Altitude and Latitude

Altitude can have a powerful effect on a coffee’s flavor profile. Coffee plants grown at lower altitudes are subject to greater heat, less ventilation, and less quotidian temperature contrast. Coffee beans and their exterior pulp ripen more quickly and develop a smooth, dull and earthy flavor tones than coffees grown at higher altitudes. High altitude environments are subject to greater, rainier cloud cover interweaved with intense periods of sun and high quotidian temperature contrast within an ideal coffee growing range of 50 °F to 85 °F.

There are many coffee classifications derived from their growing altitude, for example in Guatemala starting at “Good Washedgrown at 2,300 feet, to the superior “Strictly Hard Bean” at over 5,250 feet. Coffee beans grown at lower altitudes tend to be softer and less dense; and while in storage between harvests, tend to lose their flavor more quickly than harder and denser, higher grown coffee beans.

Higher grown coffees are prized for having greater floral notes, bright fruit flavors, greater liveliness and positive nuanced acidity. Higher growing altitudes also mean a greater difficulty for regular access, maintenance of roads, planting, maintaining, and harvesting coffee plants as well as smaller yield per tree.

The highest grown coffees are not necessarily always superior to those grown at moderate or low altitudes. Latitude is also a key factor, the most known example might be the prized Hawaiian Kona, which is abnormally far from the equator and 2,000 feet elevation is the highest altitude it can be grown at with the great majority of Kona coffee being grown far below this threshold.

Other factors are in play as well; although the finest Ethiopian Yirgacheffes are grown in the vicinity of 6,000 feet and represent extraordinary floral aromatics, they generally do not have the intense acidity of the high altitude neighboring Kenya coffee. This is mostly attributed to climate and soil differences and the different strains of Arabica coffee grown in these two countries.