Fresh Cup Magazine
5 December 2009
WEB FEATURE: Tracy Allen
Buzz Is Building Fast Around Q System
By Chris Ryan
Q&A With the Globetrotting Coffee Consultant
Consultant Tracy Allen’s work in the wholesale specialty coffee market takes him to the far corners of the globe. In recent months, his destinations have included South America and Africa, where he worked to improve coffee-production infrastructure. In November, he traveled to the United Arabs Emirate city of Dubai to participate in the first-ever Specialty Coffee & Tea Convention for the Middle East. When not traveling, Allen helps administer tests for the Q Grader Program—the industry’s only professional accreditation for cuppers—at Just Cup Coffee Academy in Little Rock, Ark. He talked to Fresh Cup about his efforts to further specialty coffee both at home and abroad.
Q: What was Dubai’s first foray into specialty coffee like?
A: It was done by this production company that does trade shows that revolve around education, and they asked the SCAA to help them with the coffee part of it. The SCAA brought in two days full of speakers and educational workshops. Size-wise, it was just the size of a ballroom—probably 12 or 15 booths at the most. I talked to the show’s producer, and he said they just wanted to get the momentum going with coffee in Dubai. They’re not looking for a major return on investment right now. It was good exposure for the SCAA too because it put the word out that they’re the global resource in coffee education.
Q: The show also had the region’s first barista competition; how did it go?
A: I went and helped with it, and it was fun. It reminded me of every time we’d start a new regional in the United States. They had a steep learning curve, but that’s pretty typical when you start in a new region or a new country. The guy who won it [Vikram Kashyap] actually had been a competitor in India in the past and had relocated to Dubai.
Q: There are now more than 800 Licensed Q Graders worldwide. How do you think the program is fairing?
A: The whole idea is to use the Q System to create a common language globally for coffee, and it’s catching on pretty well. I taught it in Burundi and Rwanda, and we just finished the fifth or sixth class in Little Rock. And that class was filled with people from Canada and Australia. It’s becoming a destination: People are finding out where they can go to do the Q training. Interestingly enough, this is the first time we’ve ever had a 100 percent pass ratio. What that says is that the group was definitely more prepared—they had really spent time at the cupping table and worked on their olfactory skills and their sensory skills. Everyone in the class passed the sensory skills test the first time. Usually we do that early in the week so we can allow time for remakes. These are indicators to me that the buzz is increasing—the more people that become certified, the more people that want to become certified, which is not unusual.
Q: Do you think that Licensed Q Graders having that common language will have an effect on the global coffee industry?
A: In the next year, it’ll be fun to kind of monitor the scores in all the juries of cuppers that are Q Certified, just to see how calibrated they are. If CQI really wanted to know if the program was working, I think that would be a great statistic to see where the Q Graders are at with their scores.