The Coffee-Ranking System
If you’re new to the world of specialty coffee, then you may not know what a Q-grader is. Similar to a wine sommelier, a Q-grader assesses the overall quality and accompanying aspects of a particular type of coffee. What makes them distinct in this regard is where they get their namesake. At the end of a Q-grader’s assessment, the coffee in question earns a Q-grade, which is based off a one-hundred-point scale designed to quantify all the qualities we associate with good coffee. This widely recognized scale offers a standardized method of quickly determining the caliber of coffee being used, with 90 – 100 being Outstanding, 85 – 89.99 being Excellent, and 80 – 84.99 being Very Good.
From a technical standpoint, the Q-grade works well enough to rank coffees and determine which are objectively superior… what does this mean for your average consumer though? Sure, a 90 Q-grade sounds good, but that doesn’t tell you anything about the coffee other than the fact it ranks highly among other coffees. This is where the more complex aspects of specialty coffee come to the fore. While there isn’t a hard set of guidelines to making specialty coffee, there are standards most specialty coffee producers meet. These standards aren’t codified into law, but the coffee community recognizes a few certain qualities as being universal to specialty coffee.