Understanding the Q-Grading System

Many have wondered and questioned the term ‘specialty’. We often ask, how does one determine what graded specialty is? Is it the green beans, or the roasted coffee that determines the standards? This article will assist you in better understanding the processes that helps farmers to determine the grade of their beans.


The Coffee Quality Institute provides courses that help determine what is specialty for not only Arabica beans, but also Robusta beans. The institution provides courses that develop both Q & R Graders to assist with the scoring process worldwide. The Q Coffee system is an instrument used in upholding those standards. Thanks to the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s long standing influence in the coffee trade of the last 26 years, it is now internationally known and utilised around the globe.



The Q-Coffee System is an identification process that locates specialty coffee at its origin. This permits for confirmation of whether the coffee has the potential to be graded according to specialty standards. The Specialty Coffee Association of America states that if a coffee receives a score of 80 or above, it is automatically considered specialty.



The Q-Grading system reinforces these scores as the system provides assurance of quality that consumers can trust. Because of these high quality assurances, the Q-Grading program is not only extremely tough to pass; one must also be extremely strong in his or her sensory skills to be able to become a qualified Q-Grader.



To be verified as a Q-Coffee™, green bean samples must be submitted to an In-Country Partner (ICP). From that point onwards, three licensed Q-Graders (Professionally accredited cuppers) proceed to cup the coffee and to score them according to the CQI standards they were trained in. The coffees that pass this control process will then receive a Q-Certificate, in order to distinguish them as being of a specialty grade; those that do not will receive a technical report that explains why.

The Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) has also launched many initiatives to assist with coffee production, quality-control and gender equality.


For more information on the Coffee Quality Institute, please visit www.coffeeinstitute.org.


Photos courtesy: Coffee Quality Institute

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