Tuesday, March 4, 2008

what is a quintal?

in the coffee industry there are two units of weight that are thrown around: quintal (qq) and container. one might think they both reference one unit of weight and would not change, but remember the beauty of this industry is the complexity.

the dictionary defines a quintal as:
1.a unit of weight equal to 100 kilograms (220.5 avoirdupois pounds).
2.hundredweight.
and HUNDREDWEIGHT as:
  1. A unit of weight in the U.S. Customary System equal to 100 pounds (45.36 kilograms). Also called cental, short hundredweight.
  2. A unit of weight in the British Imperial System equal to 112 pounds (50.80 kilograms). Also called quintal.
let the confusion begin. my coffee experience is in the Dominican Republic so my definitions relate to what i know there, i imagine there are more definitions in other countries.

1 (quintal) qq agua seca or humido or 30% humidity: 100kg this is coffee picked, de-pulped, washed and dried for 1 day in full sun. price offered by intermederary 2700pesos RD or 81.81USD.

1 qq retintado or 12% humidity: 100lb. pergamino - this is coffee picked, de-pulped, washed and dried completely. price offered by intermedieary 2900pesos RD or 87.87USD

1 qq en oro or green: 100lb. export or roast ready. small farmers do not have access to this because they do not have dry mills.

i had some low quality coffee to sell internally (to intermediaries) and posed the question about what is a quintal? the basic difference the change in weight unit (kg to lb.), and i even had one Dominican coffee buyer tell me the british definition was correct 112lb.! with all these different answers coming from the same small community, no wonder people who haven't visited origin might be confused by the quintal measurement.

so i did some basic math: 1qq of 30% humidity weighs 220lb. sold for 81.81USD = .37 cents per lb; 1 qq of 12% humidity weighs 100lb. sells for 87.87 = .88 cents per lb. the problem is that most small farmers don't have a patio to dry their own coffee, so they are left with no choice but to sell to intermediaries.

farmers are businessmen. even if they are proud of their coffee they treat it like a bean crop - it is all about the weight. i.e. the first picking of the trees is often low quality. antonio saved it for me so i could sell it. when i got there it was moldy, dirty and weighed very little (i felt sorry for anyone who drank those beans). we sold it for the same price as my medium quality coffee picked 3 days earlier! systems like these do not develop sustainable coffee.

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