How Altitude Affects a Coffee Bean
Generally speaking, the higher the altitude, the harder the bean. Conversely, the harder the bean, the slower it develops in the cherry and the greater its potential for complexity. High elevation beans are noted for their enhanced sugar levels, brighter acids and pronounced fruitiness of the bean. Arabica coffee is most often grown at 3000 ft and above.
Beans grown at over 3000 ft are considered hard beans, though the designation varies by a region’s proximity to the equator. Beans grown at elevations over 4500 feet and are known as Strictly Hard Beans. Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee and renown for its remarkable diversity of Arabica varietals, has farms over 6000 feet as does Costa Rica, which due to increased global temperatures has begun to experiment with coffee grown at elevations traditionally off-limits.
High elevation beans, whose flavors are also influenced by terroir, varietal, processing and roast method, are highly sought after in the specialty coffee world. Lower elevation beans, whose density, flavors and acids are muted by comparison, are often used in blends or farmed expressly for the caffeine they produce.
Coffee Elevation Ranges by Country
Brazil 1300 – 5300 ft. (Highest mountain elevation: 9822 ft.)
Colombia 2600 – 6200 ft. (Highest mountain elevation: 18,946 ft.)
Costa Rica 2600 – 6500 ft. (Highest mountain elevation: 12,532 ft.)
Ethiopia 3600 – 7200 ft. (Highest mountain elevation: 14,872 ft.)
Guatemala 3900 – 6200 ft. (Highest mountain elevation: 13,845 ft.)
Mexico 2600 – 5600 ft. (Highest mountain elevation: 18,490 ft.)
Sumatra 2600 – 4900 ft. (Highest mountain elevation: 12,483 ft.)