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The Influence of Altitude on Coffee Flavors: A Closer Look

The Influence of Altitude on Coffee Flavors: A Closer Look

The altitude of the growing area affects the taste of coffee. The higher the altitude, the better the quality of coffee. It gets more complex to noticeable subtle flavors in the flavor profile.

Whenever we discuss coffee the most talked-about aspect of coffee is its taste and aroma. The addictive flavor of a freshly brewed coffee, the steam erupting from the espresso machine as the barista makes espresso, and the various syrups and creams on top that just melt in your mouth. Just wow!

There’s so much that goes into that perfect coffee. The most important aspect of a good quality coffee is the location where it’s grown.

Keep reading to know more.

What Altitude Is Best For Coffee?

coffee plant

The altitude best for coffee is above 3,500 feet to 6,000 feet. Altitudes lower than that do not produce the best coffee.  

Every vegetation cannot be produced in every area. Each kind of plant requires a specific kind of weather and conditions to thrive and grow. Such is the case with coffee as well.

The coffee plant thrives at higher altitudes. Altitudes above 3,500 to 6,000 feet are ideal. The weather is cold up there and it helps the coffee plant grow. If the altitude is below this, coffee does grow normally but it is not of supreme quality.

It is generally considered that an altitude of more than 4,000 feet is suitable for producing beans with dense, desirable measurements. A coffee farm-grown over 3,000 feet in Central America is known as a “hard bean,” and one that grows over 4,500 feet is known as “strictly hard bean”.

Similarly, in Mexico, coffee out of high-altitude farms is referred to as “Altura”. On the other hand, Papua New Guinea calls coffee grown on its highest farms “Mile High.” High-grown coffees can be described in different ways depending on the region.

When purchasing coffee, you can easily find out if it is grown at a high elevation by asking the roaster. Almost all coffee grown above 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) will be dense.

You can watch this quick video for a better understanding.

a quick video

How Does Altitude Affect Coffee Brewing?

Higher altitude does affect the water temperature for coffee brewing. But since it’s not a biggie, nothing really needs to be changed for coffee brewing at a higher altitude.

Coffee can be brewed in a lot of different ways. You can read about them in my other article here.

With coffee gaining a worldwide stature, there are numerous ways in which coffee can be brewed. You can brew coffee in high-tech machines like AeroPress or simply boil it with water like Turkish coffee. With thousands of places in the world consuming coffee, the altitude of the place where the coffee is being brewed can affect the brewing process. But how?

You see, places with higher altitudes take longer to simply bring water to the boiling temperature. Normally, water boils in around 10 minutes on 1000 feet. The farther up you go the more time increases. For every 1000 feet, 1 minute more is added.

Typically, water boiling time should not affect the coffee brewing. But if you are making espresso at a higher altitude, you will have problems.

a bag of spilled beans with spoon

A high altitude causes you to need more time to extract espresso due to the difference in boiling points. As a result, the pump pressure must be lowered, boiler pressure must be slightly reduced, and extraction time must be increased.

Lighter roast beans make it easier to achieve this, along with working with the water, pressure, roast, pump, and much more to make espresso.

How Does The Altitude Affect The Flavor Of The Coffee?

The higher the altitude the slower the growth of coffee plants. This gives it a more complex flavor profile with very rich notes to enjoy.

Coffee is a very complex beverage. It has a lot of flavors and aroma. And each factor affects it like the brewing method, the roast type, the altitude it’s grown at, etc. One such thing that separates a good coffee bean from premium coffee beans is the altitude it’s grown at.  

You see, the coffee plants thrive at higher altitudes. The high quality of coffee grown at higher elevations tends to be more complex in flavor than the coffee grown at lower elevations, so higher elevation coffee is always of higher quality.

Temperature and water make a difference in flavor and quality. The growth rate of coffee plants is slowed by cooler temperatures at higher altitudes.

The plants are thus able to devote more resources toward reproduction. In turn, this plant devotes more energy to producing beans, therefore producing more sugars that contribute to the flavor of your favorite coffee.

Below is the table of the coffee beans with their respective altitude and taste.

HeightFlavorCaffeine Per 100g
Very High Altitude5,000 feetFruity, Floral, Berry, Wine1.5 gram
High Altitude4,000 feetVanilla, Chocolatey, Nuts1 gram
Medium Altitude3,000 feetSmooth, Sweet2 gram
Lower Altitude2,500 feetSubtle, Mild0.5 gram

Which Coffee Is Grown At Low Altitudes?

Robusta coffee beans are grown at lower altitudes. It’s grown at about 2000 feet or lower.

In this world of coffee, the main categories of coffee beans are arabica and robusta. Both of these beans have different tastes of coffee and make different styles of coffee. But unlike arabica coffee beans, robusta coffee beans grow better at lower elevations.

Like many coffee plants, the flowers are white, while the fruits mature into a deep shade of red. Some regions may be able to produce a viable crop in just six months after flowering. Two coffee beans are produced by each cherry, which is the fruit of the plant.

a cup of black coffee on a ablack table

However, in some regions, the flower can take up to a year and it takes a lot of time for the fruit to ripen.

The largest supply of robusta coffee in the world comes from:

  • Brazil
  • Indonesia
  • Africa
  • Southeast Asia
  • Vietnam
  • Latin America

It’s also important to note that low-altitude coffees require a different treatment than that of high-altitude coffee. Because they’re grown in lower regions and often grow quicker, they tend to be a bit softer. This ends with the beans requiring light roasts instead of dark or medium.

Light roasts bring out the best in low-altitude coffee beans, resulting in flavors that give an earthy vibe.

My Final Verdict

Every plant needs the right condition to produce the best fruit. Coffee is a very complex fruit of a plant. And altitude affects its tastes and aroma.

The best coffee grows at a higher altitude. Beans like arabica thrive in high elevation. The complexity of taste gets prominent like you’ll have fruity and berry flavors in such coffees. Beans like robusta are grown on lower elevations. These beans taste mild and subtle.

You don’t get the complex notes that you get in higher altitude coffee.  If you like to enjoy more subtle flavors of coffee a medium to lighter roast with robusta coffee beans is ideal. If you want to enjoy vanilla and chocolatey notes, medium elevation beans are good, but if you want berry and floral notes of coffee and a fresh brew, higher elevation grown coffee is your way to go.

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