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What Is a Q Grader?

professional q grader testing coffee

If you’re a coffee addict, you know your history, and read quite a bit about the coffee world, then you might already know what a Q Grader is. Like so many other industries, coffee has certifications that must be passed to become baristas, roasters, and the like.

A Q Grader is someone who has one of those certifications. As a matter of fact, Q Graders hold almost mythical titles in the coffee world. Still a bit confused about what a Q Grader is? In this article, we’ll go into what a Q Grader is, what they do, and even a little bit about what you have to do to become one.

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What Is a Q Grader?

Before you can determine what they do and how to become one, you need to know what a Q Grader actually is. Sounds professional and mysterious, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s not that mysterious, but it is professional. This person is actually certified through the CQI, Coffee Quality Institute, as qualified to analyze Arabica coffee through the smell and taste. Sounds like an awesome job to have, doesn’t it?

What the Q Grader does is called cupping, and you can be certified in other coffee industries as well. For example, for Robusta coffee, you would need to get certified as an R Grader.

q grader inspecting coffee
Image Credit: Harbucks, Shutterstock

What Does a Q Grader Do?

As a cupper, someone who has a certification as a Q Grader will have the responsibility of scoring coffee on several different things, including sweetness and aroma. They add up all the attributes of the coffee their scoring, which can go to 100, which determines the value of that coffee. Anything over 80 is classified as a specialty coffee.

The Q Grader program itself was launched in 2004, and though it might sound like a dream job to us coffee fanatics, it is, in fact, a difficult undertaking for those who choose to join the program. The training itself is a grueling 6 days and takes place in an SCA-certified training lab.

Why Would You Want to Become a Q Grader?

Besides the fact that working with anything related to coffee sounds amazing to us, what reasons would someone have to go through the intense training program to become a Q Grader? The answer isn’t a simple one, as everyone has a different reason for doing so.

Most people who run training programs for Q Graders do so because they want to know where improvements can be made in the coffee industry, and roasters want to know where they can make improvements to their product as well. Becoming a Q Grader lets you in on something that will revolutionize coffee in the end, hopefully.

Who Should Join the Q Grader Program?

Again, there’s no simple answer to this question. It’s mostly for people who want to get ahead in the industry, and it can be done in just under a week, so it doesn’t really take away from other things that might be going on in someone’s life or job. For example, suppose you’re a barista or even a roaster who wants to join the program to enhance your knowledge of the industry. In that case, you won’t have to go to classes for months or years in order to get your certification, making it more manageable.

If you love coffee or work in the coffee industry already, then this might be the program for you.

coffee cupping preparation
A coffee cupping session. | Image credit: Unsplash

Is the Certification Really Needed?

It’s pretty clear that being Q Grader-certified benefits everyone across the coffee industry, but is a certification really necessary? While it’s really not necessary, it’s always a good idea, according to industry experts. Not only does it help you avoid misconceptions about certain coffees, but it also educates you on what you need to know and improves your small part of the coffee industry as well.

The short of it is that becoming a Q Grader, no matter your role in the coffee industry, can do nothing but improve your small part of the coffee world.

Now that you know what a Q Grader is and how to become involved in the program, are you going to join? If you’re in the coffee industry, no matter what role you play, the Q Grader program can improve on what you do and what you already know, so why not?

SEE ALSO: 5 Coffee Roasting Defects & How to Spot Them


Featured Image Credit: Harbucks, Shutterstock

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Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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