Any coffee professional is eligible to take the exam, but industry experience doesn't necessarily provide an advantage. Local coffee pros who've passed the test generally agree that it is impossible to study for it.
The SCAA sells handbooks, charts, forms and even the aroma kit, but Chean contends that training might never be enough. "You've got the right amount of taste buds or you don't, and you're in touch with them or you're not."
Passing the test helps to instill confidence in tasters who previously judged coffee without a structured system to support their instincts. The program allowed Rhodes "to be honest and trust myself . . . I taste everything better now. I'm a better wine taster and food taster because I can trust I'm tasting what I'm tasting and am able to communicate that to other people."
And the license carries prestige within the industry. "Until Q grading, there was no objective measure," LA Mills' Gozbekian says. "It doesn't change the way we purchase, roast or blend coffee, but it validates our ability to taste coffee or buy it."
Other highly regarded local coffee professionals say they won't be satisfied until they become Q graders. One aspirant is Intelligentsia's Kyle Glanville, the current United States barista champion.
"It's important because it validates me as a well-rounded coffee professional," Glanville says. "For Intelligentsia, it's important because it says the people who we have tasting and grading coffees, they understand it."
"There are 800 different flavor components in coffee," O'Keefe says. "All customers know is if they like it or don't like it."
If that's too much to contemplate as you grind your morning beans, leave it to the growing cadre of certified pros.