Getting the High on Coffee

Finding the right elevation is essential in growing great beans. In general, beans grown at high altitudes mature more slowly and grow to be harder and denser than beans grown at lower elevations.

Author
Rich Watanabe
Date
February 5, 2014
Categories
Coffee

Finding the right elevation is essential in growing great beans. In general, beans grown at high altitudes mature more slowly and grow to be harder and denser than beans grown at lower elevations. The inherent consistency and flavor profile of high grown beans makes them more desirable than coffees grown at lower elevations. Coffee growers have a term: “altura”, a Spanish word meaning “height” and is used to describe high grown, or mountain grown coffee.

In subtropical conditions, “arabicas” best thrive at altitudes of about 1,200 meters as in coffee-producing regions of Mexico. Closer to the equator, coffee tends to thrive at higher altitudes, from 1,200 meters up to 2,900 meters in Ecuador, though the latter is exceptional, and the usual ceiling is closer to 1,800 meters.

“Arabicas” could not be grown profitably at an altitude below 800 meters. Most areas at this elevation can be too warm or too humid for coffee plants. Nevertheless, some “arabicas” are planted and grown at low elevation. The beans grown at this altitude have more rounded flavor than dense “arabicas” grown at higher altitudes, but the risks of producing poorer quality coffee beans are high. Also, coffee trees are observed to grow quickly at low altitudes, they flower profusely, and after producing a few bumper harvests, the trees become stressed and exhausted. This causes the coffee trees to lose its vigor, become more susceptible to disease and pests, and eventually succumb to biological attacks.

Coffee traders label coffees according to the elevation where the beans are farmed.

“Strictly High Grown” or “Strictly Hard Bean” usually refers to coffee grown at altitudes higher than 1,300 meters.

“High Grown” or “Hard Bean” refers to coffee grown at altitudes about 1,200 meters – 1,300 meters

“Strictly Soft Bean” are beans grown under 1,200 meters. Beans grown at relatively lower altitudes mature quickly and produce a lighter, less dense bean.

Next time you buy a bag of beans, try comparing various altitude-sourced coffees.

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