Post - Internationa...

1 October 2020

International Coffee Day: A day in the life of a Coffee Quality Specialist at UCC UK

Today is International Coffee Day, and what better way to celebrate than to interview our very own Coffee Quality Specialist and Q Grader, Katherine McCarthy?

Hi Katherine, thanks for taking the time to chat to us! Tell us a little bit about yourself, and your role here at UCC Coffee?

On the personal side of things, I live just outside of Cambridge with my boyfriend, I love the area and have lived there since I was little. I am always on the go, with most of my weekends and evenings fully booked.

I have worked in coffee since I was 15 years old and joined UCC Coffee back in 2012. Starting as a coffee trainer, I joined the team down in Dartford as a complete novice to tasting and working with green coffee. I am now part of the specialist team with my focus being on coffee quality. I love how varied my job role is, from creating new products, helping customers choose the right coffee for their business and training our customers and employees. No day is the same!

What does a typical day/week at UCC Coffee look like for you?

My week tends to be split across the business, and again, I love the variety this gives me! If I were in Milton Keynes for the day I would most likely be helping with a tasting for a new or existing customer, running a training session or creating some tasting notes for a new product. However, I now spend a lot of my time down in the roastery, where I do sample testing’s and, of course, roast coffee. The coffee specialist role plays a key part, linking the production with sales – it’s essential to understand both sides of the business to get the best results.


Your role is very specialised, it would be great to hear about how you got into coffee and what’s led you to this role at UCC Coffee UK. 

I started working in coffee shops from the age of 15 and carried on all through my GCSE’s and Sixth Form, I went to university at 18, like many people, but just one term into my nursing course I realised it was not the career choice for me! That’s when I joined UCC. After spending a year out as a coffee trainer an opportunity came up to apply for an internal coffee development program – I was shocked to get the position! It was an extremely steep learning curve as there was so much to learn. But after just over a year at the roastery I had qualified as a Q Grader. I had a break from the business between 2017 and 2019, but I missed the industry far too much – I was so pleased to come back last August as part of Gareth’s team! I was straight back into re-training myself, getting my head back into coffee and was very pleased to re-qualify as a Q Grader back in February this year.


What is the best part about being a coffee specialist?

I think my favourite part of my job is getting to work on a new project, from the initial briefing to seeing it on the shelf. I love the challenge of working with the customer to create the best product for them, and to fit into the specifications that they require – each customer is so different. I then work with all departments at Dartford to get the coffee tasting great. But going into a shop and seeing a product on the shelf, with the tasting notes you wrote for the blend you have created is such a great feeling!


You were recently awarded the prestigious Q Grade Award, which is incredible! For those that don’t know, tell us a little bit about that, the process, and what it means for you.

To become a Q Grader, you need to attend a rigorous six-day course. The first 3 days are to prep you for every exam and calibrate you with your fellow cuppers, the second half of the week is back to back exams – 19 in total. They are designed to test all areas of sensory evaluation of both green coffee and roasted coffee. I have now completed and passed this course twice, and it’s safe to say it wasn’t much easier the second time around – if anything, it was harder. Having been out of the industry for a while combined with the pressure to pass (knowing that I had in the past) was very intense! Having this qualification has a huge importance to me, not only is it a great experience (albeit a very stressful one) but it’s such a lovely reward for the time I have spent working so closely with coffee.


And finally, as it’s International Coffee Day, we’d like to make you a coffee – how’d you take it?

My usual go-to would be a black filter coffee, either from East Africa or Colombia. My number one choice is probably a washed Ethiopia Sidamo – bright acidity and super fruity!