Q Grader Course Summary

taking q grader course

Students begin a Q Grader course in a cupping lab

Participants must pass all of the following Q Grader course exams to receive certification:

General Coffee Knowledge (1 test) – A true/false exam of 100 questions about coffee cupping, grading, roasting, brewing, cultivation, harvesting, and processing.

Sensory Skills Test (3 tests) – Test subjects must identify three (3) intensities of salt, sour, and sweet, odorless solutions individually and when combined in mixtures.

  • Part I: Reference – Participants are provided three samples (low, medium, high) of each taste group (salt, sour, sweet) which must be ranked by intensity.
  • Part II: Blind Identification – All nine (9) sample solutions are provided blind and must be identified by group and intensity.
  • Part III: Mixture Set – Subjects are provided with eight (8) mixtures of samples containing either two (2) or three (3) base solutions. Students must correctly identify the number, type, and intensity of base solutions in each mixture.

Cupping Skills Tests (4 tests) – Subjects will cup and score four (4) flights of six (6) samples, including tables of washed Central American milds, East African, Indonesian / Asia Pacific, and natural-processed coffees. Cupping scoresheets are evaluated based on the accuracy and consistency of scoring and descriptions.

Olfactory Skills Tests (4 tests in 2 parts) – The objective of this test is to evaluate an individual’s ability to recognize thirty-six (36) familiar aromatic scents often found in the fragrance and aroma or nose (le nez) of coffee. Subjects must first match six (6) among nine (9) blind pairs, then identify three (3) specified vials of scents for each of four (4) groups:

  • Enzymatic: scents originating from cultivation and processing
  • Sugar browning: scents emanating from earlier stages of roasting
  • Dry distillation: scents emanating from later stages of roasting
  • Aromatic taints: scents resulting mainly from storage, handling, and processing errors

Triangulation Skills Tests (4 tests) – Triangulation tests measure the ability to differentiate coffees by flavor unique attributes associated with each region. Test subjects must taste and identify one (1) different cup in each set of three (3) for six (6) sets in each test.

Organic Acids Matching Pairs (1 test) – Test subjects are evaluated on their ability to identify four (4) more common acids in coffee: acetic acid, malic acid, phosphoric acid, and citric acid. Eight (8) sets of four (4) cups of brewed coffee are placed on a table; participants must identify which two coffees have been fortified with one of the common acids in each set and which ones are plain, as well as name the acid.

Arabica Green Coffee Grading (1 test) – Participants are provided with three (3) 350g green arabica coffee samples. They must grade each using the Specialty Coffee Association Q4.0 Green Roasted Grading Form protocols, correctly identifying each defect, tabulating the total defect count, and identifying the grade of green coffee.

Arabica Roasted Coffee Grading (1 test) – Participants must correctly identify the number of roast defects found in one (1) 100g roasted coffee sample and correctly identify that sample as commercial, premium, or specialty. (see green coffee grading link above for form)

Roasted Sample Identification (1 test) – The objective of the test is to measure the individual’s knowledge of the SCA cupping protocol roasting instructions. Test subjects are given four trays of coffee. One of the trays meets SCA Cupping Protocol specifications. The other three are unacceptable: a) Under-roasted, b) Baked, or c) Over-roasted. Participants must correctly identify each sample and explain how they reached a determination.

A participant will be eligible to become a certified Q Grader by successfully completing all of these exams.

Learn all about each exam by taking the new online practice course here.

A list of upcoming courses offered by the Coffee Quality Institute can be found here.