Last week I taught my first Q Grader Course at the Brazilian Specialty Coffee Association (BSCA) in Varginha, Minas Gerais. For those not familiar with it, the Q Grader Cupping Certification is the main certification for coffee tasters, or “cuppers” as we call ourselves, in the specialty coffee industry. Administered by the Coffee Quality Institute (http://www.coffeeinstitute.org/), the certification is achieved by passing a series of exams that test cuppers’ senses of taste and smell as well as their ability to score coffees of varying qualities from different origins, identify coffee defects, classify green and roasted coffee, understand and correctly use the cupping scoring form, and demonstrate a solid general knowledge of the coffee industry.
The exams are quite rigorous individually, and the rapid series of exams makes passing them all a difficult task even for experienced cuppers. That being said, between the full-time students and those retaking specific exams, we now have 12 new Q Graders here in Brazil.
Below are some shots from the course and brief descriptions of some of the exams.
The heart and soul of the course are the calibration cuppings. Students cup various qualities of coffees from all over the world. To pass, they must identify any cups that have defects, properly use the form, and appropriately score each coffee based on its quality. There are four
Triangulations test a cuppers ability to pick the “odd man out.” Two cups are the same and one is different. Given that all coffees on the table are from the same origin, cuppers must often have to look at a specific attribute like acidity or aftertaste if they are unable to discern the different cup on the fragrance and flavor.
Most coffee evaluations, be it for commercial or specialty, usually contain two parts: the classification of the unroasted green coffee and the tasting of the roasted product. Students are tested on their ability to identify coffee defects (blacks, sours, insect damage, etc) and then correctly tabulate a final defect equivalency count since some defects count more than others.
The olfactory exams test a cupper’s ability to discern different fragrances that can be found in coffee. There are 4 olfactory exams based on aroma type: Enzymatic, Sugar Browning, Dry Distillation, and Aromatic Taints.
For this exam, tasters must identify cups that have had acid added to them as well as the type of acid that was added. Acidity is a key attribute to a specialty coffee, and the ability to identify intensities and qualities of acids is necessary for being an effective cupper.