The Q grader programme was established in 2004 as a way to objectively examine coffees and score them based on their many attributes and therefore overall quality – it is in fact the only certification in the industry that is based on quality.

The system quantifies taste attributes such as acidity, body, flavour, aftertaste, uniformity, balance, sweetness etc. to ensure all participants are identifying flavour characteristics in the same way. By using the Q system, coffee buyers can essentially communicate quality right the way through the coffee supply chain from the farmer to the exporter to the roaster to the cafe owner. By applying a score to a coffee, everyone involved in the process understands the quality of that coffee.

In  simple terms, a Q grader is qualified to give a coffee an SCAA score out of 100 and can therefore classify it as being specialty or non-specialty. To achieve ‘specialty’ grade (and therefore a higher price) a coffee must score over 80 out of the 100 points available. The Q Grader course encourages cuppers to blindly assess coffee without the influence of external factors such as price/farm/availability. This means the evaluation is solely based on the quality of the coffee, allowing the whole supply chain to look at the coffee objectively.

Who is the course aimed at?

The Q Grader Course is a fantastic option for anyone who holds any sort of buying responsibility when it comes to coffee, be that a green buyer, roaster or barista. By taking the course, you will learn the necessary skills to apply when assessing a coffee for purchase and become familiar with attributes that positively contribute to cup profile. You will also be able to identify ‘defects’ which negatively impact a coffee and work out which part of the supply chain caused them. Being an internationally recognised and highly respected qualification, your successful completion of the course will provide you with real credibility in your role.

What experience do I require to take the course?

The Q Grader course is a great option for any avid cupper wanting to learn more about sensory analysis and, more specifically, flavour perception in coffee. Many people who have worked in the industry for years will participate in the course and come out learning more than they have in their job roles. It is therefore an extremely educational programme and is the highest level qualification for coffee available. However, if you are set on becoming a licensed Q Grader (which requires you to successfully pass the exams), we advise that you must have had sufficient cupping experience to have an understanding of the variety of coffee and therefore be able to consistently score coffees in line with other Q graders. It is really important that you have built up a strong ‘sensory memory’ to allow you to objectively compare every coffee against coffees that you have cupped previously. If you are in any doubt as to whether you are ready to take the course, it could be worthwhile to attend the SCAE Sensory Skills Programme which is a sort of pre-Q programme which will prepare you for some of the content covered on the Q Grader course.

What does the Q Grader course involve?

The course itself runs for six days and takes place in our certified coffee lab with our chosen Q instructor. The course combines a series of lectures and presentations with practical sessions designed to test every aspect of your sensory ability. Once the group has become calibrated and the practice sessions have been completed, so commences 3 days of blind examinations. By the end of the course, you will have taken 22 separate exams covering olfactory skills, triangulations, taste modalities, cupping skills and organic acid identification. There is also a written exam and both roast and green grading to complete along with roast defect evaluation. It can be a slightly gruelling experience both physically and mentally and requires strong focus and self-discipline to ensure you can get through everything without suffering from palate fatigue.

Once I have completed the course, am I a Q Grader for life?

Upon successful completion of the course, you will receive a certificate which licenses you as a Q Grader for 3 years. Once that time has passed from the end date of your course, you are required to attend a Q re-calibration along with other licensed Q Graders to ensure you are still scoring coffees in the correct way and have not suffered any damage to your sensory skills. This process has to be completed every 3 years for you to maintain your license and involves participation in a one day course where you will simply Q grade some coffees along with the other participants – you will not be required to do all 22 tests again.

What costs do I have to take into account?

The cost of the Q Grader course is around £1800. This includes the cost of the course, exam and certification as well as food and drink for the 6 days. Other costs to take into account will be any accommodation required along with travel to and from the course and evening meals.

What does it mean to be a licensed Q Grader?

By becoming a licensed Q Grader, you will have joined a community of approximately 4000 people worldwide who are qualified to assess Arabica coffee. Not only will you have the credibility and experience to make buying decisions and apply for roles with this responsibility, you will also be called upon to blindly assess samples for other coffee professionals – a service you can charge a fee for.

When will this course be available at the North Star Coffee Academy?

We hope to be able to offer this course by 2019.