Why coffee grown at high altitude tastes superior
Bachelor of Science
So it looks like you and I share something VERY, VERY IMPORTANT in common – WE BOTH LOVE COFFEE!!!:) And like me, I am pretty sure you will travel to the ends of the earth to find the very best coffee available to satisfy that deep roaring craving that we both feel as soon as we open our sluggish eyes in the morning. After all, you and I both know, if you start your morning on a high then more than likely, it will carry you, correction.... it will be as if you are floating like an undisturbed cloud over the storm which will be your usual hectic and chaotic day at work! Well guess what my lovely readers, what if I told you that you do not have to travel to the ends of the earth and fight off vicious predators that will be most certainly trying to protect the sacred holy grail of coffee beans. What if I told you that a brave hero – a Coffee Hero has already ventured to the harsh extremes at his own peril!! to provide you with the very best coffee known to any man, woman, child, and their dog.
I bring you high altitude coffee ladies and gentleman. Take a moment, and soak it in, feel the ice cold breeze atop the highest slopes on our beloved earth touch your face and send chills all over your warm body.
Here you will find nothing but the purest air for coffee plants to breathe, the lushest soils for coffee plants to nourish themselves and the crystal-like unpolluted waters for the coffee plants to quench their enormous thirst.
But is this all there is to it??? Well if it was then this would be the shortest blog in history!
So what really makes this specialty coffee so special then and why??? Well let us now get out our detective hats and take a closer look.
It is no surprise that coffee is one of the world’s most widely consumed beverages. Apparently there are over 100 coffee species! The two main ones that are widely produced and sold are: Coffea Arabica and Coffea Robusta. Arabica seemingly being the more popular of the two according to the International Trade Centre, accounting for roughly 60 percent of the world’s coffee production between 2004-2010. Robustas making up the remainder at a measly 40 percent. There is good reason for this though as I will explain. Coffee quality is mainly assessed through the physical aspects of coffee beans such as bean colour, size, density and percentage of physical defects in producing countries but let's not kid ourselves people! we all know that flavour is the most important criterion for coffee quality evaluation and in virtually all cupping tests the Arabica species rates higher for taste outcomes than the Robusta species. ANDDDD....here is comes.... Arabica grows best at higher altitudes. What was that? Did I hear you right? I’ll repeat, ARABICA GROWS BEST AT HIGHER ALTITUDES!
Look, do not ride-off robusta altogether, 40% is still a big chunk of world production, in fact that equates to just over 50 million 60kg bags!!! (Yeah probably about my consumption level for the week). It has some tasting notes of wood and tobacco, it is favoured in some instances for its taste, high caffeine content, and ability to add body to espresso and espresso-based coffees; it is now the species of choice for instant coffee.
Now that we have determined which species is best, let us now focus on the why. Why does the coffee taste better grown at high altitude?
Do not be so impatient, before I answer that one, let us discuss what other factors are involved.
These are just as important to the end product and should not be overlooked. Hopefully by the end of this article, you will acknowledge that producing the perfect coffee bean is an art, a science, all part of an intrinsic complex system of variables .
So what else keeps the coffee plant happy – resulting in high quality beans? Well let us take a look at the below coffee table (get it?:P)
Peak ripeness of coffee berries at harvest.
So as you can see, coffee quality is a complex process in which a great number of factors and interactions intervene at various intensities. However, only one factor exercises a predominant influence, independently of other factors, and you guessed it...... altitude is that factor. This is actually proven in the study done in Nicaragua back in 2007, well check it out if you don't believe me then. It's right HERE!
Okay, okay, you guys have waited long enough, no more stalling I promise.
So just to reiterate, Why does the coffee taste better grown at high altitude?
Let’s start with the soil. I was not lying to you before in the beginning where I stated that high altitude soils were among the lushest soils on earth for coffee plants to nourish themselves. The soil higher up the mountain is indeed much more fertile and porous making it ideal for coffee growing. The best taste-rated beans are grown on the slopes of volcanoes or in volcanic soil. These soils which are formed in volcanic ash contain many of the trace elements that were present during the formation of the rock, so they haven’t yet been plundered by many hundreds of years of agriculture. They also haven’t suffered from extensive leaching and remain relatively un-weathered. These fertile soils retain a healthy supply of trace elements that often include basic cations such as Magnesium, Calcium or potassium. Volcanic soils often contain vesicles, which makes them porous which provides the good drainage that is essential for supplying the high oxygen levels that the coffee plant demands.
The higher a coffee bean is grown, the denser and more flavoursome it becomes. This is because the cooler mountain temperatures provides a slower growth cycle for the coffee tree which prolongs the coffee bean development making it denser and harder. This longer maturation process allows the coffee bean to absorb more complex sugars, yielding deeper, more interesting flavours because when the coffee bean gets stressed, the flavour gets richer. Also, better drainage at high elevations also reduces the amount of water in the fruit resulting in a further concentration of flavours. Generally, as growing elevation increases, a coffee’s flavour profile becomes more pronounced and distinctive.
TODAY’S QUIRKY TRIVIA
Did you know that the coffee bean is not a bean at all!!! Imagine my surprise:) They are actually seeds of a fruit which is similar to a cherry! Whaddaya know, you learn something useless every day!:)
https://www.academia.edu/2243574/Effects_of_altitude_shade_yield_and_fertilization_on_coffee_quality_Coffea_arabica_L._var._Caturra_produced_in_agroforestry_systems_of_the_Northern_Central_Zones_of_Nicaragua by Philippe Vaast
https://www.intracen.org/coffee-guide/world-coffee-trade/world-production-by-type-arabica-and-robusta/ by the International Trade Centre
If you enjoyed reading this article then please check out our latest write up on HOW TO PICK THE BEST DECAF COFFEE