What Affects Coffee Flavour Part 2: Altitude

Coffee is grown at a variety of different altitudes across the world, which can affect the flavour, quality and complexity of a coffee. Generally speaking, coffee grown at a higher altitude will be more complex and flavourful than coffee grown at a lower altitude.

Water and temperature are two main factors that can cause differences in flavour. As you reach higher altitudes temperatures tend to drop, slowing the rate of growth for the coffee plants. At this slower growth rate, the plants devote more of their energy to bean production. The lengthier growing time means a longer time for the beans to mature, and a longer time for the flavours to develop. Along with this, higher altitudes generally have better drainage. This leads to less water in the bean resulting in stronger flavours.

However, a slower growth rate isn’t all great. The slower the growth, the more labour required to look after the crop, the later the harvest, and the higher probability for the crop yield to be decreased.

So what altitude should you look for?

Realistically it’s completely up to your own personal flavour preferences. Higher altitudes (1300 metres and above) commonly have fruity flavours with higher acidity. A lower altitude produced a mellower, smoother coffee. More specifically, there are four main flavour profiles in relation to altitude:

  • below 750 metres (2500 feet): soft and mild coffees (like our Brasilian coffee beans)
  • around 900 metres (3000 feet): sweet and smooth coffees
  • around 1200 metres (4000 feet): citrus, chocolate and/or nut notes
  • above 1500 metres (5000 feet): spicy, flora, or fruity flavours (such as our Guatemalan or Papua New Guinean coffee beans)

While high altitude can usually act as a good indicator for a higher quality coffee, it isn’t always guaranteed. For example, Hawaiian Kona coffee is grown below 600 metres but has a cupping score upwards of 85. Many factors relating to climate, farming processes, roasting and brewing can also have a pretty big effect on the flavours in your cup.

by Melissa Hartwig

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