Have you ever wondered why roasters put origin growth altitude on the bag?
What does this actually mean and is it there to just fill in open space or does it have some meaning?
I guess lets try and find out…
As a commercial roaster who is cupping coffee trying to work out what roast strategy they will apply.
Knowing growth altitude, microclimates, and process methods are all critical questions.
The above coffee information allows you the necessary reference to what you are now tasting and from this, the ability to create the perfect roasting profile.
For the home user, just starting on the roasting journey, this can just be seen as a space filler and really meaningless information. Information that often is just put on a bag.
For all types of roasters this information is critical.
I want to start off by stating that there are many other factors that can be used to determine a bean’s growth and ultimately, roasting path. For the purpose of the blog we are only going to look at growth altitude and sun as two critical factors for growth.
When looking at altitude, we look at how altitude starts to impact the seed’s development through the growth of the cherry.
High altitude growth results in:
- Slower ripening of the cherry due to the lower amount of H2O present
- A higher density in the seed wrestling from the above
- Added complexity in the seed through the slower cherry growth due to the colder evenings
- Lower amount of sun daily due to cloud cover high up and the creation of microclimates
- Possibly more sweetness and better acidity due to the slower growth
This is why when you buy higher grown coffee altitudes, the perception is that they will be better in quality and taste.
Now this does not mean that coffee grown at lower altitudes is in fact of lower quality at all.
Growing coffee plants in shaded forests under canopies creates its own microclimate and with very fertile soil and humid conditions can increase acidity, complexity and body of coffee.
Factors like the sun and how coffee is grown, Terroir, along with processing methods all lead to lower altitude complexity and ultimately quality in cup.
The sun has a similar impact as altitude on the cherry.
Coffee grown closer to the equator:
- More sun over its growth period
- By product is hotter nights
- More sun and hotter nights result in quicker ripening and less development time
The above produces less dense seed which will lower complexity
Coffees grown further away from the equator:
- More seasonal sun and more likely to have less of it
- Slower ripening creating higher density in the seed
- Possibly more complexity, sweetness due to the cooler nights
As we can see above - The sun can provide us with similar growth conditions to high altitude grown coffees.
I guess what I am trying to say with the above is… for the seasoned roaster, don’t just look for the highest altitude coffee to roast. It’s not always the best. Ask questions on growth factors and processing. Understand the combination of all growth and process factors and ultimately how that will filter into a coffee that you enjoy drinking.
For the new home roaster - Altitude is important in determining a roasting profile for your coffee. Ask the roaster who sold you the coffee. They should know this minimal information
Search the coffee online and look for other growth factors / processing that can help you with your profiles.
At the end of the day you may not get it right all the time but that is all part of the coffee journey to explore and learn.