Making the Grade

Making the Grade

At Oceana Coffee, we often reference our co-owner and roaster Scott Angelo’s Arabica Q-Grader credentials. Why? Because the training and knowledge required to attain certification by the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) is deep and sets apart the hobbyist from the expert.

We asked Scott a few questions about the nearly mythical status of being a Q-Grader.

So, first, what exactly is an Arabica Q-Grader?

The Coffee Quality Institute (CQI) established a quality assurance program called the Q Grader in 2004. In short, when a person passes the comprehensive course they are authorized to use the Q logo and the nomenclature “Licensed Q Grader” as a professional accreditation. The program created a baseline of communication to insure quality coffee controls the world over by setting a standard of which all coffee is graded and establishing global communication.

The process of becoming a licensed Q Grader requires you to pass a tongue-tiring three day, 22 exams outline (talk about palate fatigue!). Sound difficult? It is!

The exam consists of 22 sections, each pertaining to coffee.

Q Graders must perfect and pass with an minimum 85% mark, the following:

  • Identification of coffee roast
  • Cupping
  • Sensory skills
  • Sensory triangulation
  • Green Coffee grading
  • Organic Acids
  • Aroma recognition

Unfortunately, becoming a Q Grader doesn’t result in a life guaranteed of riches. That is because Q Grader certification only lasts for 3 years. Every 36 months, Q Graders are required to pass a calibration to hold onto their prestigious title.

What specifically do you learn?

Olfactory and sensory analysis, essentially how the coffee smells and tastes, which as a non-professional, everyone can do to an extent. But to be able to drill down to hints of lavender, for example, and not just in one’s own opinion, but to a level where other coffee experts would agree, requires practice and real skill. You learn about cupping protocols, organic acids, how to identify sample roasts, triangulating coffees.


Identifying the odd coffee out in a sample of three. You also learn about scoring various attributes—aroma, sweetness, etc.—in the cupping process, which ultimately add up to the judged value of a coffee. Anything over 80/100 is classified as a specialty coffee, but at Oceana Coffee we aim for 84 and above.

How does your Q-Grader certification help at Oceana Coffee?

I lean on the tools I have acquired, every day, whether I’m on a farm at origin, purchasing next years coffee, or I am at our Tequesta roasting facility doing what I love, or at home sipping what I love to drink. All of the skills acquired, help me with the buying, roast profile selection, production, processing, blending and understanding coffee origins and how they affect the end product. Because roasting is about recognising and bringing out all of the best attributes each coffee has to offer. I use what I learned for meaningful insight about how a roast was executed and whether it was the right choice for a profile.

So, you recommend certification then?

Well, it’s a big investment, of course, but frankly, before the CQI started the program in 2004, I don’t know how experts communicated objectively. It allows everyone to speak the same language, to confidently state an objective, standardized opinion.

Is it absolutely necessary for success? No, there are many coffee professionals with award-winning coffees to their credit, decades of experience and top-shelf cupping skills. But I find the experience invaluable and, because of our certification, customers of Oceana Coffee have the assurance that we walk the walk.

Behind all of the coffee we roast is a guarantee of quality and passion, backed by learned skill and industry certifications, to ensure that we are only serving the best available.

Amazing Ocean Coffee can be found in our online store www.oceanacoffee .com or in our two Tequesta, Florida, locations.  




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