Topography plays a key role in determining the taste of coffee. One facet that greatly influences the quality and taste of coffee is altitude.
When deciding on a type of coffee, the height at which the plant is grown is among the key factors that traders put into consideration. Different types of coffees are grown in high altitudes, while others in low altitudes.
How Coffee Changes With Altitude
Coffee beans growing at higher elevation of 4000 feet above sea level and higher are usually hard and dense, as compared to those growing at lower elevations below 4000 feet, which produce soft coffee beans.
The hard, dense coffee beans are high quality, seeing as they hold a higher sugar concentration. Beans with a high concentration of sugars bring out the sought after and more distinct flavors.
A number of factors contribute to the higher sugar concentration in higher elevations. For example, plants grown at high altitudes are characterized by harsh growing conditions.
The beans, therefore, take longer to grow, hence providing time for them to mature and develop a higher sugar content.
The low temperatures at night also lead to increased acidity, which contributes to the production of more sugars. The quick drainage downhill also reduces the amount of water the coffee plant absorbs, hence influencing the size of the cherries.
Again, higher elevations lessen the possibility of the spread of disease to coffee plants. Coffee growing in lower elevations have better growing conditions, so they grow and ripen quicker. The quick growth and maturation is responsible for the relatively lower quality of coffee.
From the mild and sweet taste qualities of a low-grown Brazilian coffee bean (growing between 2000-4000 feet) to the elevated Ethiopian bean (grown at around 6000 feet), elevation increases a coffee’s capability to provide larger varietal gradation and intricacy.
Lower growing elevations also signifies that the acidity of Brazil coffees is comparatively low. If you want to learn more about Brazilian coffee brands, check out our detailed article.
Exceptions For Lower Altitude Coffee Beans
Even though the world’s best coffees are found at elevations of at least 4000 feet, some rare exceptions exist. For instance, the renowned Hawaiian Kona is so far north of the equator, that it is impossible to be grown at altitudes higher than 2000 feet in that area.
Some coffee plants are grown at lower elevations, but still mature and develop slowly. The conditions for their growth are also harsh, therefore they grow slowly, with quality as high as high-grown coffee.
Geography has great influence on the taste and quality of coffee. High grown coffee yields high-quality beans, from the harsh conditions and slower rate of growth.
Low-grown coffee, on the other hand, matures faster and produces lower quality coffee. There are, however, exceptions where latitudes close to the poles produce high-quality beans at lower elevations.