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What is Q-Grader, How to Become?

Your love for coffee and your passion for specialty coffees can turn into a profession that you will enjoy. Did you know that you can also specialize in coffee? If you get the right certifications for it, you can become a Q-grader. In this article, we explain what Q graders do, why this title exists, and what you need to do to become a Q grader.

What is a Q-grader and what exactly does it do?

A Q classifier, also called a coffee classifier or coffee Q classifier, is a professional trained in tasting and evaluating the quality of coffee beans. 'Q' stands for 'Quality'. A Q grader evaluates coffee against the guidelines of the SCAA: Specialty Coffee Association of America. Thanks to these guidelines, coffees from all over the world can be evaluated objectively, whether they come from a plantation in Honduras or Indonesia. Quality is determined by a score between 0 and 100. When the quality of coffee beans is evaluated with a score of 80 and above, coffee can be considered as quality coffee. A certificate from the Coffee Quality Institute is then awarded: one of the most prestigious awards for coffees in existence worldwide. This is the appreciation you want to receive as a coffee maker. This recognition of quality makes coffee much more interesting to importers, roasters and consumers.

A Q-grade student evaluates coffee

what does he pay attention to?

In order to evaluate coffees as fairly as possible for their quality, Q-limiters must comply with stringent requirements. These are basically the requirements for the preparation of coffee tasting. For example, consider the requirements in the area of ​​storage of the bean sample, the ratio of coffee to water, and the quality of the water. Q-limiters also evaluate at least 5 samples of one type of coffee bean to test the results of quality. The tighter the Q raters adhere to the requirements, the more objective the assessment will be.

When the preparation is finished, the real evaluation of the coffee can begin. The tasting and evaluation of coffee is called 'cupping'. During cupping, the Q-limiter pays attention to the following points:


Smell; It is the smell of dry coffee beans, while the aroma is the smell of coffee when it comes into contact with hot water.


Taste; It is a combined impression of all taste sensations through nose-to-mouth taste buds and retro-nasal aromas. Density, quality, and complexity are important considerations for the Q classifier.

Aftertaste Aftertaste

It measures how long the flavor and aroma remain in the mouth after coffee is spit out or swallowed. A short or unpleasant aftertaste means a lower score.


A clear taste is positive, a sour taste is not. Acidity is at its highest when it adds to the vibrancy and sweetness of the coffee.


It is the tactile sensation of coffee in the mouth, perceived mainly between the tongue and palate. A full-bodied coffee feels pleasant in the mouth.


Looking at the balance determines how much the coffee's aftertaste, acidity and body work together. It is checked whether they complement each other or contradict each other.


Sweetness, as we know from sweetness, refers to the pleasant, full-bodied taste. In this case, the opposite of sweet is sour. A sour coffee will have some sweetness and vice versa.

Cleaning/Clean cup

Cleanliness evaluates a sip of coffee from the first ingestion to swallowing. If a non-coffee-like taste or aroma is detected throughout the sip, it will cost points.


It means the consistency of the flavors of different cups of coffee. In other words, does the first cup of coffee taste the same as the fifth cup?


Here the Q-separator can make his personal assessment of the coffee. In other words, a holistic integrated assessment is demanded: an assessment that focuses on the total experience of tasting coffee.


Defects include flavors that degrade the quality of the coffee. This applies to both smell and taste.

Order of points by which coffee is judged

The Q-limiter cannot randomly select points from the above list when testing coffee. This is because the assessment takes place in 4 steps, each consisting of one or more points from the list.

Step 1: Fragrance/aroma

In the first step of the testing process, the smell and aroma of the coffee is evaluated. There should be a dry and wet assessment where the fragrance falls below the dry assessment and the aroma falls below the wet assessment. This means that the quality of the aroma is determined by smelling the dry, ground beans, and the quality of the aroma is determined by the 'wet coffee' (ie when the ground coffee beans are dissolved in hot water). There are different requirements for this. For example, the Q-limiter should assess the dry odor of the beans within 15 minutes after the beans have been ground.

Step 2: Taste, aftertaste, acidity, body and balance

These parts The Q-limiter begins by tasting the coffee. Coffee should be taken in the mouth in such a way that it covers the mouth area as much as possible, especially the tongue and palate. It is important that the Q-classifier evaluates the scores in the order above. Because taste and aftertaste should be evaluated at a different (higher) temperature than acidity, body and balance. Taste and aftertaste are determined at a temperature of 71.1 degrees Celsius (160 degrees Fahrenheit) and acidity, body and balance at 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit).

Step 3: Sweetness, uniformity and cleanliness

When the temperature of the coffee drops to about 37.8 degrees Celsius (100 degrees Fahrenheit), sweetness, homogeneity and cleanliness can be evaluated. The Q-limiter evaluates each cup of coffee so that 2 points per cup can be awarded for each score component (ie sweetness, homogeneity or cleanliness). The maximum possible score is 10.

Step 4: General and Defects

The evaluation should stop when the temperature of the coffee reaches 21 degrees Celsius. Before that, the overall score and defects must therefore be determined.

Step 5: Scoring

Finally, the points are added together. The final score is known after deductions for defects have been calculated and subtracted from the total score. What results are possible and what do they mean? And – the most interesting question for us – when can coffee be called Specialty Coffee based on the Q-grader score?

Possible outcomes 90 – 100Extraordinary/ExcellentSpecialty Coffee

85 – 89.99 Excellent/Perfect Specialty Coffee

80 – 84.99 Very good

Below 80.0 Specialty Grade/Below Specialty Coffee

Q-graders: Why exist?

Pleasures are indisputable, aren't they? Some like specialty coffee made with Brazilian Arabica beans, some don't. But if you really want to honestly compare coffee beans from all over the world, you need a frame of reference. The Q-grader assessment and certification from the SCA provide exactly that: a reliable frame of reference that standardizes the way you talk about and evaluate coffee. So there may still be some debate on taste.

How to become a Q class student?

Does this sound like your dream job? First of all, the first half of the training consists of a six-day training consisting of various workshops and training courses. There are 20 (!) tests on the theory, sensory skills and evaluation of green and roasted coffee beans. The criteria are strict, the required qualifications are many, and the entire examination process is very intense. And if you think that after earning your title as a Q-grader, you're ready for the rest of your life: unfortunately that's not the case. The training certificate is valid for 3 years. After 3 years you must attend a special refresher course and prove your skills again. After your 3-year license expires, you take this course again in 5 years. Then you have to retake the 6-day course and take another exam.

If you are successful then you have a very good job.


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