Coffee Farm Elevation
Have you ever wondered why certain roasters list the elevation that a coffee was grown at on the bag? As you probably know, climate changes at different elevations. This has a huge effect on coffee, so we wanted to talk a little bit about how!
Slower Can Be Better
The basics of coffee plant elevation are pretty simple, to most enthusiasts, coffee grown at higher elevations is better and more sought after. Why that is is a bit more complicated. The easiest way to understand this is that coffee plants grow slower at higher elevations. Slower development means more time for the bean inside the coffee cherry to mature. This leads to complex flavors that tend to be those that appeal to more experienced coffee drinkers.
So why not just grow coffee in Minnesota or here in the cascade range? Because freezing still will kill the plant. You need a magical combination of a tight temperature band from 60-70 degrees F, a frost free environment, plenty of sunshine, lots of rain, and proper drainage for coffee to thrive. This all factors into altitude when you start putting all of the pieces together.
Coffee grown on a mountainside in a region well suited for the plants gets ample sunshine, ~80 inches of rain, great drainage to focus sugars in the bean, and the perfect temperature. This isn’t achievable in colder mountain ranges!
But what flavors do high altitudes bring out in coffee? They tend to be notes like fruit, berry, and spice notes. Floral tones also become more common at higher altitudes. It’s not impossible to get a very fruit forward coffee from a lower elevation, but higher altitudes definitely help those flavors develop. These flavors also tend to be more intense due to the density of beans grown at higher altitude.
Because of all of this, most specialty coffee enthusiasts will prefer a higher altitude coffee, but they are also often more expensive. Working high up in mountain ranges is more difficult than in lower laying valleys. On top of this, the logistics of transporting and processing beans from a high altitude are tougher. Not to mention the fact that there’s just less real estate in the world with the perfect combination of altitude and climate.
It’s also not fair to say that all high altitude coffee is objectively “better.” It’s important to us at Seattle Coffee Gear to always keep in mind that personal preference is key. If you love mild, earthy notes, keeping an eye out for lower altitude coffee (usually under 900 meters).
The key takeaway here is that understanding elevation is another tool to help you learn what creates the flavor in your favorite coffees, so keep an eye out for this bit of info the next time you open up a bag of your favorite beans!