The Colombia yield factor, or factor, is integral to the pricing of Colombian coffees, however it is expressed differently to other origins. Jordi explains what it is, and why it is crucial to understanding the prices paid to Colombian coffee producers. 

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The Colombian value chain

As you probably know, most Colombian farmers sell their coffee in parchment — i.e. wet-processed and dried, but not yet dry-milled. Generally speaking there are four types of parchment buyers: private parchment traders, coops, the FNC (the local coffee growers’ federation), and finally some dry mills. Private parchment traders also commonly work with coops, the FNC and dry mills, where they re-sell their coffee in larger lots.

What is the Colombian “factor”?

The factor essentially means how many kilograms of parchment does one need for an export-quality 70kg bag of green coffee. The Colombian factor is an indicator used to quantify the coffee milling yield, and price coffees accordingly. 

Factor 90, Factor 94

The standard factor is usually set at “factor 90”, although it’s common to have a secondary “factor 94” indicator as well. We say set, because 90 or 94 are arbitrary numbers used as the industry standard. This means that in many parchment purchase points, particularly in coops, it is common to have two prices for parchment: “factor 90”, and “factor 94”.

Factor 90 means that one needs 90kg of parchment in order to produce 70kg bag of green coffee. Factor 94 means one needs 94kg of parchment for a 70kg bag of green coffee. 

This helps coffee producers get an idea of what price they’ll receive for their parchment. Parchment coffees that have higher factors require higher quantities of parchment for the same amount of green beans, thus commanding lower prices in the market. Parchment coffees that have lower factors require lower quantities of parchment for the same amount of green beans, thus commanding higher prices in the market. 

Important: This is in contrast to yields expressed in terms of a percentage, where parchment with higher percentage yields will fetch higher prices because they contain more green coffee and vice-versa.

How does this impact my business? 

As a roaster, the factor will be relevant to you in order to understand how much green coffee is available if the lot is quoted in parchment. Also, understanding the factor will clarify the process of comparing farm gate prices for your greens.

Does the factor refer to quality?

This number varies depending on the coffee and preparation, and is commonly referred to as “coffee quality” in the local commercial coffee industry. This interpretation of “quality” is fundamentally different from “cup quality”, as it only describes the yield. It is mostly used in the commercial market or by some coffee producers.

Common misunderstandings

To most Colombian coffee producers, the factor is the only objective information they’ll know about their coffees, in addition to quantity produced. They’re usually not aware of their cupping scores. You might however encounter some farmers mistaking the factor for cupping score. This is partially because the values are occasionally similar or even the same. For example a coffee that scores 87 on the SCA scale could in fact have a yield factor 87 or 88 (but also 92). Thus, it’s not uncommon to find coffee producers that claim they have a great coffee that scores 89 points when in fact what they mean is that their coffee has a yield factor of 89.

How to determine the factor

Parchment buyers will examine the parchment coffee to reveal the factor by conducting a process called “physical analysis”. 

The process consists of registering the weight difference between the regular parchment and the same parchment after physical analysis.

  • The process starts with a sample of usually 300 gr of parchment.
  • The parchment is then milled and weighted again to record the “merma” or the loss.
  • Then the just milled green coffee undergoes screen-sizing to discard the low screen-size coffee.
  • Finally, the “fiel de compra” (buyer at the purchase point) examines the green coffee and discards physically defective beans.

Once the process above is finalised, the resulting green coffee beans are weighed and the factor is calculated as per below.

In the calculation above, parchment means sample parchment, and green means green exportable coffee, as per the physical analysis.

The key thing to remember about the Colombian factor is that it tells you how much parchment you need for a 70kg green coffee bag.

So, for a “factor 90” the calculation looks as follows:

Colombian factor vs percentage yield

The Colombian factor is very confusing to some people because in many coffee growing countries (also for some Colombian areas and exporters) parchment yield is expressed as a percentage and not a factor.

Well, the factor and the yield percentage are actually the same concept, but in the inverse form and standardized per 70kg green coffee bag. And one can be calculated from the other. Let’s look at the percentage yield, which calculated as follows:

The yield reflects what is the percentage of green coffee in a certain parchment.

So, in this sense, the well-known “factor 90” Colombian coffee equates a yield of 77.8%.

Alternatively, the also common 75% yield percentage can be expressed in Colombian factor terms as follows:

So, the 75% return means a Colombian factor equivalent of 93.334.

Convert factor to yield & yield to factor

This table shows the relationship between Colombian factor and yield.

How does the factor determine purchase price?

Parchment buyers are ultimately buying and paying for the value in terms of green coffee.

In this sense, parchment becomes more valuable when it has lower yield factor (or higher yield percentage).

In the market, more valuable factor is paid accordingly and less valuable parchment is discounted.


Why do commercial parchment buyers welcome high factor coffees?

Commercial parchment buyers are keen to buy high-factor coffees because the price they pay will be adjusted to reflect the lower yield.

The general mechanics is that the parchment is valued at the price of the green beans it yields. This means that when commercial parchment buyers buy higher factor parchments, they don’t pay for the higher quantity of off-grades (the pasilla), but they can sell it to the local market buyers.


The Colombian “carga”

The local Colombian unit of measurement for parchment is the carga (Spanish for load). This unit historically refers to the amount of coffee that a mule or donkey was able to transport safely. Nowadays, a carga means 125kg.

Additionally, note that a carga can be divided into 10 “arrobas”, usually written as “@”.

In summary

Now you know that the Colombian factor is an indicator of the yield of a coffee in terms of how much parchment does one need to get a bag of green exportable coffee.

Also, remember that the Colombian factor is the same concept as the yield percentage, but expressed in the standard of the 70kg green coffee bag.

Finally, note that in Colombia it’s very common to adjust the price of the carga of coffee depending on the “factor”, so that lower factors command higher prices and vice-versa.

Some useful terms when buying coffee in Colombia

Arroba or “@”: 12.5kg, that is, one tenth of a “carga”

Carga: Weight unit, 125kg, mostly used in expressing the weight of parchment.

Factor or Yield Factor: Colombian way of expressing the yield of parchment coffee. “Factor 90” means a 70 kg coffee bag requires 90 kg of parchment.

Fiel de Compra: Parchment buyer who conducts physical analysis and is usually the manager of a purchase point.

Merma: Merma means loss and refers to the loss of weight when dry-milling the coffee for “physical analysis”

Physical analysis: Process of determining analysing parchment to determine the factor.

Yield: The percentage of green exportable coffee in parchment.

Yield percentage: Refers to the yield of green coffee over parchment coffee expressed in a percentage.