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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.
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.
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.
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.
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