Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Valuable by-products of the QGrader Exam

Maybe it's this way with every training course, but having just completed my QGrader re-takes, I've now had the opportunity to do 1.5 QGrade courses with two different sets of 10-12 coffee professionals. That experience, whether one passes the test or not, is truly valuable. I'm not saying I'd pay $1000 just to hang out and cup with 1o people for a week -- but there is a truly valuable learning aspect that one probably doesn't anticipate when one signs up for the course. At least I didn't.

What I noticed is that because each roaster and importer has different backgrounds and areas of expertise, all week you are on a learning curve about aspects of the coffee industry that are less familiar to you, given your place "in the supply and service chain". And when it comes to the coffee in the cup, it's fascinating to see how one roaster finds a cup "well rounded and bold" and another finds it "too earthy." Of course, it's great when a room of disparate traders, roasters, importers, cafe-owners all have a unanimous experience, too -- "that one sucks!", for example. Now we can debate how and why.

Keep cupping, everyone!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Passed the QGrader - Summary of 4 Retakes

Hopedale, Mass., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011
Passed! Yesterday at Coffee Solutions in Massechusetts I got the great news, I had passed the 4th of my 4 retakes needed to complete the QGrader certification.
Indonesian Cupping: took that first thing Thursday morning along with the other 10 people in the class and at least one of the other people doing re-takes. Challenging! The calibration cup was a washed PNG. So bright and clean it hardly seemed like an Indonesian. I gave it a higher score than the rest of the group. That's OK -- this is what calibration is for, right?

I was able to pick out that reference cup on the table when there were 6 coffees to cup blind. Of those 6 one was bad. I got that one, too, but thought (after the review with Rob Stephen, the instructor) that I hadn't dinged it hard enough. On the rest, I surmized that I had scored each relatively low compared to the scores Rob said he would have given them. I had over corrected on the scoring! But it must be that others had scores in a broad range also, because I did still pass. (One's cupping scores have to be within the range set by the group.)

Matching Pairs: This is one of those tests that takes place in a darkened room with red lights. Very Halloween-like! Each cupper faces a table with 8 or 10 sets of 4 coffees. Two of the coffees have an acid added to them, two of them don't -- they're just the same standard coffee that's in every cup. So the test is to 1) pick the 2 cups that have the acid and 2) name the acid that's been added.

Roasted Grading: This is the easy test -- note that one does not necessarily pass the first time just because it's easy. Like me! I honestly did not know what a quaker was the first time I took the QGrader, so I incorrectly identified some light-roasted beans as quakers. I studied up on it in the meantime, though, and this time was able to pass!

Aromatics - dry distillation: I think there are 4 aromatics tests, where one has to name the smell contained in each of 9 different little vials. The dry distillation set includes such things as cedar, clove, pepper, coriander, malt, maple, tobacco and roasted coffee. Again, having the opportunity to focus my study only on these aromas helped me pass this one the 2nd time around.

It's a rigorous test to pass, but it achieved a goal for me -- not so much having the certificate, but having a much more in-depth appreciation for the SCAA cupping form and the skill and craft of cupping. I'd been to many of the cupping classes at SCAA events. They were good introductions to cupping, but even the advanced ones do not have enough time and intensity to force a comprehensive understanding of how we cup and evaluate coffees. There's so many questions and nuances that get questioned and answered when a group of 10 - 12 coffee professionals work through the QGrader exam agenda over the course of a week.

Once completed, one has to say -- "you were right on, Ted!" (Lingle). And to all the QGrader instructors -- especially the two that tolerated and trained me a VERY BIG THANK YOU -- Rob Stephen and Kelly Amoroso, you guys are the best.