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What is Q Grader? and more questions about the Q program.



Question 1: What is Q Grader?

A Q Grader (or Quality Grader) is a professional certification within the coffee industry. It is conferred by the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI), a nonprofit entity working to provide education and improve equity through the coffee supply chain.


The certification is a way of ensuring people throughout the coffee industry globally are aligned to the same standards of tasting, evaluating, and numerically scoring the quality of coffee.


Question 2: Làm thế nào để trở thành Q Grader?

To become a Q Grader, you will have to complete a 6-day series of courses and exams, passing 19 tests: Sensory Skills, Cupping Skills, Green Coffee Grading, and more.


An important factor in Q Courses is to ensure that students are calibrated to international standards for cupping, assessing other coffee characteristics such as flavour, aftertaste, acidity, body, etc. as well as calibrated amongst their classmates.


The coffee standards that Program Q is built on are based on SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) protocols and benchmarks, including roast levels for sample roasts, Cupping SCA form, etc. Emma Sage, Director of Education Resources at CQI, explains that SCA creates standards, “And we teach upon those things.”


To take the Q courses and exam, you will need to register for a series of courses taught by an OFFICIALLY CERTIFIED Q Instructor, please confirm that before enrolling.


Due to the geographically dispersed nature of the Q Instructor and the course location, most people need to travel (possibly between countries) to take the Q. Also, Q Arabica Grader and Q Robusta Grader will have courses and certificates based on individual grading and assessment standards for each class.


If you don't feel ready to take the Q Grader exam, we encourage you to take an SCA Sensory class to learn the SCA coffee grading standards.


Question 3: What is the benefit of being a Q Grader?

Achieving and maintaining Q grader status is not just of personal or career benefit, but is of benefit to the coffee supply chain worldwide, explains Sage.


“Having the Q means that you can be relied upon to speak a global language of quality,”


“It is to be able to recognize quality and speak throughout the supply chain about a coffee,” Sage continues. The idea is that whether you’re a producer, importer/exporter, or a coffee roaster, knowing that others in your supply chain have tasted and graded a coffee to the same standards benefits everyone along the way. When a coffee’s quality is reliably evaluated and fairly valued, we can achieve more consistency and predictability for all involved in business and agricultural decisions at each step.


The Q program was originally developed to serve coffee producers, says Sage. “There was a problem in the industry where people didn’t know how to evaluate their own coffee,” she explains. “If you don’t know what you’re selling, how can you sell it for the right price?”


Interestingly, besides people having Q certification, coffees can, too—a Q certification on a coffee indicates that it has been evaluated by three different Q Graders, says Sage. It’s insurance that you know the quality claims made about a coffee can be trusted.


Question 4: How long has the Q been around? Has the curriculum ever changed?

The Q program has been around for nearly 2 decades and CQI is constantly updating and improving its training and certification programs.


Currently, CQI is providing 2 training programs: Quality Evaluation (with courses such as the Q Cupping Essentials course, Q Arabica course, and Q Robusta course ...) and Post-Harvest Processing (Q Processing Level 1, Q Processing Level 2). , Q Processing Level 3…).


Specifically, with the Q Arabica Grader and Q Robusta Grader learning programs, CQI has improved to Version 5.0.


Emma Sage, Director of Education Resources at CQI, notes that: with Q Grader Edition V5.0, CQI, a flavour standards exam has recently been added to the curriculum and that updates to the canonical SCA cupping form will also require Q instruction be tweaked to keep current.


Question 5: The Q exam is really hard to pass, is that true?

Yes, the Q Grader exam is definitely not an easy exam. With the Latest Version V5.0, you must pass 20 exams during the course duration (the total course duration is usually 6 days) in order to earn the Q Grader Certificate. If you want to get the Q Arabica Grader Certificate, you have to pass 20 exams of Q Arabica, and the same for Q Robusta.

Due to the fact that students have to participate in many tasting tests in a short time, most of the students participating in the Q course participate with a "very" serious spirit. There were even students who attended HQJ's Q class who had to change their diet. They didn't eat spicy food or too salty flavoured food and drinks to keep the taste at the most neutral level.

Q Instructor Sam Choi at our HQJ said:

“The most difficult thing people encounter in this course is not in tasting and analyzing coffee, but in having to go through a lot of tests in a short time. At the same time, anxiety and stress when taking the exam can also prevent students from making full use of their daily skills.”

Sam Choi - Q Instructor at HQJ Coffe School, Vietnam

Therefore, it is VERY NORMAL for student Q to not pass the exam! There are cases where the whole class did not pass the test and had to retake it. So don't put too much pressure on yourself! You will have 2 more chances to retake if you fail the first time.


With all the things we've just shared, taking the exam and getting the Q Grader certification is extremely challenging. That's why Q Grader Certificate holders are held in high esteem by their peers in the coffee industry!


Question 6: Job benefits with Q Certification?

Candice Madison, a Q Instructor in the US, said: “I think that having a Q Certification means achieving great results, demonstrating steadfastness and true passion for coffee.


“Because the exam is rigorous, it gives people a step up in their career,”


Having the Q on a resume can lead to increased job opportunities or the chance to negotiate better pay in a current position, but for many, it’s also of tremendous personal reward.


After one is certified as a Q Grader, opportunities in the coffee industry expand because the Q Program is globally recognized by coffee professionals. Employers know the rigorous tests students must pass to become certified, and that they will reap the rewards of those graders’ knowledge in product quality, analysis of flavour profiles and consistency through evaluation.


Question 7: Is the Q exam expensive?


CQI does not offer a fixed tuition fee for instructors, so the price of each course can vary quite a bit. The average cost today can be around $2000 or more for the entire Q course and Q exam, excluding travel and accommodation expenses of lecturers


Due to the geographically dispersed nature and the Q course's location, most students need to go abroad to get a Q Certificate or invite Q instructors to their home country.


At HQJ, we are proud to have Mr Sam Choi who can organize Q Arabica Grader and Q Robusta Grader courses on a regular basis, with interpreters. So that anyone in Vietnam can participate in the Q without having to spend too much money on travel and accommodation.


Question 8: How long is the Q grader certification valid for?

The Q Grader certificate is internationally valid and has a duration of 3 years. Every 3 years, if Q Graders want to renew their Q Certificate, they will have to participate and pass the Q Arabica Calibration/ Q Robusta Calibration exam.


The Calibration Exam will re-confirm the Q Grader's ability to judge coffee quality against globally recognized standards for Fine Robusta and/or Specialty Arabica.


During the Q Calibration session, Q Grader will have to participate in the calibration exam consisting of 3 cupping tables with 3 different topics and must pass 2 out of 3 cupping tables. After passing the Q Calibration course, the Q Grader will be renewed for an additional 36 months.


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