The View

So, it is time to fess up… for the last five years Miles has written not just some but each and every one of “The View” articles in the magazine. Yes, we always discuss and agree on content, but I simply have this love/hate relationship with writing. I hate to do it; I LOVE it when it is finished. I have no idea how I even was able to write a 280 page book in 1993 (Java U: Business Basics) in only 3 months. I think it has something to do with a huge quantity of chocolate covered espresso beans consumed at all hours of the day. However, I digress. So, to return to my topic, who wouldn’t want to be cooler and sexier?!?
I read a recent ad…
“It is time to get your Q-Certification! You know you want it! Here are your top 5 reasons to take my class in July to test for it: 5) You WILL get a tremendous education. 4) You will set yourself apart from your peers. 3) You become part of a select group of people committed to improving the quality of coffee in the world. 2) Improve Quality in Coffee= Improve the lives of those that produce it. And the number one reason to take my class and test for the Q-Grader Certification: 1) You will be cooler and sexier than other coffee people!”
Ok, given this set of reasons, I immediately signed up for the course, not for only myself, but recruited three of my closest coffee friends to take the course with me! Interesting enough, three of us had 19+ years each in the coffee industry, and the other grew up in a coffee-producing family and has worked in the industry for the last 14 months. Each of us had our own reasons for wanting to take this ridiculously demanding series of lectures and 22 tests given over an intense 5-day period. And, each of us found our own unique challenges and gained a different perspective when we were finished. However, we all had one thing in common: this experience was one of the most rewarding and impactful experiences in our varied lives.
What is “Q-Certification?” and why do I care?
First, to understand “Q” you must understand “CQI.” The Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) is a nonprofit organization working internationally to improve the quality of coffee and the lives of the people who produce it. CQI provides training and technical assistance to coffee producers and other individuals in the supply chain to increase the value, volume, and sustainability of high quality coffee production.
The “Q Coffee System” locates specialty coffees at origin and helps to improve those that have the potential to meet specialty standards. The effect is a common language between buyers and sellers that draws attention to more specialty coffees while creating an infrastructure that gives producers greater opportunities to enter the marketplace and to increase their economic viability. (Next Confession: The last two paragraphs were taken directly from the CQI website.)
To read a great article on Q Grader Certification, see our August 2011 issue–
To summarize, we were being trained/certified to recognized the specific attributes of “Specialty” coffee and the tests verified our abilities in grading green coffee, identifying roasting standards, and our knowledge of coffee from crop to roasting. That was what I considered the easy part. Anyone can study and learn. The truly challenging part was proving that we each had the “nose” and palate to identify quality.
To this end, there were 5 “Triangulation” tests, 4 “”Olfactory” tests, 3 “Sensory Evaluation” tests, and one Organic Acids Matching Pairs test. I was intimidated by the thought of memorizing 36 scents including rubber, basmati rice, and leather, among others. However, the most dreaded test of all (and most failed by any student attempting the course) is the third “Sensory Evaluation” test in which we were each presented with 8 cups contain a mixture of sweet, salty, and sour solutions. In each case, we were to identify not only the combination of flavors, but also the intensity of each. I was positive I would never get this!
My Secret Nemesis
To my complete surprise, I passed the Sensory Evaluation on the first attempt. Unfortunately, “Triangulation” was a different story. We were each presented 6 sets of coffees, 3 cups each. In each set, 2 of the coffees were the same and the third was different. Our job was to identify the coffee in each set that was different correctly in at least 5 of the 6 sets. Now this is done under a red light so we were unable to discern color differences. In many of the cases, the “different” coffee was from a different origin (country), however in some of the cases all three coffees were from the same country, just different farms. My first attempt was not just a failure; it was an “Epic Failure” (Thanks Rocky). Thankfully as the week progressed, experience and my amazing classmates helped me to gain much-needed skills and I finally passed three of the five Triangulations.


The Next Step
So this brings me to my admission: after 3 weeks of intense study before the course, and 5 days of exhausting testing and learning, I can’t yet say I have my Q Grader Certificate. I can say congratulations to two of my friends (both from producing countries) who did manage to pass all 22 tests in that first week! And I am hoping that by the Roasters Guild Retreat (in two weeks), I will have passed the final two Triangulations and awarded my Q Grader Certificate (Thanks to Craig Holt at Atlas for allowing me in to retake the final two tests this week!). A huge thanks goes to Rocky Rhodes for being an amazing Q Grader Instructor (there are only 31 currently certified in the world!). Luzma and Ashley, thanks for cramming with me for 3 weeks and even helping me study for the Triangulations after you passed! And, Karen, your passion and knowledge has been an inspiration to me for years and I know you will pass your last two tests as well!
If you’d like to read more about our Q Experience and quotes from our classmates, visit!
Kerri & Miles

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