• The shipping method - short background


    Bagged coffee in 20-foot 'dry containers' is a major improvement over the old break bulk method but still involves extensive handling and does not fully exploit a container's carrying capacity. This is important as transport and freight costs are charged per container, rather than by weight. The cost of handling bagged cargo is also escalating continuously, especially in importing countries.

    When correctly lined with cardboard or sufficiently strong Kraft paper, and if properly stuffed, standard 20-foot dry containers are suitable for transporting bagged coffee. This is not to suggest they are suitable for prolonged storage of coffee, because they are not. Some receivers do specify ventilated containers for shipments from certain areas. These provide ventilation over their entire length, usually top and bottom, but not all shipping lines offer them. They are expensive, and at the same time more and more coffee is shipped in bulk instead.

    Bulk shipments were first experimented with in the early 1980s. After a period of exhaustive trials, mostly on coffees from Brazil and Colombia, the conclusion was that standard containers are perfectly suitable for the transportation of coffee in bulk. But they must be fitted with appropriate liners (usually made of polypropylene) and the coffee's moisture content must not exceed the accepted standard for the coffee in question.

    Some container facts:

    • TEU stands for Twenty Cubic Foot Equivalent Unit: maximum payload 28.3 metric tonnes;
    • FTE stands for Forty Cubic Foot Equivalent Unit: maximum payload 30.4 metric tonnes;
    • GP in the USA stands for General Purpose Container - the European Union equivalent is DC or Dry Container, i.e. both are the same; The net load of a standard, general-purpose, steel TEU container is on average about 21,000 kgs green coffee. However this varies, depending on the type of coffee being shipped (large beans can be as low as 19,000 kgs - small beans perhaps as much as 24,000 kgs). It is impossible to use the entire theoretical payload capacity because coffee is relatively bulky;
    • Ocean freight for coffee shipments is always charged per container. As such it is entirely up to the shipper to decide how much of the available space to use, respectively how much space to leave empty (dead space);
    • Wooden container floors (where fitted) must have been treated against infestation - details of the treatment method is found on the CSC (Container Safety Convention) plate on the container door. This is important because of rules on the use of Wood Packaging Material (WPM) that is used in international shipments. See for example www.aphis.usda.gov - Importation of Wood Packaging Material.; *
    • When making a booking with a shipping line always give the instruction 'stow away from heat, cool stow and sun/weather protected' or 'stow in protected places only/away from heat and radiation', i.e. no outer or top position. 'Stow under deck' or 'under waterline' is not appropriate with modern container vessels, since the fuel tanks are often situated in the hull and can radiate heat. Abbreviations also used are AFH = Away From Heat and KFF = Keep From Freezing.

    For good overviews on container and containerisation matters go to http://www.containerhandbuch.de (English version) where a considerable variety of information is available.

    *Materials other than wood for use as container flooring are under development. 

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