How Does Elevation Affect the Taste of Coffee

How does elevation affect the taste of coffee

One of the biggest way a coffees flavour can be impacted is where it is grown, which is why you will see on the side of your coffee, and Tank Coffee’s packaging, the country and region where it was grown. Another aspect of the geography of where the coffee is grown which affects the quality and taste (which roasters sometimes and us, TankCoffee always include on your packaging) is elevation, and during this blog, is a look at how that affects the taste of the coffee.

Coffee mountains

Higher Elevations Produce Harder Beans

When coffee is grown at higher elevations, the beans produced are hard and more dense than beans grown at lower elevations. Hard beans, as they are often referred to, are of a higher quality than soft beans, this is due to having a higher concentration of sugars, which produce more desired and sought after flavours. So what contributes to the increased concentration of sugars?

  • The harsh growing conditions slow down the bean’s maturation process and provide the time for the complex sugars to develop.
  • fast drainage down the mountain reduces the amount of water the coffee plants can soak up, and in turn, contributes to for big their cherries can become.
  • Fewer plants survive at higher altitudes and elevations, thus reducing the likelihood that disease will spread to the coffee plants.

So What Height Is Considered High Elevation/Altitude?

Well to put it bluntly, 4,000 feet and higher is when we can start saying our coffee is grown at a high elevation.

Higher is a relative term. In Costa Rice, some farms might grow their coffee at 4,500 feet above sea level, while a farm in Ethiopia might grow their coffee at 6,000 feet. To grow the coffee that we all know and love, 4,000 feet tends to be considered high enough to produce the growing conditions that create the dense, hard, desirable beans we know.

In some regions and countries, they have a technical term that will identify high elevation lots. Central America coffee grown above 3,000 feet can be called ‘Hard Bean’ while coffee grown at 4,500 feet or more is called ‘Strictly Hard Bean’. This lets both the customer, retailer and the roaster know what altitude the coffee was grown at and what they can expect from the beans. Other places such as Mexico uses the term ‘Altura’ for their high grown coffee while Papua New Guinea on the other side of the world uses the term ‘Mile High’ for their high altitude coffee.

Terms used to describe high-grown coffee or coffee grown at high elevation vary from region to region. The easiest way to see if your coffee is grown at high elevation is to just ask the roaster, to which you can do right here at Tank, or if you want to know more about how Tank Coffee is grown, you can meet the farmers.

Man skimming through and peeling coffee cherries

Can Coffee Be Grown At Lower Elevations?

Of course it can! it can even have similar qualities to coffee grown at high altitudes.

Coffee grown at lower elevations can still develop slowly and develop a higher concentration of sugars, but it needs to face the type of adverse growing conditions that the coffee grown at the higher elevations face. Two of the most notable exceptions are the Hawaiian Kona Coffee which is grown below 2,000 feed and Shade-Grown Coffee. What helps is that Hawaii is so far north of the equator that its coffee is still full of flavour, and although the elevation it is grown at is quite low, the shade slows down the maturation process by blocking the sun and helps that higher concentration of sugars develop.

Different Heights Produce Different Flavours

So by now you pretty much know that different altitudes make different coffee, however not only does it effect the flavour of the coffee, there a lot of different flavour associations with each different altitude, as below…

  • Below 2,500 feet (762 meters) – soft, mild, simple and bland
  • Around 3,000 feet (914 meters) – sweet and smooth
  • Around 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) – citrus, vanilla, chocolate or nutty notes
  • Above 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) – spicy, floral or fruity

Woman skimming through coffee

So What Elevation Makes The Coffee Taste The Best

To see the find out which is the best, you will have to make up your own mind, it’d down to personal taste. Each elevation has a different taste, plus being from a different farm, you’ll see different notes and flavours on the packs, you’ll notice a general difference in the quality of bean too as the elevation gets higher, but that doesn’t mean lower elevations don’t make good coffee.

If you want to try a wide array of different coffees, why don’t you give our starter pack a go? You can try four different African coffees and then tell us which one is best!

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