Did We Mention We Have a Q Grader Up In Here?

Over the past few years specialty coffee roasters — those focused on sustainability and those who are not — have been steadily working to up the cup quality of their coffee. To make sure that we not only maintained, but increased the overall excellence of our roasted coffee, we hired (promoted actually) an internal quality guru. Scott Spilger is our guy here at Just Coffee Co-op.

We sat down with Scott to pick his brain about his “Q” certification and what it means…


What is a Q Grader and why is it important to quality at JCC?

The goal of the Q Coffee System is to identify and bring coffee into the specialty-grade market utilizing a common “language” that we often talk about as “scoring.” There are about 4,000 Q Graders worldwide, but only about 350 of those are in the U.S., in part because there are more steps on the supply chain before the coffee even gets to us. I am responsible for sourcing all of our coffee; and I am responsible for ensuring that the roasted coffee leaving our facility is not only high-quality, but also that it represents our producer partners’ hard work.


What is your process when trying and profiling coffee?
JCC strives to buy high-quality coffee — this not only means great-tasting coffee, but also maintaining high quality relationships with our producer partners. When we work with a farmer co-op, most of the coffees are purchased collectively with other small roasters through our importing cooperative, Co-op Coffees. Our process at Just Coffee is to evaluate samples of coffee before they leave our producer partners’ and use that evaluation to manage sorting and processing on their side of the supply chain. Once it’s on our side, we spend about a week roasting samples of that coffee to determine, in Just Coffee-speak, where want to “land” it. I look at all of each coffee’s characteristics – aroma, flavor, body, acidity, and so on – and try to make each one shine as brightly as possible.


What is your favorite coffee and why?
My favorite single-origin coffee is Ecuador Loja from one of our producer partners in Ecuador. FAPECAFES is an umbrella organization of seven primary producer groups founded in 2002; their coffee has characteristic rye, apple, and cherry notes that come from terroir, varietal and processing – it’s the one coffee that I can drink every day and never get tired of. It’s a very expensive coffee for us (hi to our CFO!), but you absolutely get what you pay for.


Tell us about Firecracker and why it is so awesome.
Firecracker is a single-origin espresso. We source this coffee from the Bukonzo Joint Cooperative Union in western Uganda. It’s great as a straight shot and in smaller espresso drinks, such as traditional macchiatos and cappuccinos; whether brewed as espresso or as a pour-over, Firecracker is explosively citric, with flavors of orange, blackberry, and rooibos.