Elevation and the Organic Coffee Bean: How Altitude Affects Flavor

There are lots of subtle flavors you can taste in an organic coffee bean. That flavor comes from the land where it was grown. All coffee is grown in tropical regions, but elevation plays a big role in taste. In general, higher elevations produce harder denser beans. Harder beans are greatly prized because they contain a higher concentration of sugars, which produces a more desirable, nuttier flavor.

Ideal elevations for coffee range between 3,000 to 6,000 feet. An ideal climate is sunny, frost-free, 60 to 70 degree F year-round with a moderate rainfall of about 80 inches.

Higher Elevation = Distinctive Flavor

In Central America, elevations of 3,000 feet produce a hard bean, and coffees grown at 4,500 are considered “very hard.” Coffee grown on the highest quality farms in Papua New Guinea is known as “Mile High” coffee. In general, the higher the elevation, the more pronounced and distinctive the flavor of organic coffee. Here’s how elevation and flavor breaks down, roughly:

  • Coffee grown at about 3,000 feet produces a smooth and sweet flavor.
  • Coffee grown at 4,000 feet often has nutty or chocolate overtones
  • Coffee grown at 5,000 feet has hints of fruit and spice.

High elevation coffees tend to have a lower yield per plant, but a higher market value. There’s a reason elevation is often noted on the bag. The higher the mountain, the stronger the flavor and the richer the sip. The best java is grown close to the sky.