Tag Archive for: WBC

by Pete Licata

Roast Ratings

Categories: 2015, AugustTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

What is your favorite thing about cof­fee? This is the type of ques­tion that I am asked on a reg­u­lar basis.



One of the most intrigu­ing things about cof­fee that I enjoy is the seem­ingly end­less amount of fla­vor expe­ri­ences. At one point in my career this man­i­fested as “ori­gin char­ac­ter”, or the spe­cific fla­vor that comes from a par­tic­u­lar coun­try. Currently we as an indus­try have begun to under­stand that these ori­gin char­ac­ter­is­tics are not always about the ter­roir, but also tra­di­tional vari­etals and pro­cess­ing meth­ods that have huge impact on fla­vor and can be repli­cated to some degree in other countries.



I have long pur­sued an under­stand­ing of my palate even since I was a kid dig­ging through the spice rack at home and aspir­ing to be a chef. Little did I know that curios­ity would lead me to my newest ven­ture, Roast Ratings.



Roast Ratings is a new web­site that Holly Bastin (my orig­i­nal trainer, friend, and WBC coach)

and myself have cre­ated to give a consumer-friendly approach to rank­ing cof­fees. Everyone

likes being able to gauge how “good” a prod­uct is in com­par­i­son to another, and we want to take that to a dif­fer­ent place in the cof­fee indus­try. There are at least a few com­pa­nies that score and review cof­fees on the inter­net, and our goal with this com­pany is to give opin­ions on cof­fee from a unique perspective.




Dual Rating System
In cre­at­ing a new and dif­fer­ent rat­ing sys­tem, we real­ized that some­thing was miss­ing from the stan­dard way many peo­ple eval­u­ate a cof­fee. We all know that a cof­fee tastes dif­fer­ent in a cup­ping than it does in most brew­ing meth­ods, and that is why we cre­ated a dual eval­u­a­tion that looks about both cup­ping and brewed cof­fee.



Cupping is our stan­dard in the cof­fee indus­try. It speaks to the tech­ni­cal qual­ity of a cof­fee. The cof­fee being eval­u­ated becomes an open book of integrity points as well as iden­ti­fi­able fla­vor notes. In addi­tion, cup­ping speaks to the ver­sa­til­ity of a cof­fee, and how it might taste with a metal fil­ter or less com­mon methods.



Brewing is pretty obvi­ous. This is how most con­sumers (at least in the USA) tend to drink their cof­fee. The pur­pose for eval­u­at­ing brewed cof­fee is to give an accu­rate pic­ture of what it will actu­ally taste like at home. Additionally, this eval­u­a­tion shows how a cof­fee will change between the two meth­ods. There are many cof­fees that taste bet­ter in one eval­u­a­tion over the other, which would indi­cate less ver­sa­til­ity or over­all chance that the con­sumer will get a great experience.

Of course, one of our pri­mary tasks is to score and rate a given cof­fee, which brought up another ques­tion. What type of scor­ing sys­tem should be used?

It was quickly appar­ent that all of the stan­dard scor­ing sys­tems (SCAA, CoE, etc) are pri­mar­ily focused on green qual­ity and stan­dard­ized roasts. So we decided to make a new score sys­tem focused on the things that we value in cof­fee, and that we believe oth­ers will value as well. Our scor­ing takes aroma, tac­tile, and after­taste into con­sid­er­a­tion, but we also address over­all bal­ance with acid­ity, sweet­ness, and bit­ter­ness scores. Lastly, we score an ele­ment called ‘drink­a­bil­ity’ which is sim­i­lar to a cupper’s score, and is mostly con­cerned with “was it pleas­ant to drink” and “do I want more?”

We made this scor­ing sys­tem with all cri­te­ria being earned, thus mak­ing a full range of scores from 0 to 100. The full range was needed so we could accu­rately com­pare the dark­est of the dark with the light­est of light roasts out there. This is clearly a depar­ture from stan­dard scor­ing meth­ods, which auto­mat­i­cally assume cer­tain points on the scale.

Star Rating
The new scor­ing sheet is used for both the cup­ping and the brew, each being worth up to 50 points, and added together to cre­ate an aggre­gate score out of 100. The aggre­gate score is then trans­lated into ‘Stars’ for the over­all rat­ing. The 5-Star rat­ing sys­tem is eas­ily under­stood and helps give a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the new sys­tem we have created.

The cof­fee indus­try has an incred­i­ble range of expec­ta­tions for even the sim­plest ter­mi­nol­ogy. For exam­ple if I tell you that I have a 90 point cof­fee for you to try, are you imme­di­ately impressed? Or has that term come to mean less to you lately? It is dif­fi­cult for a roaster to hear that their cof­fee scored 85 points sim­ply because they have an expec­ta­tion of what 85 point cof­fee tastes like. Unfortunately, that per­cep­tion is likely based on an 85 point green cof­fee rather than a true 100 point roasted cof­fee scale.

Take that same 85 point cof­fee on our full-range rat­ing sys­tem, and you will real­ize that it is actu­ally a ‘4 ½ Star’ cof­fee, which is pretty stinkin good! It isn’t a ‘5 Star’ cof­fee, which is the range for incred­i­bly dynamic coffees.

Overall the Star rat­ings cre­ate a sim­ple, yet very under­stand­able image of where a spe­cific cof­fee fits into the range of all cof­fees.

So… How is this use­ful?
Since our pri­mary audi­ence is every­day cof­fee drinkers, Roast Ratings needs to be imme­di­ately use­ful for them. The web­site is easy to nav­i­gate and full of infor­ma­tion about the spe­cific cof­fees that have been rated. The ‘Roast Finder’ is made for explor­ing spe­cific fla­vor pro­files and eas­ily dis­cov­er­ing new offer­ings from roast­ers around the coun­try (or world). In addi­tion, we have edu­ca­tional arti­cles for learn­ing about cof­fee and prepa­ra­tion as well as our ‘Mom Blog’ for fun posts and less seri­ous topics.

So how exactly would sub­mit­ting cof­fees ben­e­fit roast­ers? One of our goals in cre­at­ing this com­pany was to cre­ate value for every­one involved. Submitting a cof­fee for rat­ing will give you a few major benefits:

First, an objec­tive and unbi­ased review of your cof­fee. You will get feed­back on how your cof­fee com­pares to oth­ers, as well as where it shines or poten­tially falls short. Not all cof­fees can be dynamic chart-toppers, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be great in their own right!

Second, a way to mar­ket your cof­fee. By hav­ing a rat­ing asso­ci­ated with your cof­fee you can pro­mote it in new ways, adding sales num­bers for that cof­fee as well as pro­mot­ing your brand as a qual­ity roast­ing com­pany. In addi­tion, we pro­mote your cof­fees on social media and our web­site. We will give more pro­mo­tion the higher your cof­fee rates. We actu­ally really want peo­ple to buy great spe­cialty cof­fee over store brands.

There is also another group of peo­ple who gain value from Roast Ratings: Baristas. Baristas can uti­lize our infor­ma­tion for their own enrich­ment and cus­tomer ser­vice, or even to be able to give rec­om­men­da­tions to their cus­tomers on where to search for their next great cup. We have had multi­roaster cafes and baris­tas make pur­chas­ing deci­sions for their offer­ings based on high rat­ings as well.

We also rec­om­mend the use of our rat­ings as a sales tool. Finding qual­ity whole­sale options, or even giv­ing deeper insight into the prod­uct you are already sell­ing are all avenues to pur­sue. Moving for­ward we will be work­ing on even more ben­e­fi­cial tools for the barista and café own­ers as well!

In the end our goal is to give some­thing use­ful. We believe in the integrity points that spe­cialty cof­fee embod­ies, and it is often very clear that even the more sim­ple spe­cialty cof­fees are supe­rior to bulk brands and gro­cery store pack­ages. In addi­tion to sub­mit­ted cof­fees from roast­ers, we go and pur­chase nationally-available brands (think gro­cery store shelves) with our own funds to add to the site. The point of this is not to talk trash or put these big brands down, but to give a per­spec­tive of where every­thing fits. When you taste the full range of cof­fees out there in the world you might be sur­prised how well our new sys­tem clas­si­fies cof­fee of all levels!

Are you “Q” yet?

Categories: 2011, AugustTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , Author:

The lat­est craze in cof­fee is not a new fancy drink, sin­gle serve tech­nique, or a newly dis­cov­ered ori­gin. It is a com­mit­ment to qual­ity in cof­fee by get­ting cer– tified as a Q-Grader. So does this cer­ti­fi­ca­tion add value to you and the cof­fee indus­try or is it just the lat­est fad?

The Q-Grader pro­gram is designed to give a com­mon lan­guage to describe qual­ity in cof­fee and is used from the farmer to the con­sumer. It quan­ti­fies cof­fee attrib­utes and gets all par­tic­i­pants to iden­tify taste char­ac­ter­is­tics in the same way. The true pur­pose there­fore is to be able to com­mu­ni­cate qual­ity up and down the sup­ply chain and raise the over­all qual­ity of cof­fee in the process.

Jeremy Raths of The Roastery in Minneapolis, and a Q-Grader Instructor, describes the Q-Certification of cof­fee this way, “For the cof­fee indus­try it is the only cer­ti­fica– tion based on Quality. It is totally blind, inde­pen­dent and adher­ing to a strict pro­to­col. It is all about the cof­fee. No guilt, no shame, just cof­fee qual­ity. It is a way that the whole chain can objec­tively look at a cof­fee using quantification.”

When cof­fee is quan­ti­fied it means that it has been rated on a numeric scale from 1–100. Each of ten attrib­utes of a sin­gle sam­ple of cof­fee is rated from 1–10. Since there are ten attrib­utes they add up to the total score. Grading is done using the SCAA cup– ping form and it looks like this:

It takes an immense amount of train­ing and dis­ci­pline to be able to con­sis­tently give scores that are cal­i­brated with oth­ers. When you can prove that you have the skill to iden­tify both the attrib­utes and defects of cof­fee sam­ples con­sis­tently, then you can become a Q-Grader.

In order to prove your skills, the Coffee Quality Institute devel­oped the Q-Grader Certification Program that con­sists of 22 tests that must be passed. These tests are usu­ally given with lec­tures over an intense five-day period. The classes must take place in labs that have been cer­ti­fied by the SCAA and taught by cer­ti­fied instruc­tors. If you suc­ceed in pass­ing the tests and get cer­ti­fied as a Q-Grader, you have joined an élite group of cof­fee pro­fes­sion­als that have all cal­i­brated in the same way. You now have a com­mon ‘Q-Language’ that you can use to dis­cuss cof­fee quality.

Students come from all facets of the cof­fee sup­ply chain. Farmers and exporters from pro­duc­ing coun­tries get cer­ti­fied because they under­stand first-hand how qual­ity can affect price. They are com­mit­ted to learn­ing all they can to not only improve qual­ity but to com­mu­ni­cate with importers and roast­ers in a mean­ing­ful way.

The importers and roast­ers are get­ting cer­ti­fied for the rec­i­p­ro­cal rea­son as farm­ers and exporters. Roasters will use this skill set to start being more spe­cific on their orders to their importers. A small roaster can describe with con­fi­dence their desired fla­vor char­ac­ter­is­tics and over­all scores. Importers with Q-Graders on staff are apt to see more busi­ness because “they speak” the com­mon lan­guage with their Q-Grader clients. They also add value and cred­i­bil­ity to their cus­tomers, the retail­ers, by being able to describe with con­fi­dence the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the cof­fee which can then be used to mar­ket the end products.

David Griswald, President of Sustainable Harvest shared this suc­cess story of the Q-Coffee sys­tem. “Sustainable Harvest adopted the Q pro­gram to stan­dard­ize our qual­ity con­trol teams not only between our offices in the US, Colombia, Tanzania, Mexico, and Peru, but also with pro­ducer orga­ni­za­tions in 15 dif­fer­ent coun­tries
that sup­ply us spe­cialty cof­fee. Sustainable Harvest made a great com­mit­ment to the Q-grader pro­gram by fund­ing train­ing pro­grams for Q cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for our sup­pli­ers, and nearly half of the staff is cer­ti­fied. Currently we have 15 cer­ti­fied Q-graders and one Q instruc­tor among our staff world­wide. The Chirinos Coöperative sent their cup­per, Eber Tocto, to par­tic­i­pate in a Q Grader course and he passed with fly­ing col­ors. In 2010, Chirinos sold its dif­fer­en­ti­ated qual­ity lots to Sustainable Harvest who paid Chirinos $2.30 a pound for a stan­dard qual­ity lot, while Chirinos’ top qual­ity lot pulled in $2.80 a pound. This addi­tional qual­ity bonus is a direct result of an edu­cated cup­per who is trained to pro­vide his cus­tomers the high qual­ity cof­fee they want at the price it deserves.”

Retailers and even baris­tas are see­ing the value in get­ting cer­ti­fied. It makes it eas­ier to talk to your roaster about their next cus­tom espresso blend and the desired charac– ter­is­tics they are look­ing for to win the WBC. For a barista it also gives ‘street cred’as they stand apart from their peers. Other retail­ers are going one step fur­ther and get­ting the cof­fee Q-Graded.

Q-Grading a cof­fee is done by sub­mit­ting cof­fee to an agency of CQI. They are called In Country Partners, (ICP) and they act as an inde­pen­dent third party to orga­nize a grad­ing of a sin­gle lot of green cof­fee. One of the roles of being cer­ti­fied as a Q-Grader is to grade cof­fee. The process goes like this:

  1. A cof­fee is sub­mit­ted to an ICP.
  2. Three Q-Graders (That have no finan­cial inter­est in the cof­fee) are cho­sen by the ICP to grade the coffee.
  3. One of the Q-Graders grades both the green cof­fee for defects and the roasted cof­fee for cup qual­ity. The other two graders just focus on cup quality.
  4. The three scores are com­bined to get an over­all score. Anything above a score of 80 is con­sid­ered specialty.
  5. A full report is issued to the per­son that sub­mit­ted the coffee.

With that report a retailer can adver­tise the score and high­light taste attrib­utes for their mar­ket­ing pur­poses. There is a ton of cred­i­bil­ity in say­ing the cof­fee was CERTIFIED by a third party. There is also more money in it.

So should you get your Q-Certification? Most cer­tainly! Why? Here are some reasons:

  • By tak­ing the course and the tests you will learn more in a week than you know from your entire career so far.
  • You will improve your stand­ing in the indus­try and in your com­pany as some­one who doesn’t just claim exper­tise but has been cer­ti­fied as an expert.
  • Your abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate with other mem­bers of the sup­ply chain increases and your abil­ity to influ­ence qual­ity from those you are deal­ing with gets easier.
  • Ego (Well that could just be me…)
  • Raths says, “Personally, the Q-Certification is a state­ment of abil­i­ties. It is an eas­ily rec­og­nized affir­ma­tion of a high skill set. It is a badge of honor with in the cof­fee industry.

Griswald adds, “A fre­quent com­ment I hear from cup­pers at ori­gin is that hav­ing this cer­ti­fi­ca­tion helps them make a case for earn­ing a higher salary.”

The entire cof­fee indus­try is well served when the peo­ple who make it up com­mit to learn­ing. Wine has som­me­liers, trades­men have mas­ters, food has chefs. The cof­fee indus­try has Q-Graders.

Rocky can be reached at

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