Q Grader Training

Liz Bishop, Barista Trainer and Coffee Roaster recently completed a week of training and exams in New York City,  Here is her report: 

Q Grader Test Update by Liz

I had heard all of the stories of how hard and grueling the Q Grader exams could be. They are true. The Q is hard and it is an emotional week for everyone involved but our palettes and tasting coffee will never be the same again.

What is a Q Grader?

The Coffee Quality Institute’s Q program exists to accurately and consistency assess coffees submitted for evaluation and to increase the quality across the supply chain. A Q grader is a person who has been certified as having the necessary skills to identify quality coffee and provide detailed reports for lots of coffee that can meet standards for Q certification and CQI Technical reports for those that do not meet Q standards.  A coffee that scores under 80 points in an assessment does not meet Q standards, however the producer will be given a Technical report in hope to use the information to increase their production practices and coffee quality.

In order to become a Q grader one must attend this course and pass twenty exams relating to coffee: four tables of cupping, four triangulations of coffees from the cupping tables, four olfactory tests, matching pairs of organic acids in coffee, three different sensory skills test, roast sample identification, green bean grading, and finally a general knowledge multiple choice exam. If you fail any of these twenty exams you must retake and pass in order to become a certified Q grader.

Talking to other lovely students in the class, some coming all the way from London, I found out many people had stopped eating sweet or salty foods and drinking in preparation for the exams so as to increase their sensory perception. This was something I had not considered and for the next few days was very conscious of what I ate or drank. No doughnuts or ramen for me.  When it came time for the sensory skills test, an exam that evaluates the cupper’s threshold for sweet, sour, and salty intensities in different solutions, I was nervous.  I has taken this test before in my novice years in coffee and had done very poorly but all the years of tasting and getting to know how things react in my mouth paid off! I passed!

Needless to say, it was a very humbling experience and I feel better as a coffee professional just having gone through the course and passing 17 of the 20 exams! Once I retake those three exams (and hopefully pass) I will be a certified Q grader, one of twenty-four in Canada and one of only six women.