What is the Q Grader and why is it important for the coffee industry?

Here at Rozali Coffee, we are passionate about knowing the ins and outs of specialty coffee. This passion has led its founder, David Rozali, to attain the internationally recognised Q Grader certification. But what exactly does this mean?

The Q Grader Program was initiated by the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI); a non-profit group that is committed to growing the awareness of coffee quality around the globe, along with raising the awareness of the livelihood of the coffee producers. 

An element of CQI’s commitment is developing the skills of coffee professionals by offering a system of qualification to assess and grade green Arabica Coffee. This qualification system has greatly benefited the global coffee community, as it has provided a unified coffee language amongst professionals, along with providing producers with a strong framework for feedback to improve the quality of their coffee. 

To become a Q Grader (that is, a CQI-certified coffee grader and cupper), one must undergo a multi-day Q course that teaches and assesses the attendants with broad coffee knowledge, including key fundamentals in sample grading, cupping and scoring (using the physical and sensory components of the SCA score). 

The course itself is rigorous, to say the least. With around 75% - 80% failure rate, the course guarantees the certification only to those who are the most prepared, the most knowledgeable and the most passionate. 

Here’s a quick rundown of the tests that are involved in the Q course:

General Knowledge

One test of a true/false exam of 100 questions on coffee cupping and grading, roasting, brewing, cultivation, harvesting and processing.

Triangulation Skills 

Consist of four tests to measure the participant’s ability in determining the coffee’s regional origin by using the flavour attributes of each coffee. Participants must taste and identify one different cup in each set of three for six sets in each test.

Cupping Skills

Consist of four tests to assess participants ability to cup and score multiple coffee samples of various origins, along with the participant’s ability to develop cupping scoresheets (with accurate descriptions).

Olfactory Skills

In four different tests, the participants are assessed in recognising thirty-six common aromatic scents in the fragrance and aroma of the coffee. Each participant is required to identify scents from the following flavour groups: enzymatic (scents derived from cultivation and processing), sugar browning (scents derived from the early stages of roasting), dry distillation (scents derived from the late stages of roasting) and aromatic taints (scents derived from any errors that have occurred throughout storage, handling and processing).

Arabica Roasted Coffee Grading

Participants are assessed on their ability to identify the number of roast defects found in a 100 g roasted coffee sample, and then correctly grading the sample as commercial, premium or specialty grading.

Sensory Skills: 

There are three tests in sensory skills where the participants are assessed in recognising three intensities of salt, sour and sweet, both individually and when combined.

Organic Acid Matching Pairs:

Participants are assessed on their ability to identify four of the acids that are commonly found in acid (acetic acid, malic acid, phosphoric acid and citric acid). 

Roasted Sample I.D. Skills:

Participants are assessed on their knowledge of the SCA cupping protocol roasting instructions by correctly identifying the coffee samples that meet the SCA Cupping Protocol specifications: under-roasted, baked or over-roasted.

Arabica Green Coffee Grading: 

Participants are assessed on their ability to adhere to the SCA’s Green Roasted Grading Form protocols, by correctly identifying the total defect count and the overall grade of the green coffee. 

For David, the Q Grader exam was a very demanding and mentally challenging experience. It requires not only a lot of training, and an outstanding tasting and sensory ability, but also the ability to stay calm and stay focused at the test. Having had the skill tested and passed the Q Exam gave him internationally recognised credibility.