I survived a roasting from the world coffee industry’s governing body

Author: Willian Sharpe   Date Posted:13 November 2018 

I survived a roasting from the world coffee industry’s governing body main image I survived a roasting from the world coffee industry’s governing body image

I survived a roasting from the world coffee industry’s governing body

This week I gained the highest certification at my level in the coffee industry being announced as a licensed Q Arabica Grader, and whether it’s from all the coffee I sampled throughout the assessment or the feel-good endorphins from accomplishing a significant life goal, I am buzzing with excitement!


To say this test is hard is an understatement. The failure rate of the required assessments is very high, with a pass rate of about 25 per cent. There are only approximately 87 qualified Q Graders in Australia, and globally there’s about 5,500 of us – that’s roughly on par with the population of Fortitude Valley in Brisbane.


To sit for the examination, you need to participate in the six-day program hosted by the Coffee Quality Institute which allows for three days of preparation and three days for assessment. It’s a gruelling week on the mind and senses, putting participants through 19 complex sensory tests to score our understanding of coffee aromas, flavours, defects and raw grading. Essentially, we are being tested on a skill commonly known as ‘cupping’. 


Coffee is very similar to wine in that it embodies different notes unique to its origin, and there’s a true science to coffee appreciation. The Q Grader program pushes your sensory skills to the absolute limit, with examinations such as identifying three levels of intensity of sweet, sour and salt in a cup of water in any number of combinations. For example, cup one might have sweetness level two and sour level three but no salt, cup two might have level three sweet, level three sour and level one salt, which to the untrained taster would easily miss. I was then asked to describe what each cup mix and intensities were.


The Program also required me to detect the types of acids that are found naturally in coffee and produced in the roasting process which is incredibility hard to distinguish to the untrained coffee consumer. I was also asked to identify a cup of coffee that has a defective bean out of the average of 40 beans in any one brew. 



It’s a highly sought-after position to be in, being able to grade and score coffee based on taste attributes such as flavour, balance, body, sweetness, acidity, aftertaste and uniformity. I can’t wait to implement my new accreditation and introduce new opportunities to Di Bella’s entire supply chain from our farmers and roasters to our customers.


Are you interested in becoming a Q Grader? These are my top four tips to help you accomplish your dream.

  1. Learn to appreciate different flavours. Let them sit on your tongue. Pay close attention to the varieties of berries, nuts, citruses, wines and spices.
  2. Drink lots of coffee – this goes without saying but it’s critical to drink lots of different types of coffee and really analyse them. I find drinking in groups the most beneficial because I can practice telling the group what I taste.
  3. Stay Hydrated. It’s good for your palate.
  4. Don’t overthink it – if you’re at the point in your career that you’re going for Q Grader certification, and you’ve done the appropriate preparation, then you already know your craft. Don’t be afraid to challenge what you taste and be confident in your conviction.

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