This Week in Coffee: Farming – Altitude
For pourover options we have Gracenote’s Pulcal from Guatemala and Igna Mystique from Colombia. You may remember both of these coffees as espressos. On our pourover menu, the same beans are roasted differently to make a great cup of drip coffee. Pulcal is rich and interesting for the pallet with flavors of caramel, chocolate, raspberry, and lime. Igna Mystique is earthy and smooth with flavors of caramel, cola, plum, and orange. This week’s espresso is George Howell’s La Soledad from Guatemala. La Soledad is sweet and bright with flavors of apple, pear, and brown sugar.
Focus on Farming: Altitude
Over the past few weeks we have been walking you through some basic information on the complex process of farming coffee. Beginning with an overview, we have since covered topics of soil characteristics, climate, and today we focus on the effects of altitude.
Most coffee is grown between 3,500 feet (1,000 meters) and 6,000 feet (1,800 meters) above sea level. One noteable exception to this general rule is Kona coffee from Hawaii. Since Hawaii is so far north of the equator, cool temperatures at high altitudes prevent coffee from being grown higher than 2,000 feet. Altitude can have a profound impact on the flavor of coffee. At low elevations, higher temperatures that remain fairly consistant from day into night can lead to a quicker rippening of the coffee cherry. This quick ripening leads to smoother and earthy flavors in comparrison to the more complex and floral flavors found in coffees growing at higher elevations. At a higher altitude, contrasts between periods of mixed cloud cover and strong direct sunlight, and warm days followed by cool nights allow for a slower ripening and development of citrus, fruity, and floral flavors.
Also determined by altitude is the density of the coffee bean. Coffee grown at lower altitudes tend to have softer, less dense beans that can tend to lose flavor more rapidly in storage. For this reason, denser beans from higher altitudes tend to be considered higher quality coffees. With this classification, farmers can obtain a higher premium for coffees grown at high elevations, but there are risks to growing at high elevations as well. Access to high elevation land can be difficult with limited access roads and steep hillsides. There can also be problems of erosion, wind damage, and lower yields per plant in these environments.
For more detailed information on the effects of altitude, check out the George Howell Website page on the subject. Want to see George Howell himself talk about this subject and many other coffee production and brewing topics? Check out our post about the “What’s Brewing” series on Lex Media.