Evaluating Coffee Quality:  It's Serious Business!

Evaluating Coffee Quality: It's Serious Business!

January 28, 2023

What is a Coffee Q-Grader? 

coffee q-grader

The most highly qualified professionals in the coffee industry are known as Q-graders. Their role is to assess and grade the quality of coffee based on standards set by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) or a similar organization.  Q-graders are skilled in the sensory evaluation of coffee based on its appearance, aroma, taste, and other factors.  Along with their daily coffee grading duties, they are the only people in the industry who are qualified to judge coffee contests.  


coffee beans and cup

Becoming a coffee Q-grader is a complex process that requires extensive training and dedication.  It’s not something you can jump into without any knowledge or background in the industry.  You will need some experience working with coffee before you can apply for this job!  You should also familiarize yourself with the different types of coffee beans so when someone asks if their cup has been properly roasted, you will know what they mean and how to answer their question.


making coffee

Becoming a Certified Q-Grader

Before you can work as a coffee Q-grader, you need to be certified.  To begin the certification process, you must:

  • Have at least 5 years of experience in coffee tasting and cupping which you can get by working in a café or roastery.  
  • Have completed an undergraduate degree in agriculture, food science, or similar field of study with at least 3 credits dedicated to coffee science or chemistry.
  • Pass all sections of the SCA's online training course on Basic Brewing Methods.
  • Pay the annual SCA membership fee ($75 - $200 depending on your location).

After you have met these requirements, you will be eligible to take the examination administered by the National Coffee Association (NCA) or a similar organization.  It’s a multiple choice test of 100 questions that you must pass in order to be certified.

Is Coffee Q-Grading For You?

The decision to turn your passion for coffee into a profession should not be made lightly.  There are several things to be considered. First, it's important to understand that becoming a certified Coffee Q-grader is not an easy task.  There are many people who attempt to do so but fail. You will need to dedicate yourself fully to the challenge, gain the necessary experience, and study hard in order to be successful.

Even though the certification process is difficult, the rewards are great.  Coffee Q-graders have been trained extensively in both the science of coffee grading and its practical application on farms around the world. Therefore they are highly skilled professionals who earn a good income from their work and enjoy great respect among their peers because of their expertise.  Being a certified Q-grader will create opportunities and open doors for you in the coffee industry because the program is recognized globally.

If you're undecided if this is the right path for you, check out this video for a first hand account of what it's like to work as a coffee Q-grader!



We hope we've given you some insight into what it takes to become a certified Coffee Q-grader. It may not be as easy as one might assume but if you're determined to make this your chosen profession and you’re willing to work hard, there is no better job out there!