Altitude matters when it comes to coffee
You might have heard that when it comes to coffee: the higher the altitude, the better the quality. But why does the altitude where your coffee is grown really matter?
High elevation means cooler temperatures
Cooler temperatures mean the coffee takes longer to ripen. Think of a pot of soup: the more time it simmers, the more opportunity the flavours have to develop and mingle into a delicious final product. Coffee beans grown at higher elevations spend more time on the tree, meaning they have more time to develop the complex sugars that give coffee its sweetness.
At lower altitudes, the coffee plant is subjected to harsher growing conditions. Higher temperatures means the coffee beans mature more quickly, so flavours don’t have as long to develop.
Coffee plants are delicate. Frost can easily destroy a crop’s yield, soil conditions can affect the bean’s density, and too much water can give a diluted, muddy-taste to your coffee.
Growing coffee on a mountain means that the plants don’t sit in water: they get the ideal amount of water before it flows away naturally. This means that the flavour of the coffee is more concentrated and the bean gets harder, which makes for a better roast.
At lower altitudes, coffee plants may sit in pooled water after a rainfall. This gives the beans a more earthy, bland flavour, and the bean itself is softer. These beans tolerate heat less, meaning they won’t handle a dark roast.
Water levels affect the strength of your coffee long before they get into your coffee maker!
Ideal soil conditions
Volcanic red soil is arguably the best soil to grow coffee in. This soil is fertile, carrying lots of nutrients the coffee plant will benefit from, and has an ideal structure and texture to support the plants.
It’s no surprise that the best-known coffee growing regions are in areas that have a lot of volcano activity!
Tender loving care
When coffee is grown at lower altitudes in grassland areas, the coffee cherries (which contain the coffee bean) can be easily picked by a machine. This machine goes along the rows of coffee plants, shaking the trees to knock the coffee cherries loose. It’s fast and efficient, but it means that all the coffee cherries are picked at once… not just the ripe ones.
These machines can’t get up a mountain, so at higher altitudes the coffee cherries must be picked by hand. This means that the person picking the cherries can pick only the ripe cherries. This means you are getting perfectly ripened coffee beans every time.