How elevation affects the taste of coffee

Apr 02

Behind Coffee

Outside of varietal characteristics, elevation is arguably one of the most important factors affecting your coffee's flavor notes.

Coffee flavor is influenced by countless factors, including the microclimatic conditions of the region where it is grown, which mainly depend on temperature, humidity, wind, altitude, topography, soil type, rainfall, access to sunlight, and surrounding vegetation.

Cooler mountain temperatures generally provide a slower growth cycle for the coffee tree which prolongs bean development. This longer maturation process imbues the coffee bean with more complex sugars, yielding denser beans with deeper and more compelling flavors. Better drainage at high elevations also reduces the amount of water in the fruit resulting in a further concentration of flavors.

The highest-grown coffees are not necessarily always superior.

The best example is Kona, Hawaii where 762 meters elevation is the highest one can grow coffee. Most Kona coffee grows far below that altitude but the Microclimatic conditions and the mineral-rich volcanic soil create ideal coffee-growing conditions.

Also, while some of the best Ethiopian coffees are grown in the vicinity of 1800 meters and have unique floral aromas they lack the intense acidity of some high-altitude Kenyan coffees. This could be attributed to soil differences and/or the radically different varieties of Arabica coffee grown in these two countries.

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