Does Altitude Affect Coffee Flavor?

If you’re a careful shopper, you’re going to give everything you buy a closer look. You can notice that a lot of coffee makers state the elevation at which their coffee is grown.

We all know that temperature and climate play a role in growing coffee, but does altitude affect the coffee flavor as well?

Well, buckle up, because it’s time for some answers!

Is Coffee Grown at Low and High Altitudes?

There are many factors that can affect the growth of coffee beans. However, you can grow coffee beans just about anywhere provided that you got the conditions right. However, geography has a deep effect on many physical aspects of the coffee bean end result.

Similar to wine and tea, the same coffee bean can give a completely different flavor and outer shape depending on where it’s grown.

It’s known that temperature has a great impact on coffee beans’ growth. Generally, coffee beans grow best in tropical regions with temperatures ranging from 15 to 35°C (60 to 95°F).

Coffee beans also require moderate rainfall of about 1,500 to 2,500 mm every year, with relative humidity at 70-90% all the time.

The ideal region for grown coffee worldwide is called the Coffee Bean Belt. this belt is a tropical area that extends about 30 degrees from the south to the north of the equator.

However, the altitude at which the coffee beans are grown is no exception to this rule. In fact, altitude has a major impact on coffee beans in terms of shape, aroma, and flavor. That’s why a lot of coffee roaster includes the elevation of their coffee beans on their bags.

Does Coffee That’s grown at High Elevations Taste Different?

Scientific research has been ambiguous about the effect of elevation in growing coffee. While some researchers agree that altitude has an effect on coffee flavor, others don’t agree. Yet, a lot of coffee experts can actually tell the difference in flavor by altitude.

Not only can they find a difference in flavor, but they can also tell about the altitude they were grown by careful inspection of the coffee beans. Let’s have a deeper look to understand the reasons behind these changes.

Altitude Affects the Plant’s Biology

To understand what altitude does to coffee beans, we have to dig deeper into what altitude does to the environment. At higher altitudes, the air becomes much thinner, which happens due to the low air pressure.

Air pressure is defined as the amount of air that’s pressing down on the world. At lower pressure, there’s less oxygen in the air to breathe, which is why humans struggle to breathe at high altitudes.

As a result, the coffee beans can form more complex sugars, which gives a richer and fruitier sweet taste. Not only that, but the harsh conditions allow for only the best beans to survive. This increases the plant’s ability to fight diseases and increases the yield in the long run.

However, plants aren’t affected by this phenomenon as we do. Of course, a higher altitude will make it harder for the plant to survive. However, this can be a good thing for the surviving plant.

At high altitudes, coffee beans can become much more densely packed than the ones grown at a lower altitude. Those hard beans are usually considered of a higher quality than soft ones.

The coffee beans grow much slower due to the harsh conditions and lack of oxygen. This gives them a huge window of time for the developing process to happen.

Since the coffee beans are grown at high altitudes, it allows for the water to drain down the mountain quicker. The less water the coffee beans soak up, the thinner they get.

Think of it as cooking. The longer you keep the food on lower heat, the more delicious it’ll taste when it’s done.

However, air pressure isn’t the only thing that’s affected by the higher altitude. The higher elevation also has a direct relationship with the temperature.

The higher up you go, the lower the temperature. As you know, temperature also plays a significant role in controlling the quality of many plants, including coffee. So if the pressure isn’t the only factor responsible for the rich flavor of coffee at high altitudes, it must be the temperature.

However, attitude alone can’t be a factor of temperature. The distance from the equator is also significant in controlling the temperature at a given elevation. That’s why the temperature at a given altitude at the equator is different from the same altitude far from the equator.

This means that elevation must be coupled with latitude and temperature to have a certain influence on the final coffee taste.

NASA’s Space-Grown Veggies

In 2015, NASA has grown veggies like lettuce in a space station. The effect of the high altitude can be visible on the lettuce. That’s another proof of the effect of high altitude and low pressure on growing plants.

Test the Beans for Yourself

To see the influence of elevation on coffee beans yourself, you can use different packs of fresh (green) coffee beans.

If they’re grown at different altitudes, you’re going to notice that beans at high altitudes are smaller and more densely packed than the others. You’ll also notice some differences in the fissure structures and the aroma of the coffee beans.

What is the Best Altitude to Grow Coffee?

As you can see, the effect of altitude on coffee beans can be drastic. So it goes without saying that the higher the altitude the coffee is grown at, the better it tastes. Or does it?

Coffee flavor isn’t a definitive answer, as some people enjoy different tastes of coffee. This means that the answer to this question depends on your personal preference.

Let’s have a deeper look into the characteristics of each coffee grown at different heights so you can find your ideal pick – What Is the Difference Between Coffee and Espresso?

Coffee Grown under 700 meters (2,500 feet)

Coffee beans that are grown at such a low altitude usually have the least complex flavor profile.

Since the plant isn’t subjected to low pressure and harsh conditions, they’re usually succulent and full of water. This water dilutes the coffee bean flavor. This makes it a bit mild and earthy.

Additionally, the plants are usually prone to diseases as natural selection doesn’t take its toll. However, there’s an exception to the subtle taste at low elevation, which is the Hawaiian Kona coffee.

Coffee Grown under 1,200 meters (4,000 feet)

At almost double the previous altitude, you’ll begin to notice a huge difference in the coffee’s taste profile.

As of 4,000 feet, the altitude is high enough to produce the required conditions for a dense and rich coffee bean. You can enjoy coffee that has a nutty and acidic taste with hints of vanilla and chocolate.

Coffee Grown under 1,500 meters (5,000 feet)

The highest altitude at which coffee is grown is at 5,000 feet. At this extremely high altitude, you can pick up an astonishing blend of fruitiness along with some floral and spicy notes.

How to Brew Low Acidic Coffee

Are Arabica and Robusta Beans Grown at Low Altitudes?

Arabica beans are generally grown at higher altitudes, which are usually about 1,000 to 2,000 meters (3,000 to 6,000 feet).

The slower growth rate makes the Arabica beans more concentrated in terms of flavor. That’s why Arabicas are usually grown and handpicked on mountains. This is also the reason why Arabica coffee is usually more expensive than other types of coffee.

On the other hand, Robusta beans are cultivated at relatively lower altitudes, which is below the 1,000 meters mark. As a result, they’re more prone to plant diseases, such as coffee rust.

Additionally, Robusta coffee tastes a bit less complex compared to Arabica. However, they have double the amount of caffeine in their beans. This makes them a better choice for those who are looking for a caffeine kick in their day.

Is High-Altitude Coffee More Expensive?

As you can see, high-altitude coffee offers a complex taste profile. To get this exceptional taste of high-altitude coffee beans, farmers have to cultivate them in the harsh conditions of 1,200+ meters.

As a result, they grow much slower and offer a lower yield per weight than low altitude. For reasons and more, it’s usually a bit more expensive than the average Robusta coffee.

However, some of the most luxurious coffee beans around the world offer an amazing taste for a relatively affordable price.

Does Instant Coffee Use Low Elevation Grown Coffee?

Most Instant coffee producers look for efficiency rather than quality while making the coffee.

This means that they’re looking for coffee varieties that offer a higher yield and are easier to cultivate.

For that reason, most instant coffee makers use Robusta beans in the production of instant coffee, as they’re also cheaper to produce. Robusta beans are grown in low elevations of 700 to 1,000 meters.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know the drastic effect of altitude on the flavor of your coffee, you can use this guide to get yourself the perfect coffee.

As you can see, the higher the altitude at which coffee beans are grown, the more complex its taste is going to be. If you like your coffee with hints of fruity berries, you should look for high-altitude coffee.

However, if you’re more into acidic or nutty coffee, you can settle for coffee beans that are moderately elevated.

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