Roasting Coffee at High Altitudes
If you're a coffee-lover, then you're likely one of the millions of people determined to brew the best cup of coffee. Even if you have a fancy grinder and have mastered your favorite brewing method, the key to that premium-tasting cup lies within the beans you use.
There's a lot of debate amongst coffee fans on where the best coffee beans come from. Some will swear by beans from Africa, others from South America. As it turns out, there's more to it than just geographical region. While the type of soil and sun exposure does play an essential role in the quality of the bean, one factor that often goes overlooked is the altitude at which the coffee beans are grown.
How Does High Altitude Affect Coffee Beans?
Coffee beans grown at high altitudes go through a unique growing process that significantly impacts their flavor. The two major contributors, water and temperature.
- Temperature: At a higher elevation, the plants are exposed to cooler temperatures which slow down their growth rates. While this might seem like a negative outcome, this slow-growing process allows the beans more time to develop their complex sugars and flavor as they mature.
- Water: Plants grown at a higher elevation experience better drainage, meaning the plant absorbs less water. This also yields a positive outcome, resulting in a denser coffee "cherry." This denser fruit will have higher levels of sugar and more robust flavors.
The Impact of Air Density on Coffee Bean Roasting
High altitude doesn't only affect the beans, but the roasting process as well. With less moisture and oxygen in the air, the beans can be roasted at a lower temperature and shorter time. This helps to prevent the risk of potentially "baking" or "scorching" the beans during the roasting process.
A "baked" coffee bean refers to the bean being roasted for too long and losing its flavor. A "scorched" coffee bean has been roasted at too high a temperature resulting in a woody, bitter taste.
How Does High Altitude Affect the Flavor of the Coffee?
When roasting and growing coffee beans at a high altitude, the resulting cup of coffee has a fuller body and more complex flavors.
Beans grown at:
- 3000ft are considered medium altitude and will have a smooth, sweet flavor.
- 4000ft are considered high altitude and will have chocolate, nut, citrus, or vanilla notes.
- 5000ft are considered very high altitude and contain spice, berry, fruit, and floral notes.
Where to Find High Altitude Beans:
Beans that have been harvested at high elevation will be often be labeled with one of the following terms:
- SHB (Strictly Hard Bean)
- SHG (Strictly High Grown)
- HG (High Grown)
These are all indicators that the coffee plants were grown at a high elevation. You can find these beans from various coffee roasters, both online and in-store.
If you're serious about brewing the best cup of coffee, you can enjoy the benefits of high altitude roasts when you order your beans from General Warfield's Coffee. Our selection of artisan roasted beans delivers the best coffee sipping experience in every cup.