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Learn Q Grader Class with Marty Pollack


Last month, Torch had one Q class, there were few students that are not from coffee industry, but they passed the class and even had a better result than some of the coffee professionals.

This article will help you understand better about Q grader test:


Test: 100 Multiple Choice Questions

Time: 60 min

Passing score: 75%

The general knowledge exam is a 100 question test about all things coffee. Although most of the information will be reviewed in class, some of the items will not be reviewed. Students should be prepared by reviewing SCAA resources below.

Coffee farming, harvesting, processing

Coffee cupping and grading

Coffee roasting and brewing



4 Tests

Time: 60 minutes each

Passing Score: 80% (86 points)

The test will contain four cupping flights of 6 coffee samples:

Central American Coffees

Asia/Pacific & Indonesian Coffees

African Coffees

Natural Processed Coffees

These will not be given in any particular order. Also, if the Q Exam is given in a country of origin, one of the flights may be substituted for the domestic coffee.


The cupper will be required to cup and evaluate the samples using the SCAA Cupping Protocols and Cupping form. Those whose form falls too close to the statistical middle for each characteristic will be asked to retake the exam, as will those who fall too far out of calibration.

The cupping flights will vary in quality and scores, therefore you must calibrate with your class within the acceptable range for that particular flight. Imagine that your class is like a swarm of bees. If your score is in the middle of the swarm of bees and you are consistently within the swarm of bees, then you pass. If you are too far outside of the swarm, you will not pass. 


  1. Study the SCAA Cupping Protocols

  2. Practice cupping using the SCAA Cupping form which can be found on the SCAA Store under “downloadable”

  3. Create your own flights of the following origins and practice the protocols using the cupping form. 

  4. Avoid grading the coffee’s characteristics similarly as this may indicate that 

  5. the cupper is unsure of their performance.

  6. Practice blind tasting from different origins and processing methods to test your palate  

  7. and become familiar with coffee origins.



The sensory skills exam will test the participants ability to sense sour, sweet, and salty at different intensity levels and combinations

Taster will be tasting 3 odorless liquids: sour, sweet, and salty of different intensity levels (low, medium and high)

Part 1 – Reference: 

Instructor led, Passing Score 100%.

Taster will taste 9 liquids, 3 of each modality (sour, sweet, salty), 

and 3 intensities (low, medium, high). Discussion will follow.

Part 2 – Blind: 20 Minutes, Passing Score 80% (79 Points).

Taster must blindly identify all liquids, their modality and intensity.

Part 3 – Mixtures: 40 Minutes, Passing Score 70% (67 Points).

Taster will receive 8 liquid mixtures, 4 of which contain 2 solutions, and 4 of which contain 3 solutions. Taster must identify the modality and intensity of all of the contents.


  1. Although part 1 is for calibration and the answers are given from the discussion, the correct answers must be written on your score sheet to receive credit.

  2. Part 2 has no duplicate answers.

  3. Practice this exam at home by creating you own solutions of sugar, salt, and citric acid.

  4. Stay hydrated before the test, avoid drinking alcohol the night before, be well rested and make sure you aren’t hungry when taking the exam. All of these things will increase your focus.

  5. Trust your instincts! Those who take longer tend to do worse on this portion.



Time: 4 Tests, 30 Minutes each

Passing Score: 75% (9/12 correct)


Lenoir Le Nuz du Cafe scent kit

SCAA Art of Aroma Poster set

The Olfactory skills test will test the participants ability to smell, match, and identify scents from the Lenoir Le Nuz du Cafe scent kit.

The goal is for the participant to match scents grouped in 4 categories:


 Sugar Browning

Dry Distillation

Aromatic Taints

Part I

Participant must match 6 out of the 9 blind pairs given for each category.

Part II

Participant must identify 3 given vials for each category.


  1. Although the kits are expensive ($300), it is better to practice with 2 kits rather than 1 so you can practice matching pairs.

  2. Focus on recalling the scents rather then memorising them

  3. For part 1, DO NOT fill in the blanks like you did in GKE or they will count against you if wrong,  you only need to identify 6 of the 9.

  4. Do not wear perfume, use scented soap, eat fragrant foods, or smoke prior to the exam.

  5. If you identify a scent issue with a fellow classmate, privately alert your instructor as it can taint the entire exam for the group.



Time: 4 Tests, 45 Minutes each

Passing Score: 83% (5/6 triads correct)

The Triangulation skills test will test the participants ability to identify an odd cup from a set of 3 cupping bowls.

Participants will cup six sets of three coffees. Two out of the three for each set are the same coffee and one is different.

Participants must identify the odd cup for 5/6 of the sets. Cupping will take place in a dark or red room to avoid visual cues of the different coffee.


  1. Practice your triangulations in the dark! This will help you avoid using visual cues.

  2. Choose four very similar coffees to practice your triangulation so that is isn’t too easy!

  3. Try using coffees from the same origin or even different lots from the same estate!

  4. Focus on ALL sensory characteristics to identify differences.

  5. Try to identify as much as you can on dry fragrance alone, then verify with aroma and taste.


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Time: 40 Minutes

Passing Score: 75 Points

The instructor will give a brief lecture about each acid.

Students will match 2 of 4 weak brewed cups of coffee containing those acids and then identify the acids used. There are 8 sets.

Where to find these acids:

Acetic acid is simple vinegar.

Citric acid is available in most vitamin shops.           

Food grade malic acid, lactic acid, phosphoric acid are in pharmaceutical supply stores. 

Quinic acid, is sometimes found in pharmacies as an antimalarial drugs.


  1. Only 4 of the 6 acids will be used in the exam.

  2. To practice, brew coffee at full strength then dilute the coffee 50%. 

  3. Distribute into 4 cups and taint 2 of the four with a weak concentration of one of the acids. Create different sets using different acids and attempt to match the pairs and identify the acids blindly.

  4. Move quickly and trust your instincts, take too long and you will fatigue your palate.



Time: 60 Minutes

Passing Score: 2/3 Samples Graded Correctly

The green coffee grading exam is designed to test the participants ability to correctly identify defects in a green sample based on the SCAA Green Arabica Defect Handbook.

This exam is open book and you should use the SCAA Green Arabica Defect Handbook or any other accompanying material.

Participants will receive three 350g samples of green coffee. Each has been sorted then tainted with a certain number and type of defects. Participants must identify the defects and label the coffee as specialty, or commodity based off the SCAA standards. 


  1. Do not over-analyze the samples and find defects where there are 

  2. Make sure you know what the primary and secondary defects are and understand the differences between them.

  3. To prepare, collect and grade samples of washed green coffee from different origins.



Time: 15 Minutes

Passing Score: 100%

The roasted coffee grading test is designed to test to participants ability to identify quakers in a sample of roasted coffee.

This exam is open book as well.

Participants will receive a sample of 100g and must identify the number of quakers, then grade the coffee as specialty or commercial.


  1. Learn what a quaker looks like so that you don’t use the book unless absolutley necessary. It saves time and builds confidence. 


Time: 60 Minutes

Passing Score: 80 %

The Sample Roast test is designed to test the participants ability to identify degree of roast from a brewed liquid.

The participants will taste coffees under red or dark light and must identify roast level of each coffee. 

The cups will be skimmed before they are presented and the taster must use only their sense of smell and taste of the brewed liquid to identify its degree of roast.

Roast Degrees:

SCAA standard sample roast 

Balanced and sweet with little to no defects

Light Roast

Sour, green and underdeveloped

Dark Roast 

Dark, ashy, carbony.  


 Flat, woody, and will lack acidity and sweetness  


  1. You will be scored not only on correctness but your descriptions of your experience so it  is important to understand and communicate what you taste properly.

  2. Practice by creating sample roasts of each level and cupping and identifying them.

Don't be afraid of Q

Try your best to understand it

Learn from your Instructor

Practice and calibrate


Meet the first Kuwaiti Q Grader: Muhammad Alhasan

Specialty coffee is quite new in Kuwait with the first specialty cafes opening just three years ago. However, coffee has long been a deep embedded tradition in the soul of the Kuwaiti people. Family, friendship, and major life decisions are shared and made over a few small and simple cups of Gulf style Arabic coffee. Quite different than specialty coffee, Kuwaiti Arabic coffee is lightly roasted and boiled with spices like cardamom, clove, and saffron; and served in small espresso sized cups. With increased transportation and trade some families started making Turkish coffee. And this is where Muhammad’s coffee journey began.


After finishing university in America and moving back to Kuwait in 2012, Muhammad became intrigued seeing how his father made Turkish coffee with such love and care. So he started to do the same. As time passed he decided to start his own business but was unsure what to do. But after one late evening brainstorming with his brothers, one brother gave him some life-changing advice: “You don’t have to do something so different, just do one thing, but do it really well.” And so Muhammad’s café Caffeine was born and now he is fantastic roaster, barista, café owner, and constant learner. His desire for excellence led him to become the first Kuwaiti Q Grader at the Torch Coffee Lab in Malaysia which hosted over 12 nationalities from East to West.


Why did you want to become a Q?

I’m always hungry to learn more and develop myself in the coffee industry, so this was a great opportunity to evaluate and see where I am at in terms of sensory and overall cupping skills. I was also very excited to become the first certified Kuwaiti Q Grader.


What excites you about Q?

The challenge! This program with its series of 22 tests was always intimidating to me. I thought of joining the class a few times but never thought I was ready. This time I thought “lets just go for it!”


How will Q impact your current cafe and coffee business?

Q will absolutely help me evaluate coffee more professionally, and have more confidence in my cupping scores and decisions when choosing and evaluating new coffee beans for my Café and roastery.


What are your thoughts on being the first Kuwaiti Q?

I still can’t believe it. This all happened so fast, and with very little planning and preparation. I am very grateful to all my friends and family members that believed in me and assured me that I will get it.


What’s your Coffee Story?

I started the journey exactly three years ago with the simple idea of bringing something new and different to the Kuwaiti market. We saw a gap in the market and decided to get the proper training and offer the Kuwaiti market a premium coffee experience, and that’s how Caffeine was born.


What do you see as the future of coffee in Kuwait?

In the last few years the coffee industry in Kuwait witnessed an incredible growth in terms of specialty coffee. We went from having around three shops in 2015 to close to 70 in 2017. Its definitely the trend at the moment and its still going. Therefore, I believe coffee demand in Kuwait will keep growing and coffee quality will keep improving especially as more and more people recognize the different between commercial and specialty coffee.