What is Q Grading?

Q Grading is a term that you may have heard floating around the specialty coffee industry. What exactly does it mean?

The Q coffee system was developed by the Coffee Quality Institute in 2004. It can be thought of as a scale by which to judge coffees. It was developed to improve the standard of coffee worldwide. By providing feedback to farmers at origin, they can improve the quality of their coffee. Thus, in turn, they can achieve higher prices for their harvests.

A Q Grader is basically just a certified coffee taster!  After analysing physical aspects of the coffee (looking for defects) as well as sensory aspects of the coffee (flavour, acidity, body and balance) they score the coffee out of 100. This will classify it as being “specialty” or “not specialty”.  

So what does this mean for specialty coffee?

Q grading has really surged the specialty coffee industry. It is the only judgement system for coffee based on quality, without taking external factors such as price or farming into account as part of the score. The training is vast and demanding of the senses. However, it is integral to making sure that every Q grader is grading to the same standards. This eliminates as much subjectivity as possible and ensures consistency.

For coffee to be deemed as specialty it has to achieve a Q grade of at least 80. The whole process has created a shared language for coffee connoisseurs to define and justify these beans as top quality. This is so important to understanding what makes a good coffee.

Who can be a Q grader?

Anyone can be a Q grader! The course generally runs over 5 days. It is made up of a series of exams that test your sensory skills and knowledge.  The sensory components are mostly based on cupping related skills. You will cup and score several sets of coffees, identify organic acids and determine different levels of salt, sugar and acid amongst solutions. Other tests include aroma identification using the le nez du cafe aroma kit and doing several sets of triangulations.

For those working in the specialty coffee industry, either as a barista, roaster, green bean buyer or trainer, the Q course can be a great way to put your skills to the test and establish uniform ways on producing that super tasty cup!