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Image of Gabe Damiani with cohort - Bear Lake Coffee Co. Earns Q Grader Certification

Bear Lake Coffee Co. Earns Q Grader Certification

Image of Gabe Damiani with the Q Grader cohort

In June 2024, I became a certified Q Grader. The 16-month journey for me was filled with learning, adventure, and growth!

I want to personally thank the following Q Instructors and organizations for their support and investment in me and Bear Lake Coffee Co.:

- Thomas Amelott from @CoLabOps
- Traci Armstrong @Balzac Brothers and Company
- Miran Oh @miranohcoffee

What does it mean to be Certified Q Grader?

“Q” stands for Quality. A Certified Q Grader is a highly trained and credentialed coffee professional recognized globally for their expertise in evaluating coffee quality. This certification, awarded by the Coffee Quality Institute (CQI), involves rigorous testing in the ability to identify coffee flavors, aromas, and defects through cupping (tasting) sessions and sensory analysis.

A Q Grader in the coffee industry is comparable to a sommelier in the wine industry. Both roles require rigorous training and a deep understanding of their respective products to consistently assess and recommend high-quality options.

Why did I pursue this certification?

I pursued the Certified Q Grader certification to adopt a standard at Bear Lake Coffee Co. that helps us select the best coffees from around the world. This certification allows us to work directly with coffee producers at the origin or in our roastery in Barronett and ensures that every cup of coffee you enjoy from us meets the highest standards of flavor and excellence.

Moments along my 16-month journey to becoming a Certified Q Grader

I remember starting in February 2023 at Balzac Brothers in Charleston, SC. That week was filled with diving into cups of coffee like a caffeine-crazed detective searching for clues to what I was tasting and smelling. The exams to obtain a certified Q Grader included one written exam (no problem there…) and 19 sensory-based tests that really stretched my abilities. On the first day of the exams, I faced a set of cupping, olfactory, triangulation, and acid identification tests—and let’s just say I struggled and didn’t pass several of those tests. By the end of that day, I was spiraling into self-doubt, and my palate was overloaded. I can remember finishing up the day and confiding to a classmate “I’m not sure I can do this...” He squinted at me, stared out the window, and said, “Give yourself to the moment... we’re only here for a short while... you got to give yourself to the moment.”

That night, I couldn’t sleep, replaying the day in my head and trying to understand my struggles. The next morning, I returned with a fresh mindset, stayed present in the moment, and started passing exams. Though I had some retake exams at the conclusion of the February 2023 class, on June 29, 2024, in Vernon, CA, I finally passed the remaining exams. It marked the end of a 16-month odyssey of retooling my skills and falling further in love with coffee.

Image of Gabe’s Q Grader Certificate of Completion

Figure 1 - June 2024 – Gabe’s Q Grader Certificate of Completion

During the process of becoming a certified Q Grader, I learned more from my failures than from my successes. I learned to be more present in the moment and appreciate quality in a different way. I have gained a deep appreciation for coffees from all over the world and acquired a common language to describe and celebrate coffee quality, a language used by 7,000 other Q Graders worldwide, including 400 here in the USA. 

"Failure is success in progress."

~ Albert Einstein

The quote reminds us that each failure provides valuable lessons that contribute to future success. Every time we fail, we gain insights and knowledge about what doesn't work, which brings us closer to finding what does work.

I hope to see you all at one of our farmers’ markets in July and August—stop by and see us in Barronett. Check out our community calendar for more updates.

I look forward to traveling the world and bringing you all some amazing coffee in the years ahead!

Happy Brewing!

Gabe Signature
Image of Q grader seal
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