Q Grader License Study Guide – 2024 Update

students q grader study with guide

Students in China study for a Q Grader course

What is a Q Grader?

The Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) designed the Q Grader program to develop a skilled and credible body of specialty Arabica coffee tasters. Their role is to consistently and accurately assess coffee quality, both cup, and grade, as a part of CQI’s Q Coffee system.

Q Graders are coffee cuppers skilled to:

  • Objectively assess coffee quality
  • Identify, quantify, and articulate coffee characteristics
  • Detect coffee defects
  • Communicate coffee characteristics using standard industry terminology

Upon completing the program, cuppers can evaluate Arabica coffees for CQI or one of CQI’s in-country partners. A Q certificate is valid for three (3) years. It may be renewed upon completion of a calibration by an authorized instructor.

The course is a six-day series of exercises and exams comprising twenty (20) individual tests. Candidates must pass all sections during the course to retake failed tests — either during the same course period or anytime after within eighteen (18) months. You may retake exams at the same or any other authorized facility.

Preparing for the Q Grader Test

What are the Q Grader license tests, and how do I prepare?​ It’s a good question and one that takes some explanation. Some may prefer to attend a Q Grader certification course blind as a baseline assessment of their coffee cupping skill level. That’s admirable, but for most of us, the cost of $2,000 plus travel and a week away from work is an incentive to perform as best as possible and pass in one try. Use this Q Grader study guide to help you prepare. If successful, you can pass all the course’s exams and bring home a certificate in exchange for the investment.

Although Q courses are open to participants at any cupping skill level, they are best suited to those with a year or more of coffee industry experience who evaluate coffee quality frequently. It is usual for experienced cuppers to fail some of the program’s exercises — don’t worry about this too much, as you’ll be given multiple attempts to retake failed exams during the class. For the best performance, prepare for the exams a few weeks or months before a class.

Take the online Q prep course Boot Coffee offers for a small investment to increase your familiarity and see what to expect. It will help you build confidence and confirm that the complete in-person certification program is right for you.

Remember that while passing may be a short-term goal, it will only help you to become a better coffee taster if you continue to practice. Repeat the exercises routinely after becoming a Q Grader to maintain proficiency. Cup coffee daily to keep your skills sharp! This is not the finish line. It’s only the beginning.