty coffee range.
- André Eiermann
After certification I was invited to another company for research & development manager in a multinational company. which is the biggest coffee company in the world JDE coffee.
- Hugo Benevento
I am a farmer’s son; all my family and relatives are farms and to become a Q was great for me and my family. It gives me so much knowledge, reasons to read and study more that is almost impossible to list here. Besides making friends in the industry, it helped my family and I produce better coffee, how to taste it and even to trace quality in the farm and that was the first financial impact the CQI course caused. After becoming a Q Grader, it was a huge step to become a coffee a Taster in the SCA pathways program, if you are a Q it gives you 11 educational points. So, I took the SCA Cup taster level 1 easily.
- Elvio Junior
Having these 2 licenses of a Q Arabica grader and Q Robusta Grader has helped me in my profession, as they have helped to strengthen my knowledge base on the intricate quality nuances in the coffee cup and at the same time, has helped me to develop not only confidence in myself, but also to be able to explain to the coffee farmer as to why his coffee secured a low rating or a good rating. I am indeed richer by this experience of securing the ‘Q’ grader and ‘R’ grader licenses and I am thankful to the Coffee Quality Institute for not only empowering me further in my career, but also in helping to establish my tasting credibility in the coffee world.
- Sunalini Menon, Now CQI Board of Trustees Member
Joining the Q-course after my barista course was a bit of a shock. I didn’t know that the training was so intensive and that coffee is such a complicated matter. On the other hand, I was fortunate to take the course because it helps me a lot as a coffee shop owner, where I’m also the barista.
I now have abundant knowledge about coffee. I know how to cup, how to grade, how to select the GB and how to inform the customer and share that information. So for me, becoming a Q-Grader has had a lot of advantages.
- Handi Santoso Maharjana
This is not a one-and-done program. Even though the detailed exams indicate that a cupper is certified at that time, like any other practical skill, an individual must continue in practice an application in order to remain calibrated to the world. Q Graders are certified for 3 years before they are required to return to the classroom and Calibrate. The process of Calibration is important because it allows everyone to be attuned with their peers in the industry for consistent evaluation, make sure that cupping skills are still sharp, get a refresher on the cupping form, and get an update on CQI or any important developments to the Q Program. For those who don’t work in coffee evaluation on a daily basis, skills can easily fade. Calibration is a 1-day refresher and test process unlike the initial intensive 6-day course. Calibration must be completed within six months of the Q Course three-year mark, and those who lapse are required to take a Recertification course.
Those interested in becoming Q Graders but may be new to the industry or not involved in evaluation on a daily basis, we recommend starting with the Q Cupping Essentials (QCE) course. QCE is a comprehensive introduction to cupping and is great for a wide range of people including those new to the industry, foodies, passionate consumers, baristas, executives of coffee companies, and so on. The course goals are for students to get familiar with setting up a cupping and getting progressively comfortable with cupping. Even if a student doesn’t pass the Q Grader exam and go on to become a Certified Q Grader, taking a Q Course is a huge learning opportunity and they will get very thorough training and calibration.
Q grading courses are intended for those who evaluate green coffee on a regular basis. Apart from taking Q Cupping Essentials, here are some tips on how to prepare for a Q Grader course:
- Read the Coffee Cupper’s Handbook (Available for purchase through the Specialty Coffee Association)
- Purchase a Le Nez kit or visit a local coffee company that might let you practice with theirs.
- Try tasting 4 food grade acids – citric, malic, phosphoric, and acetic – at 1 molar concentration in diluted coffee.
- For Robusta, purchase the Fine Robusta Standards and Protocols from our website here.
Whatever your place may be in the coffee community, the Coffee Quality Institute’s Q Program has a course that will be useful to you. Check out our range of courses here.