What does Elevation Have to Do with Coffee Flavors?
Have you ever been curious about the numbers with the little “M” on your coffee bags?
Or have you ever gotten an Ethiopian coffee and wondered what made the cup so bright and complex?
Both have to do with the elevation in which the coffee bean was grown.
It may sound like a rather irrelevant piece of knowledge, but elevation actually has a huge affect on the temperature and water of the growing climate, which lead to more developed flavor profiles. It's important enough that we put it on our labels.
Most specialty coffees grow between ~1200m and ~2300m because that creates an ideal temperature for them to grow. Going too high will expose the coffee plant to too much cold. Going too low will cause negative effects from the heat.
The cooler temperatures found between the 1200-2300 range slow the growth of the coffee cherry, allowing it time to mature and gather more natural sugars to produce complex and tasty flavor notes.
Water doesn’t like to hike. It always and only flows down mountains.
For coffee, this means that growing in the middle or near the top of the mountain helps the coffee plants take in less water. They just have better drainage than those in lower settings.
Less water means more concentrated flavors developing within the coffee. It pretty much avoids being “watered down” during the growth process.
How does elevation affect my coffee, though?
These two factors help bring about those vibrant, complex flavors that make speciality coffee so delicious.
Higher elevations often lead to those vibrant flavors, like our new Ethiopia, which is grown at 2200 meters and has hints of blueberry, pineapple, and rose water. These kids of fruity and floral notes are pretty common as the slower maturation process allows for those natural sugars to develop within the coffee cherry.
Lower elevations often produce more subtle coffee with chocolatey or nutty notes. You could think about our Brazilian coffee, which grows at 1300 meters. More earthy tones might come out as well, especially when you get to Southeast Asian coffees. Our Papua New Guinea boasts notes of cloves and cedar and grows at 1800 meters.
So does this mean the higher the elevation the better the coffee? Not necessarily. Some of it comes down to preference. Some people want a vibrant cup. Others want one that tastes consistent and smooth. You can’t go wrong with either one.
Your best bet is to try out a few different ones and see what you like best. As long as you’re staying above 1200 meters, you should be in the clear, and you’ll never find something lower than that on our shelves.
Written by: Joseph Honescko