Have you looked at your bag of coffee beans and noticed they are grown at a high altitude? Growing beans at higher altitudes is a slow and detailed process. This shows in the beans’ flavors, attracting coffee lovers to learn more about the process.
So what does it mean? High-altitude coffee is when coffee beans are grown at 4,000 feet or higher above sea level. At higher elevations, there are lower temperatures, which help grow the coffee in different climates. High-altitude coffee has different aromas and acidities at different elevation levels, making it a unique cup of coffee. Here is why high altitude affects your coffee and the regions you can try it at.
How Does High Altitude Influence Coffee?
Before we dive into the regions, let’s talk about how the elevation influences the coffee. Growing coffee at high altitudes affects the size and shape of the bean. Hard beans are the most popular type of high-altitude coffee, usually grown at 4,5000 feet and higher. They are dense thanks to their slow growth process, which takes place at high altitudes. You may even notice that some beans will have different colors than traditional coffee.
Many coffee lovers buy high-altitude coffee because of its distinctive taste. High-elevation beans will have a more aromatic and acidic taste to them. This means your cup of coffee should have bolder flavors, making it more enjoyable than everyday blends.
Flavors of coffee beans will depend on the altitude at which they are grown. Very high-altitude coffee beans grown above 5,500 feet will include fruit, spice, floral, wine, and berry notes. If the beans are grown between 4,000 to 5,500 feet, the flavor profiles could include citrus, vanilla, chocolate, and nutty notes. One of the reasons High Altitude Coffee is so sought after is the variety of roasts you can try.
Now that you know the science behind high-altitude coffee, it’s time to talk about the regions where you can try a cup. They are located worldwide and provide some bold yet smooth roasts that are easy to drink.
High Altitude Coffee Regions
Kirinyaga – Kenya
Kenya is known for making some of the finest coffee beans in the world, and the region of Kirinyaga is the country’s high-elevation coffee producer. The farms sit on the slopes of Mount Kenya, where there is a large amount of volcanic soil. The consistent rainfall that hits the region helps with growing the coffee beans.
The region’s coffee beans grow anywhere from 4,000 to 5,500 feet above sea level, which means they qualify for Strictly High Grown (SHG) and Strictly Hard Bean (SHB) status. This status means that the coffee grade is grown at high elevations.
This allows the beans to grow slowly, creating more nutrients than beans grown at elevations closer to sea level. The region’s Arabica beans will have hints of fruit, sweetness, and an intense aroma.
Kenya coffee comes in different varieties, and SL28 is the term for medium- to high-elevation coffee beans. They require less rain thanks to their variable climate at high elevations. If high-elevation coffee is on your list, Kenya is a fantastic region.
Sidamo – Ethiopia
The region of Sidamo is located in Ethiopia’s highlands. The area has lots of rainfall, which keeps the volcanic soil rich and perfect for growing coffee. The beans in Sidamo grow slowly, thanks to the region’s high elevation, which is between 4,000 and 6,500 feet. This allows the beans to take in the ground’s natural nutrients and make delicious flavors.
Sidamo coffee beans use the wet process, which means the coffee beans are pressed through a screen using water with high pressure; this removes the skin. Then, the beans dry out in the warm sun.
Since they are wet-processed, you can expect more fruitiness in their flavor. You will taste notes of berry, citrus, and floral, which will have a medium body. It is known to be more earthy than other coffee in the country.
Andes – Colombia.
Many coffee lovers start their day with a cup of Colombian coffee. It comes as no surprise since it is known to be some of the best coffee in the world. The Mountain region of the Andes is Colombia’s most popular high-elevation coffee. The area is known for its dry and wet seasons thanks to its equatorial climate—the variety of wet and dry makes producing high-elevation coffee a breeze. The Andes sits at an elevation between 4,000 and 6,5000 feet, providing some of the best Arabica beans around.
Colombian coffee is known for being fermented for up to 24 hours and then sun-dried to perfection. The flavors of the coffee will depend on what part of the altitude the coffee farm is at. This will affect the soil and conditions. You can expect the flavors to be strong and have a nutty and orange taste.
Santa Ana – El Salvador
Located in El Salvador is the high-elevation coffee region of Santa Ana. The beans are grown at elevations that exceed 4,000 feet, which produces delicious flavors! The washing method is a tradition used in Santa Ana coffee beans, which involves de-pulping and fermentation, all while washing and drying the beans.
Coffee beans in Santa Ana provide bright and floral flavors with fruit notes. When roasting, they tend to provide lighter and medium roasts. You may also taste chocolate and caramel with mild acidity. Some roasts even provide a nutty flavor that resembles almonds and pecan. Coffee from the high-altitude Santa Ana region of El Salvador is excellent for everyday coffee.
Tarrazu – Costa Rica
The country of Costa Rica is home to some of the world’s best gourmet coffees. They are known for their whole body, light, fresh flavor, and good acidity. Tarrazu is a volcanic region in central Costa Rica where you can find high-elevation coffee beans. The area’s altitude is between 4,000 and 5,500 feet, and the tropical climate, cool temperatures, and sunshine make it easy for the Arabica trees to grow.
Tarrazu coffee is grown at small farms in the mountains around San Marcos de Tarrazu. The coffee beans will have a high acidity since they are grown at high altitudes, giving them bold flavors. Each bean is picked by hand before going to the coffee mill. From here, they are sorted and processed using lots of care.
The beans will have a silky flavor, making them very easy to drink. Some flavor aromas you may notice are tropical fruit, apricot, and citrus. Tarrazu is a coffee region you have to try if you enjoy easy to drink high-altitude coffee.
Jinotega Region – Nicaragua
The mountainous Jinotega Region, also called the land of lakes and volcanoes, is in Nicaragua. A country that has become infamous for its delicious coffee beans. The Jinotega Region is located at 4,000 feet and above, making some of the highest-altitude coffee in Nicaragua.
The Jinotega Region uses the wet process, which takes around two months to complete. They dry their beans on raised beds, giving them a sweeter, floral flavor. The roasting process brings out flavors of cherries and apples, providing a bright cup of morning coffee.
One of the best ways to bring out the flavor in Nicaragua coffee is to use a French press or pour-over. The slow pour process will enhance the unique coffee flavors of the Jinotega Region.
Toraja – Indonesia
Toraja is a mountainous region that is part of the South Sulawesi Province of Indonesia. High-altitude coffee is produced here since the area is 6,000 feet above sea level.
Farmers use the wet-hulling method in Toraja, which was created in Sumatra and used throughout Indonesia. Wet-hulling is a way to dry the beans fast in a rainy, wet environment. The coffee beans are harvested, pulped, and fermented before being cleaned the following day. The farmers fill baskets of beans as they pick each one by hand, a long but loving process. They then bring them to the mill, where the wet-hulling process begins.
The flavor profile of Toraja coffee beans is dark chocolate, cinnamon, and cardamom with hints of fruit. The coffee will have a clean and smooth finish despite its bold variation. Just another reason to try Indonesia’s high-altitude coffee.
Coatepec – Mexico
Nestled on the foot of the Cofre de Perote Volcano in Mexico is the gorgeous mountain region of Coatepec. Coatepec is known as the “Coffee Capital of Mexico,” so you know the coffee here will be delicious. The elevation in Coatepec is 4,100 feet, making it fall into the high-altitude coffee category.
The Coatepec coffee district of Veracruz, Mexico, grows coffee beans with a smooth body and medium acidity. Flavor profiles include buttery biscuits and chocolate notes with hints of nuts. Coffee lovers say that this region has bold coffee that is smooth to drink, making it an everyday go-to for most. We wouldn’t expect anything less from this high-altitude “Coffee Capital of Mexico.”