The q Coffee League, Graders and Cuppers

There is a job out there which now is only done by 872 men and women in the whole world, a job that's so special that there is no school for it, the learning has to be done by trial and error by each individual. And those 872 people can make or take our mornings.

Who are they? They are The Q Graders.

from wiki.commons
from wiki.commons

The job may be as old as the coffee drink goes, some 600 years ago but somehow didn't get much recognition. Only with the modern days and the development of a rigorous and precise market, the Q graders surfaced. The job is more like a highly specialized profession with a mixture of primitive rituals. And only few of us have what it takes: a very sensitive nose and extra taste buds on the tongue.

With 800 coffee flavor components, the coffee industry had to come up with a system to evaluate and label the products. The Speciality Coffee Association of America (SCAA). through it's educational brunch, Coffee Quality institute (CQI), had developed a method of measuring the quality of the coffee beans as well as the coffee drink, called Q grading, where Q stands for the word "quality".

Now Q grading had become an international recognized rating system that unifies the language of the industry, from the producer trough buyer to consumers. The coffee is appreciated for quality of green beans, roasted beans and, finally, the beverage.

From left to right: unroasted, light, cinnamon, medium, high, city, full city, French, and Italian.

from wiki.commons
from wiki.commons

Green beans tests

First comes the green coffee beans quality control to determine the defects. Even before the sacs of beans leave the plantation, the graders carefully examine the coffee in search for uneven shapes, sizes and colors. These three attributes play a major role in roasting as the beans that are not alike tend to roast unevenly resulting in a poor quality of roasted coffee. And finally, they smell the coffee beans lithe this: "Each sample must also be evaluated for foreign odors. Graders need to stick their nose into the sample and inhale strongly to detect any foreign odor. Only samples that are completely free of foreign odors can qualify as Speciality Grade" (http://www.coffeeinstitute.org)

An accepted green grading complies with a set of parameters like the intensity of light, level of work surface, color of work surface, and instructions like how much the distance between the graders' eyes and the beans.

test buds from wiki.commons
test buds from wiki.commons
One of the daily coffee cuppings at the Stumptown Coffee Annex in Southeast Portland, Oregon.  by david Burn
One of the daily coffee cuppings at the Stumptown Coffee Annex in Southeast Portland, Oregon. by david Burn

Cupping

Cupping refers to the evaluation of roasted beans and coffee drink. This technique measures the aroma and flavor of the coffee on a numeric scale of 1 to 100. As a result, coffee is separated into Speciality Coffee and Not Speciality Coffee.

The cupping test is more complicated then the green beans grading.

Here, the graders or cuppers, have to smell the roasted beans and test the drink. They could have more then one cupping session a day, grading for different coffee companies.

Again, cupping has to meet certain factors like the grade of the roast, the temperature of the water, the ratio of coffee to water and a strict equipment such us the material of cups and utensils.

First, the cuppers have to sniff the fresh roasted and ground coffee which had been already stored in a cup covered with a tight lid. Then they have to poor hot water over grinds and bring their nose very close to the coffee. Next, they "break the crust", meaning that they stir the foam formed at the top of the cup, smelling again. The next step is tasting the coffee. They have to slurp, very loud, a spoonful of coffee from each of the 5 cups. When the liquid have spread to all areas of their tongue, they spit the coffee in special spiting containers. This process must be very fast as they need to move to the next sample before it becomes too cold or looses its initial aromas. Then they take notes.

The cupping system determines the coffee's attributes.

Here is a list of a attributes as listed in the protocols of Speciality Coffee Association of America:

Fragrance - the smell of the ground coffee when still dry.

Aroma - the smell of the coffee when infused with water.

Flavor - the principal character of coffee, the combined impression of all taste buds sensations and retro-nasal aromas (taste).

Aftertaste - the length of taste and aroma.

Acidity - the "liveliness", sweetness and fresh-fruit character of coffee.

Body - the tactile feeling of the liquid in the mouth.

Balance - how all flavor, aftertaste, acidity and body complement or contrast each other.

Sweetness - a pleasing fullness of flavor.

Clean Cup - no negative impressions from first ingestion to final aftertaste.

When the cupping session ends, a score is given and the coffee is rated. A score of 80 or higher qualifies as Speciality Coffee and everything below 80 would be a Non -Speciality.

A Cupping Session

The Q graders

To become a coffee grader or coffee cupper one must pass a very rigorous test. The accreditation is offered by CQI and meets the SCAA standards. It lasts three days and has 22 tasting challenges. There isn't any school one may enroll. Most accredited graders come from inside the coffee industry and have years of experience. Some of them are baristas, some are buyers. There are few programs developed to train future graders. All the information are gathered at CQI's website.

More by this Author


Comments 12 comments

Dame Scribe profile image

Dame Scribe 6 years ago from Canada

Now, that would a fun job for the coffee lovers, lol. Great information! :)


cameciob profile image

cameciob 6 years ago Author

Dame Scribe, thank you for being my first visitor. Yes, that would be a fun job. I’m wondering if these cuppers get sick of tasting coffee all the time. Also, what they do when they get a cold or a flu? Thanks for the comment.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

I would love to do something like this. I love a good cup of coffee. I like that picture showing the different beans and the roast. I wrote a bit about coffee too because I like to share information that may encourage people to drink the real stuff, the good stuff - instead of that ground supermarket stuff. And to share with friends, and enjoy. You have great coffee hubs!

I have some good Ethiopian beans right now which I will grind in the morning.

Great informative hub. Thanks so much!


cameciob profile image

cameciob 6 years ago Author

BkCreative, thank you for stopping. When I started researching the coffee subject I was amazed of how many things I don’t know about the drink I love the most, after water. I’ll check out your hubs, you made me curious. And, seems like you’ll have a very good morning.

Thanks again.


Anna Evanswood profile image

Anna Evanswood 6 years ago from Malaysia

So much info and sooo interesting:) Thank you. I didnt know that there were so few Q graders:)


cameciob profile image

cameciob 6 years ago Author

Anna Evanswood, thank you for visiting and commenting on my hub. I didn't know either and when I found out I decided to write this hub. I think they were even fewer some ten years ago.

Thanks again.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City

Oh, I'm back again! Thanks for letting me link your other hub about coffee and I hope I can link this one too. You do more than just write about a cup of coffee - you include it all - great stuff!


cameciob profile image

cameciob 6 years ago Author

You are welcome!BkCreative and thank you for visiting and for the very nice words! I like to give as many information as i know.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

This is such an interesting Hub - I had no idea there were such people. I would love to be one as I am passionate about my coffee! What a great privilege and pleasure it would be to be able to taste so many coffees!

Thanks for exciting my taste buds - gotta go make a coffee right now!

Love and peace

Tony


cameciob profile image

cameciob 6 years ago Author

Hi Tony, I would love to be a cupper myself. I always wanted to work in the coffee industry but my career took a different turn. I'm thinking that I could get a part time job at Carribou Coffee - a chain of coffee shops- when I'll retire from my actual job! (or when I'll make enough money from my hubs to quite it...lol).

Thank you for stopping and commenting.


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

Interesting to learn about. Thanks!


cameciob profile image

cameciob 5 years ago Author

RTalloni, If there was a job I wish I had, then that would have been a coffee grader...Thanks for stopping.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working