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Course Overview

The Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) designed the Q Grader program to create a skilled and credible body of specialty Arabica coffee cuppers.   The role of these cuppers is to consistently and accurately assess coffee quality, both cup and grade, as a part of its Q Coffee System. Today, that program is the only internationally recognized certificate system for Arabica coffee cuppers.

Q Graders are recognized as cuppers as skilled to:

  • Objectively assess coffee quality

  • Identify, quantify and articulate coffee characteristics

  • Detect coffee defects

  • Communicate coffee characteristics using common industry terminology


A Q Grader Course is a six (6) day series of calibration exercises and exams consisting of twenty (20) individual tests that must be passed in order to qualify for certification. Candidates that do not pass all sections during the five day course period may retake those tests during the course period or anytime after within eighteen (18) months.

Course Outline

8.30 am to 5 pm, 6 days course

Total 20 test included practice with Instructor

General Knowledge (1 test, no retake)

  • Time: 60 Minutes

  • Passing Score: 75% (75 correct)

  • The Q grader General Coffee Knowledge exam is the only
    completely written test in Q certification exam exercises.
    It consists of 100 multiple choice questions about:

    • Coffee cultivation,

    • Harvesting,

    • Processing,

    • Cupping,

    • Grading,

    • Roasting, and

    • Brewing.


Sensory Skill (3 Test)

  • Part 1 – Reference: Instructor led, Passing Score 100%.

  • Part 2 – Blind: 20 Minutes, Passing Score 80% (79 Points).

  • Part 3 – Mixtures: 40 Minutes, Passing Score 70% (67 Points).

  • Part 1 of the Sensory Skills Exam, participants are provided three samples (low “I”, medium “II”, high “III”) of each taste modality or group (salt, sour, sweet).  Subject must rank each by intensity. Part I is a reference set for calibration, so each category is provided.

  • Part 2, only blind, which is where the real Sensory Skills Exam begins. The same set of 9 solutions from Part I will again be passed around to each table.  This time, no grouping by category will be provided or discussed. Subjects must identify both the modality and intensity of each cup by writing down its coded number on the appropriate line.  One of each solution from the prior round is provided, so there will be no duplicate answers.

  • In Part 3, the same base solutions used in Parts 1 and 2 are combined into 8 new mixture samples. Half (4) contain 2 solutions and the remaining 4 contain 3 solutions. Subjects must correctly identify the number of solutions in each mixture and their intensities.


Cupping Skills (4 Test, no retake)

  • Time: 4 Tests, 60 Minutes each

  • Passing Score: 80% (86 Points)

  • The core of the Q Grader course are its 4 cupping flights. Each flight includes 6 coffee samples and one reference set used for discussion and calibration before exam time begins. These include tables of:

    • Central American coffees

    • Asia/Pacific & Indonesian flight

    • East African and one of

    • all dry natural processed coffees.

  • Origins shown above are in no particular order.  Courses conducted in a coffee growing countries substitute one of the standard flights for a domestic flight.

  • Whichever are used in Cupping Skills Exam,  be familiar with SCAA’s cupping protocols. Have some experience cupping coffees from all major world origin groups before taking your Q course.  Be able to identify and grade cup characteristics, as well as record your findings correctly on a SCAA Cupping form.


Olfactory Skills (4 Test)

  • Time: 4 Tests, 30 Minutes each

  • Passing Score: 75% (9/12 correct)

  • The Q Grader course olfactory skills tests uses the Lenoir Le Nez du Cafe (pronounced ‘le nay’) scent vial kit.

  • Le Nez du Cafe tests are grouped by category, corresponding to the popular SCAA Art of Aroma 4-poster set:

    • enzymatic

    • sugar browning

    • dry distillation and

    • aromatic taints.

  • The goal of this exercise is to evaluate an individual’s ability to recognize common aromatic scents.  The kit contains thirty six (36) common aromatic scents found in the fragrance and aroma of coffee. On each test, you must match six (6) among nine (9) blind pairs, then identify three (3) specific vials of scents.

Triangulation Test (4 Test)

  • Time: 4 Tests, 45 Minutes each

  • Passing Score: 83% (5/6 triads correct)

  • Triangulation tests increase your sensitivity to tiny differences in coffee characteristics. They also teach you a method of comparing cups for quality control.

  • Some students complain that triangulations are arbitrary and exist only in a teaching lab but in defense, disagree. When cupping samples, you must triangulate tastes regularly.

  • Subjects must taste and identify the one (1) different cup in each set of three (3) for six (6) sets in each test.

Matching Pair (Organic Acid) (1 Test)

  • Time: 40 Minutes

  • Passing Score: 75 Points

  • In the Coffee Organic Acids Matching Pairs Exam, participants begin by sampling six of the acid components of coffee.   The instructor will present a brief lecture about each. In the following exam, subjects must match 2 of 4 weak brewed cups of coffee containing those acids in 8 sets. It is mandatory to identify the acid used in each set.

Arabica Green Grading Test (1 Test)

  • Time: 60 Minutes

  • Passing Score: 2/3 Samples Graded Correct

  • In the Arabica Green Grading exam, subjects receive 3 x 350g green coffee samples. These have been first picked clean and tainted with a certain number and type of defects. Your task is to identify the defects iand then the adjusted “equivalent” defect count. Next use SCAA rules and label the sample as “specialty coffee,” “premium coffee” or “commercial coffee.” 20 Minutes is allowed for each of 3 samples and you must grade at least 2 correctly to pass.

Arabica Roasted Sample Test (1 Test)

  • Time: 15 Minutes

  • Passing Score: 100%

  • Like the green grading exam, here you must correctly identify the number of defects.  In roasted coffee, those defects “quakers” — underdeveloped beans that do not develop in roasting.

  • Count the number of pale beans in a sample of 100g, then classify that sample as specialty coffee, premium or commercial. This exam is also open book.

Sample Roast Identification (1 Test)

  • Time: 60 Minutes

  • Passing Score: 75 Points

  • In the Sample Roast Identification test, subjects must identify an ideal roast for coffee cupping.  The challenge is that you may only use the sense of taste and smell in brewed coffee under red light.


After you finish the class, you will be awarded:

D'codeS Attendance Certificate

​Q Arabica Grader Certificate from CQI (No extra fee)

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