Did you know that altitude plays a major role in coffee bean development? Coffee grown at higher altitudes produce higher-quality beans.
Buying high altitude coffee brands comes with several benefits. High altitude coffee is generally more flavorful and has a wider variety of tasting notes. It’ll also produce a more aromatic cup of coffee and be more acidic.
Keep reading to learn more about how altitude affects coffee plants and find some of the best high altitude coffees to try.
What is High Altitude Coffee?
High altitude coffee means that the beans were produced from coffee plants grown at very high elevations. Coffee plants are usually grown on tall mountain sides when grown at high altitudes.
The most popular type of coffee is the Arabica variety. Arabica beans require high altitude environments with mild temperatures, reaching no more than 24 degrees Celsius (75 F). They develop best when grown between 609 and 1,829 meters above sea level.
The highest-quality Arabica beans are labeled High Grown (HG) or Strictly High Grown (SHG). Sometimes HG and SHG beans are referred to as Hard Bean or Strictly Hard Bean.
High Grown beans are grown between 900 and 1,200 meters above sea level. Strictly High Grown beans are grown above 1,200 meters.
The other main coffee variety, Robusta, grows best at lower elevations. If you’re looking for high altitude coffee, it’s best to stay away from Robusta beans.
Robusta beans are less susceptible to diseases and develop better at higher temperatures. These beans are typically found in parts of Southwest Asia and Central and West Africa. Vietnam is a big Robusta bean producer.
Where is High Altitude Coffee Grown?
Location is very important when searching for high altitude coffee. Several Central American countries have mountainous regions that produce High Grown and Strictly High Grown beans.
There are also other places around the world, like East Africa, that have tall mountains great for growing high altitude coffees.
Coffee farms that produce high altitude beans are usually scattered along the slopes of mountains or volcanoes.
Coffee-growing countries that have a lot of high altitude coffee farms include:
There are lowland regions in these countries. Identifying the region the beans are grown and determining whether it’s mountainous or not can help you identify whether it’s a high altitude coffee.
Guatemala is known for its tall mountain ranges and high number of volcanoes. Many coffee farms in this Central American country produce high altitude beans due to its abundance of mountainous landscapes.
Benefits of Buying High Altitude Coffee
High altitude coffee beans are most sought after for their fine qualities. There are several benefits that come naturally when you buy high altitude coffee beans.
Since most high altitude coffees are from the Arabica coffee plant, this means they’re usually shade-grown. Arabica plants can’t handle high temperatures and need canopy coverage to develop properly.
Shade-grown coffee is typically of higher quality. It’s beneficial to the environment and to the beans. Canopy coverage provides habitats for native animals, especially birds. This limits the need for pesticides because birds naturally take care of coffee plant pests.
Other benefits that come with buying high altitude coffee include beans grown in nutrient-rich soils and more complex flavor profiles.
Coffees with a natural shade produce organic leaf litter to help replenish the soil with rich nutrients. Many coffee farms spread throughout Central America are located on volcanic soils. These soils are very rich in minerals.
Cooler temperatures at high altitudes cause coffee beans to develop slower. This slow-growth process gives coffee beans more time to develop more complex flavor profiles than earthy Robusta beans.
What to Look for When Buying High Altitude Coffee Brands
The most important thing to look for when buying high altitude coffee is the elevation. Some coffee brands will include the elevation right on the packaging.
Coffee brands usually like to advertise that their beans are High Grown or Strictly High Grown because beans that meet these criteria are usually high-quality.
If you don’t see the elevation stamped on the packaging, you can resort to looking for any other identifying information that could tell you where the beans are grown. Identifying the region where the beans are grown can give you an idea of whether they were grown in highlands or lowlands.
If the coffee consists of Robusta beans or a blend of Robusta and Arabica, it’s probably not High Grown or Strictly High Grown.
Single-origin beans are easier to identify as high altitude or not. Blends of beans from different regions, even if they’re 100% Arabica varieties, can make it hard to determine the elevation of where they were grown.
The Top High Altitude Coffee Brands
Fresh Roasted Coffee LLC – Tanzanian Peaberry
- Grown in a high altitude region
- Peaberry beans
- Not available in any other roast
Fresh Roasted Coffee LLC offers a wide variety of single-origin coffee beans from around the world.
These Tanzanian peaberry coffee beans come from the mountainous region of Mbeya, located in the southeastern portion of Tanzania. The average elevation of the Mbeya region is above 1,200 meters.
These are 100% Arabica beans of the Bourbon varietal. The light roast on the beans produces a bright cup of coffee with lemon, peach, and black tea tasting notes. Most high altitude beans are highly acidic, but these have a medium acidity that’s well-balanced with the flavors.
The beans are exported between the months of November and July, so it would be best to order them during this time for the freshest beans.
A unique characteristic of this coffee is that the beans are peaberries. This means that the coffee cherry only contained one coffee bean instead of two. Peaberries are highly sought after because they’re considered rare.
Mt. Comfort Coffee – Peru
- Strictly High Grown
- Limited size availability
Mt. Comfort Coffee’s Peruvian beans are Strictly High Grown in the Chanchamayo and Chontali regions of Peru. The coffee is grown at altitudes between 1,200 and 1,400 meters above sea level.
This coffee is 100% Arabica beans, consisting of the Typica, Bourbon, and Caturra varieties. The high altitude brings out the brightness of the citrusy notes, while the medium roast complements the chocolate and nutty notes.
Many high altitude coffees can be expensive, but this coffee has a pretty good price tag. The one downside to it is the limited availability of different bag sizes.
Java Planet – Guatemala Organic
- Bird-friendly certified
- Fair trade and organic certified
- Flavors lack intensity
- Bitter aftertaste
Java Planet is a coffee roaster that specializes in organic coffees. Their Guatemala Organic coffee is fair trade certified and bird friendly certified. As per bird friendly certification requirements, this coffee is shade-grown.
The beans are a medium roast that makes a creamy body with delicate hints of fruit and chocolate and caramel-tasting notes.
The coffee is grown in the region of Huehuetenango, one of Guatemala’s main coffee-growing regions. The city of Huehuetenango sits on the slopes of the Cuchumatanes Mountains at an elevation of 1,900 meters above sea level.
Camano Island Coffee Roasters – Honduras
- Strictly High Grown
- USDA organic certified
- Sweet notes
- Dark roast can give it a burnt aftertaste
If you’re looking for a smooth dark roast, you might want to try Camano Island Coffee’s Honduras dark roast. This is a full-bodied coffee with sweet molasses and brown sugar flavors balanced out by hints of dry fruit.
The beans are USDA organic certified and grown in the Copan region of Honduras. Copan is one of Honduras’ main coffee-producing regions. It’s shade-grown on a farm located 1,200 meters above sea level.
The darker roast helps to take some of the acidity away from the SHG beans. One of the downsides to this coffee is it’s quite pricey.
Café Britt – Costa Rica Poás Volcanic Earth Blend
- Strictly High Grown
- Grown in volcanic soils
- Slightly pricey
- Earthy (depending on preference)
Café Britt’s Costa Rican coffee beans are sourced from Finca La Guaria, a family-owned farm located in the Central Valley region of Costa Rica. The beans are Strictly High Grown at altitudes between 1,200 and 1,400 meters above sea level.
These 100% Arabica beans are from the Catuai varietal. It has earthy undertones with hints of florals and lemon. It’s grown in the mineral-rich volcanic soils of the Poás volcano. The beans are a medium roast with light acidity.
Overview: Best High Altitude Coffee Brands
High altitude coffee consists of beans grown at elevations higher than 900 meters above sea level. There are different tiers for altitude levels.
Beans grown between 900 and 1,200 meters above sea level are considered High Grown. Strictly High Grown is any coffee beans grown at 1,200 meters above sea level or higher. If you’re looking for coffees grown at the highest altitude, you’ll want to look for SHG.
Buying coffee grown at high altitudes comes with several benefits, such as:
- Shade-grown (typically results in more sustainable farming)
- Coffee is grown in nutrient and mineral-rich soils
- Slower growth rates at high altitudes allow the beans to develop complex flavors
Although some coffee lovers prefer the earthier and more wild taste of Robusta, many tend to like the bold and complex flavors of Arabica beans.
We suggest trying Mt. Comfort’s Peruvian coffee. It’s single-origin and Strictly High Grown in the mountainous regions of Peru. It has well-balanced flavor notes and it’s a good deal for high-altitude beans.