Skip to next element

Q Arabica Grader

Q Arabica Grader

Making The Grade

It was 11:35am, I dipped my spoon in the sample cup, took my final sip of coffee, sloshed it around my mouth and confirmed the taste. This was definitely the odd one. I jotted down my answer on my sheet of paper, and handed it over to the instructor. I was finally done. My heart was beating fast. I needed to pass this final test and I would be a certified Arabica Q Grader. I started anxiously pacing back and forth waiting for the instructor to grade my exam but she was busy rinsing out some beakers by the sink. Why was she doing that right now? Doesn't she know I'm waiting for her? I couldn't stand the suspense, so I went outside for some fresh air. It was raining and I had to stand underneath the roof line to stay dry. I felt caged and I was still getting wet. This was horrible. I walked back inside, and noticed she was walking over to her desk. She was going to grade my test! It was as though time had stopped. She looked over the test, didn't make any markings, and wrote "pass" at the top. She turned and looked at me and said "congratulations, you're a Q!"

The Coffee Quality Institute is a nonprofit organization that started almost 10 years ago. Their main goals are to provide training and technical assistance to coffee producers and other individuals in the coffee supply chain to increase the value, volume, and sustainability of high quality coffee production.

The supply chain for coffee is extremely long, and not very standardized. The information shared between a farmer and a coffee roaster goes through so many stages that it can be difficult to get a true sense of a coffee's grade. At Henry's House of Coffee we have built relationships with our brokers that help us get the best coffee out there, but you can imagine how difficult it might be for a new company that is just starting up. For that reason, CQI created a Q grade to provide assurance of quality that consumers can trust. While there are many variables that can affect the taste of coffee, the Q graded coffees confirm that the beans being used are among the highest quality in the world. Afterall, a good bean is the foundation toward a perfect cup of coffee.

When a coffee moves through the Q grade system and becomes verified as a Q Coffee, it signifies an independent verification of quality. The green coffee samples are sent to 3 licensed Q Graders, which are professionally accredited cuppers, and are cupped and scored. According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, a coffee with a score of 80 or more is considered specialty. At our store, all of our beans are 85 and above.

The Q Exam
There are over 4,000 licensed Q Graders in the world. As mentioned, the backbone of the Q Grading System are the certified Q Graders who are responsible for grading the coffee beans. A Q Grader must pass a rigorous six day course comprised of three-day exams to earn their certification. There are 20 coffee-related exams in all, such as green grading, roast identification, coffee cupping, and sensory triangulation. One of the hardest exams tests the students by having them differentiate between salt, sweet, and sour tasting water solutions and ranking them in order of intensity.

Q'd At Henry's House of Coffee
My father received his Q 20 years ago from the school of hard knocks. He doesn't need a piece of paper to certify him. But he still sees the benefit of learning new concepts. He wanted me to understand what the industry was teaching and get a better sense of how things are being done in a more structured way. The Q exam was one of the hardest things I have done. Spending six days away from work and my family was difficult, but it was necessary because knowledge is key.

If you want to have a sustainable business you need to constantly check your surroundings and understand the business landscape. You never want to settle. We believe therefore the mentality of "if it isn't broken, don't fix it" is not the best way to run your business. Just ask companies like Blockbuster and MySpace. For that reason, my father and I always strive to learn and become a student of coffee.

My father doesn't like advertising that our beans have a score of 85+ because he thinks its "showing off." He would rather talk to you about the taste, the mouth-feel, or the flavor. I agree with him, but if you ever want to discuss Q scores with us, know that we both have the knowledge to do so, both new school and old school.


My official certificate!

Day 3 of our class. Taking some time to unwind and goof off.

Share on:



- February 01, 2022

Can you provide a general breakdown of the Q scale? What is a good # on the Q scale?

Hrag Kalebjian

- February 01, 2022

According to CQI (Coffee Quality Institute), a score of 82 or above is considered “specialty grade” but the further up you go the more unique and expensive the coffees become. The SCA (specialty coffee association) marks coffees as specialty as 85 or more, and less than 10% of coffees qualify with a score of 90+. Hope that helps.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published.