April 26, 2013

The Q&A of Q Grading

So what’s this Q Grader thing all about anyway?  

There was no more popular question posed to me when I had the privilege of hosting a Q Grader preparation workshop at the Golden Bean Coffee Roaster Competition and Conference on the Sunshine Coast last October. Once and for all, let’s answer some important questions surrounding the certification and its meaning:


hat is a Q Grader?

Q Graders are accredited coffee cuppers who are the backbone of the Q Coffee System developed by the Coffee Quality Institute or CQI. CQI is the charitable trust of the Specialty Coffee Association of America that provides coffee quality improvement aid services in coffee producing countries, with 75% of its work funded by government or NGO donors in coffee producing countries.

The Q Coffee System was developed in the early 2000s as a program designed to improve the quality of coffee worldwide, by creating a common language for coffee quality evaluation and an independent certifying body for high quality coffee samples. Though originally focused on Arabica coffee, the program recently expanded to include Fine Robusta coffee (R Coffee) in what promises to have an even greater impact on coffee quality worldwide.

In the Q Coffee System, coffee producers submit samples to CQI or one of CQI’s authorized In-Country Partners for the purpose of independent quality evaluation. Those samples are evaluated by 3 similarly qualified coffee cuppers, called Q Graders, that rate the coffee based on its physical appearance as green coffee and characteristics when cupped following protocols set by CQI.

The evaluation results in a combined report of coffee characteristics and a numerical score on a 100 point basis, where coffees reaching the threshold of 80 points or greater are certified as Q Coffees and listed on CQI’s website at containing specific lot and contact information for potential buyers. Regardless of whether coffees reach the 80-point minimum for certification, a diagnostic report is sent back to the submitting party to clearly and objectively describe the characteristics of each sample. Each lot evaluated can be as small as one bag (60 kg) and no larger than one shipping container (18,000 kg) of coffee.

In order to carry out this program on such a large scale, CQI set out to certify Q Graders worldwide. At the time of writing, there are approximately 3,000 graders licensed worldwide in 58 countries. By itself, the Q Grader certification has become a widely successful gold standard of competency among those who cup coffee.

The Q Grader curriculum is designed as a certification course for those who routinely taste and evaluate coffee as a part of his or her profession.

Who Should Become Q Grader?

The Q Grader certification exam is recommended for any coffee professional who routinely evaluates the quality of coffee: coffee producers (farmers), coffee importers and exporters, green buyers, roasters, quality control personnel and baristas can benefit from what they learn about coffee and themselves from the Q Grader course series of tests.

In addition to establishing a language and baseline calibration for objective quality, the process of taking a Q Grader exam allows each participant (student) to evaluate his or her own abilities, coffee knowledge and sensory acuity in a controlled environment.

Although there is no formal prerequisite to register for a Q Grader course offered in Australia or any other country where programs are conducted, it is recommended that cupping be a routine part of your daily activities for the best performance and usefulness of the certification.

What does is take to become a Q Grader?

Each Q Grader must pass a battery of 22 exams over 5 days, designed to evaluate competency and sensory acuity in a number of areas closely associated with coffee cupping and grading.  Although thousands of coffee professionals pursue the accreditation each year, only about 25% pass and obtain certification in a typical certification course, with the balance pursuing retakes of failed exams offered in subsequent sessions at SCAA Certified Laboratories and other CQI approved testing centers worldwide. One SCAA Certified Lab exists in Australia (Sydney), with others under development.

Each certification is valid for 36 months, after which time a calibration course must be taken in order to remain current. Those who do not pass all exams during a first attempt have up to 18 months to complete or retake all outstanding exams to achieve accreditation from their course date.

Course fees are set by each instructor or testing centre and vary by location, typically ranging from $1,500 to over $2,500 per person, taking into account the extra services included (like meals), cost of operating in each local country, as well as fixed expenses like supplies and certification licensing fees paid to CQI for each participating student. When enrolling, be sure to ask what is included in your fee.

What are the tests?

#1) General Knowledge Exam

The general knowledge exam is the only completely written test in the Q certification exam’s battery of exercises, consisting of 100 multiple choice questions about coffee cultivation, harvesting, processing, processing, cupping, grading, roasting and brewing.

#2) Sensory Skills Exam

Setting a baseline standard for taste acuity, subjects taking the Sensory Skills test must identify three (3) intensities of salt, sour and sweet odorless liquids individually and when combined in mixtures. The third of this three-part test is generally regarded as the most difficult of all exams in the Q Grader course.

#3) Cupping Skills Exams

The core exams of the Q Grader course are its 5 cupping flights. Each flight includes 6 coffee samples and one reference set used for discussion and calibration before exam time begins.

#4) Olfactory Skills Exams

The Q Grader course olfactory skills tests utilise the Lenoir Le Nez (pronounced ‘le nay’) du Cafe scent vial kit, which is available from the SCAA Store. The objective is to evaluate an individual’s ability to recognize thirty six (36) common aromatic scents often found in the fragrance and aroma of coffee.

The ability to correctly identify each of the 36 scents from memory is helpful, but more as a flavour memory muscle-building exercise than any direct correlation between what you smell in the vials and in your coffee cup.

#5) Triangulation Skills Exams

Triangulation tests are designed to increase your sensitivity to minute differences in coffee characteristics and also teach you a methodology of comparing one cup to two others for purposes of quality control.

#6) Organic Acids Matching Pairs Exams

Participants are first introduced to each of the six primary acid components of coffee in a brief lecture and then asked to match 2 out of 4 weakly brewed cups of coffee containing those acids in 8 sets.

#7) Arabica Green Grading Test

In the Arabica Green Grading exam, you are provided 3 x 350 g green coffee samples that have been first picked clean and tainted with a certain number and type of defects. Your task is to identify the defects in a                350 g sample and then correctly identify the adjusted defect count using SCAA rules and label that sample as being specialty coffee, premium coffee or commercial coffee

#8) Arabica Roasted Coffee Grading Test

Similar to the green grading exam, in this test, you must correctly identify the number of quakers (underdeveloped beans that do not roast properly) in a sample of 100 g, then identify that sample as specialty coffee, premium or commercial.

#9) Sample Roast Identification Test

In the Sample Roast Identification test, you must identify an ideal roast for coffee cupping. Subjects must identify the roast type of 4 trays being presented as either correct or incorrect for sample evaluation and describe why.

What’s next?

A new generation of Q Grader certification programs is currently under development by CQI and its tireless volunteers and is expected to be deployed in April or May of this year. Called v4.0, the updated system will expand each Q Grader course to 6 days from 5, with 3 whole days dedicated to teaching and calibration, with the remaining 3 reserved exclusively for exams. CQI has responded to feedback from numerous student courses worldwide for widespread demand for enhanced education sessions in addition to its hallmark evaluation exams. Look for v.4.0 coursing coming to Australia and New Zealand sometime in late autumn and early winter 2013.

For a complete list of available courses, visit the CQI website at

Andrew Hetzel is a coffee quality consultant and instructor for both Arabica Q and Robusta R Grader programs offered by the Coffee Quality Institute.

For more information about Andrew and his upcoming classes, visit


MPM Advertisment



p: 1300473322 e: w: f: @RedcatPOS i: #RedcatPOS Hospitality software, by hospitality people, for your hospitality business. Redcat provides a locally developed and supported, integra...
by Cafe Culture Mag


Golden Bean pioneering the competition space

It was just over ten years ago that I had a vision as to how we could showcase the hidden heroes of the coffee world. The Coffee Roaster was the little gem working at the back end of the business, developing the product that ma...
by Cafe Culture Mag



It’s been a roller coaster and wonderful ride with Kev, who’s been a star of The Grounds for over 5 years now and we’d like to honour the big guy with 7 Weeks of Kevin – a celebration of all he’s given to The Grounds ...
by Cafe Culture Mag



The Health Nutt

t: 1300 557848 e: w: f: @thehealthnutt1 i: #thehealthnutt The famous Protein Balls, Raw Slices and What The Fudge by The Health Nutt – Sydney’s leading cafe supplier for ra...
by Cafe Culture Mag


Coffee drinkers may live longer

For people who love a morning cup of coffee, and a few more cups throughout the day, there is good news. Coffee drinkers may live longer, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JA...
by Cafe Culture Mag



New minimum wage takes effect

The Fair Work Ombudsman is calling on businesses to check the new minimum pay rates that apply ahead of a new national minimum wage coming into effect from the first pay period on or after Sunday, 1 July 2018. From this date, t...
by Cafe Culture Mag


Registering a business just got easier

Use the Business Registration Service to help you get your business up and running.     Are you looking at registering a business? The Business Registration Service makes it easy to apply for key business and tax regi...
by Cafe Culture Mag



Cafe Culture Digital Issue 5 – Now available

Latest news, trends, products and reviews – every month.       THIS MONTHS FEATURES: – The Grounds discuss the value of baristas – Mixing with the best – with Alchemy – Uniwell’...
by Cafe Culture Mag

by Cafe Culture Mag



For the first time, Australian farmers can forecast grain yield at the touch of a button, thanks to a new smart phone app developed by Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO. The innovation, known as ‘Graincast&...
by Cafe Culture Mag




Data from the most recent National Visitor Survey (NVS) released today has shown an increase in domestic tourists’ overnight spend on restaurant and takeaway meals, both in terms of the dollar amount and as a proportion of ov...
by Cafe Culture Mag


Don’t pay for government grant information

Watch out for government grant scams… Last updated: 27 June 2018 Are you looking for a government grant to help fund your business? Don’t get caught out by scams and paying for access to government grant information. Go...
by Cafe Culture Mag




p: +61 (0) 3 9872 7900 e: w: f: Bühler is setting worldwide standards in the production of coffee machinery. Product quality, process efficiency...
by Cafe Culture Mag


Harney Teas

t: 03 9099 0293 e: w: f: @harneyandsonsaustralasia/ i: #harneyandsons_australasia/ Harney and Sons luxury tea have a wide range of wholesale products that include the traditional to...
by Cafe Culture Mag



Essential Coffee

t. 1300 324 111 e. w. Essential Coffee provides managed coffee solutions to thousands of businesses across Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia, The Middle East and United Kingdom. ...
by Cafe Culture Mag


Essential Coffee

t. 1300 324 111 e. w. Essential Coffee provides managed coffee solutions to thousands of businesses across Australia, New Zealand, South East Asia, The Middle East and United Kingdom. ...
by Cafe Culture Mag


Milkadamia – macadamia milk:

w. e. f. i. Insta – @milkadamiaau Milkadamia is a family owned, vertically integrated human sized macadamia endeavour. Because our family grows t...
by Cafe Culture Mag



Assisting students with special behavioural needs.

  Café Culture recently was asked to assist in setting up a practice café at the Naremburn School. This kitchen project is being run by 2016 Master Chef Australia session eight winner, Elena Duggan, and is aimed at assis...
by Cafe Culture Mag


Artisti Coffee Roasters

E: P: 66 53 1182 W: Insta: #artisticoffeeroasters FB: @artisticoffee Address: Unit 3/11 craft Close, Toormina. NSW 2452 Living and breathing coffee with 24/7 good coffee vibes! Yes, of cou...
by Cafe Culture Mag


Start your business off on the right foot!

Don’t start a business in Australia without using’s new Starting a Business Guide!   Thinking of starting a business? Or maybe you’re in the early phases of operating? Setting up your own business is exci...
by Cafe Culture Mag



The Gig Economy: Navigating new ways to work

It’s Friday night and it has been a long week.  The fridge is as depleted as you are and the mob needs feeding. But that’s okay, because there are endless choices for dinner and several ways in which it can be delivered to...
by Cafe Culture Mag



Restaurant & Catering Australia (R&CA) has welcomed initiatives aimed at reducing the cost of doing business as well as expanding the accessibility of apprenticeships throughout NSW unveiled as part of today’s 2018 &#...
by Cafe Culture Mag


Is your tax practitioner registered?

A reminder for all small business owners.   The Tax Practitioners Board (TPB) is reminding all small business owners to check their tax agents, BAS agents or tax (financial) advisers are registered with the TPB, if you use one...
by Cafe Culture Mag




Restaurant & Catering Australia (R&CA)  has welcomed the Queensland Government’s  budget measures to support the State’s tourism and small business  sectors  as outlined in  its  2018 – 19 State  Budget...
by Cafe Culture Mag


Cultured Products: Riverina Fresh

P. 1800 993 081 E. W. FB. I. At Riverina Fresh, we’re proudly Australian owned and sourced exclus...
by Cafe Culture Mag



You’re invited to help with the funeral expenses at the Santa Clara Dry Mill in Antigua where workers died in the recent volcanic eruption in Guatemala. And with medical expenses of local children who’ve suffered massive bu...
by Cafe Culture Mag



Our thoughts are with Guatemala

Our thoughts are with Guatemala and it’s people, and with our coffee friends, during this time of hardship. These photos were sent to us from our friends at Terra Negra Trade  and show the force of the volcanic eruption...
by Cafe Culture Mag


What is a Broccoli Latte?

The product, developed by Hort Innovation and CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, packs a healthy punch with approximately one serve of broccoli in every two tablespoons of powder. A Melbourne café became the fir...
by Cafe Culture Mag


Rubia Coffee Traders Vertical Gravity Fed Destoner

The aim of the Vertical Gravity Fed Destoner is to separate foreign heavy materials encountered in roasted coffee seeds. The design of this system is based on the principle that roasted coffee seeds are lighter than the mass we...
by Cafe Culture Mag



Changes are coming to GST

Make sure your business is ready from 1 July 2018. Last updated: 30 May 2018 From 1 July 2018, the goods and services tax (GST) will apply to retail sales of low value physical goods ($1000 or less) that have been imported to A...
by Cafe Culture Mag



Restaurant & Catering Australia (R&CA) has welcomed the AC T Government’s new One Stop Café program, as announced in the 2018 – 19 Territory Budget. Under the program, café – owners will be able to acces...
by Cafe Culture Mag


The WTBC experience with Tania Stacey

WTBC experience – Tania Stacey The opportunity to participate in the Shanghai WTBC was an experience that helped to build on my knowledge of the modern tea world.  It is a competition platform that suits competitors from...
by Cafe Culture Mag



Countrywide Café of the Year – Winners

In February this year, Countrywide, Australia’s largest Food Service Distributor Group, launched a brand new promotion, ‘Countrywide Café of the Year’. The competition created quite a buzz across the nation, giving away ...
by Cafe Culture Mag


Cafe Culture Digital Issue 4 – now available!

Latest news, trends, products and reviews – every month. THIS MONTH FEATURES: – Insights to what shapes your industry report – Styling with The Grounds – Politics, logistics and direct trade with Phil Di...
by Cafe Culture Mag


2018 Speciality Tea Awards

Royal Hobart Fine Foods has opened up to the blossoming Australian specialty tea industry and created 15 categories which will be awarded Gold, Silver & Bronze Metals n the 29thof July.
by Cafe Culture Mag



Barista Supplies

Proudly designed and made in Australia, the Temptag milk thermometer sticker gives baristas greater control when steaming milk. An important part of serving a great coffee is the consistency in milk temperature. The patented Te...
by Cafe Culture Mag


2018 Breezey Masters Latte Art Competition enjoys a wildly successful 2nd heat in Perth

The WA heat for Breezey Masters 2018 made for an intense spectacle on the evening of May 30th. Once again we had a fantastic turnout of 20 competitors fighting for their place in November’s Melbourne Grand Final. We were extr...
by Cafe Culture Mag


Brazil to host coffee world championships for the first time

In November, the International Coffee Week will host 4 international championships with competitors of over 40 nationalities and thousands of visitors The World Cup of Coffee with its various categories is happening, and it wil...
by Cafe Culture Mag



The battle for Australia’s best brew heats up

The claim of Australia’s coffee capital is officially up for grabs, as international travel authority Lonely Planet publishes its Global Coffee Tour this month. Melbourne has the famed reputation for Australia’s best coffee...
by Cafe Culture Mag


Cafe Culture Digital Issue 3

Cafe Culture Digital Cafe Culture Digital Issue 3 – Reusable cup feature  
by Cafe Culture Mag


Cultured Products – DaVinci Gourmet

DaVinci Gourmet, The Story of Flavour Genius. We believe that Baristas and Mixologists are creative and that they seek perfection to amaze their audiences. We are the contemporary choice for professional drink makers inspired b...
by Cafe Culture Mag



Coffee Waste Is Now Fetching a 480% Premium Over Coffee Itself

“Aida Batlle grows coffee on her family’s farm in the hills surrounding El Salvador’s Santa Ana Volcano. Like generations before her, she had little use for the skin that encases the beans, so she’d turn it into ...
by Cafe Culture Mag


Want to grow your business?

Advertising and online A key element of marketing is advertising. You can market your business through a variety of advertising means, including mail, email, developing your own website, online advertising, newspapers, magazine...
by Cafe Culture Mag


Is your business compliant with workplace laws?

200 regional NSW businesses being audited by the Fair Work Ombudsman in New England and North West 24 May 2018 The Fair Work Ombudsman has commenced audits of more than 200 businesses across the New England and North West regio...
by Cafe Culture Mag



Cultured Product – Cheeki Cups

Cheeki is Australia’s number one brand of reusable Food Grade #304 Food (18/8) Stainless Steel Cups, Bottles and Food Jars. Double walled, vacuum insulated cups keep drinks hot for up to 8 hours and cold for up to 12 hours. A...
by Cafe Culture Mag


Record penalty against Townsville café operator over failure to pay compensation

  A record penalty has been imposed against the former operator of a café at Townsville in regional Queensland, for ignoring a Fair Work Commission order to compensate an employee who was unfairly dismissed. Theo Sourlos,...
by Cafe Culture Mag



Restaurant & Catering Australia (R&CA) has announced details of its upcoming fast – track pilot program to encourage more young people to become cooks and pursue a long – term career within the hospitality s...
by Cafe Culture Mag



2018 Breezey Masters Latte Art Competition kicks off with a bang in Brisbane

Tuesday 8th May marked the return of one of the biggest Barista events in Australia, with 21 competitors from across Queensland fighting through 3 rounds to earn their place in the Breezey Masters Grand Final. Now into its 3rd ...
by Cafe Culture Mag


Josie Coffee

P. 0418985417 E. Josie Coffee is a specialty coffee roaster based in Newcastle, NSW. We specialise in wholesale supply of coffee and equipment for the quality focused café environment. We have a range o...
by Cafe Culture Mag


Nero Contact Grill – Cultured Product

The demand for the right mix of crunchy-creamy-ooze factor is real. Much more than bread, cheese, fillings and fixings, the secret sauce is the equipment. And it’s Weatherdon’s Nero Contact Grill, specifically designed for ...
by Cafe Culture Mag