Context for Altitude

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Postby ChrisSchooley » Tue Feb 08, 2011 5:09 pm

The altitude at which a coffee is grown is a common factoid used these days in selling and talking about coffee. But like many coffee factoids, it is all relative. I think seeing the range of altitude on a given farm or COOP can be useful information for a green coffee buyer and even interesting to a consumer. But with no context, does the altitude a coffee was grown at tell you anything specific if you have not tasted the same coffee varietal, picked at the same level of ripeness (this would most likely be harvested at different times - one direct impact of altitude), from the same farm and mill, but separated by altitude? And even in that scenario, that information would be very specific to that particular harvest.

We understand that coffee grown at a higher altitude matures slower and has a denser bean, but coffees are classified this way in much of Latin America already. And, as is important to note, just because a coffee is grown at a higher altitude doesn't mean it's going to be better than a coffee grown 200 meters lower. For the record, I don't have a problem with seeing the altitude printed on a bag of coffee, or used in the coffee description, because I do like to see information on packaging rather than just impressions, but I'm always wary of the way that information will be processed.

In that context, if the exact altitude is known, I think that it would be great to see that paired with the range of altitude found on the farm/COOP or at least the farm/COOP's range in relation to production in the area. It has to be more than a number, and we can't just say that it was grown at such and such an altitude and that's why it's good. So if you're using a coffee's altitude, try to create some context for it, but I don't think that it's the most useful or informative piece of information that you can give.

Thoughts? How would you rank info about a coffee in terms of usefulness/being informative to a green buyer? What about to a consumer?
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Postby N3Roaster » Thu Feb 10, 2011 10:05 am

Altitude is really a proxy for temperature. Higher altitude, lower temperature, slower maturation. This is why increasing shade influences coffee in the same way as increasing altitude. Both lower the temperature the coffee is grown in. So why bother with altitude at all? It's easy to measure. As for passing the information to the consumer, there's only so much space, attention, and interest to work with. If a bit of trivia about a coffee they like gets them interested in pursuing a deeper understanding of that coffee, that's great, but going into great depth on technical minutiae in marketing materials only serves to turn people off of those coffees before they taste them. How will customers process altitude claims? For the most part, they won't process them at all.

As for the green buyer, I'm not going to have any of that information at the cupping table.
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Postby timd » Mon Apr 11, 2011 12:20 pm

I agree with Neal, these factoids are interesting tidbits on a consumer's bag. There is limited value to the end user, in particular without the context that Chris mentioned. However, marketing departments love to make customers feel important and telling your customer that the coffee came from 5800' sounds impressive

A roaster can use a range to determine a rough sketch of the coffee. Knowing the altitude of the mill and drying areas is something that would be very helpful. Drying coffee at higher elevations can be tricky because it usually is cooler. Fermentation takes longer and the longer coffee sits on beds or patios the greater the chance of rain or morning dew can re-wet coffee or create conditions ripe for fungal activity to take place . Knowing how much precipitation and/or relative humidity during the drying process is very useful, as well as total drying time.

Details are great, knowing how to link multiple details together, hypothesize and test assumptions is the only way to lend context to the constants.
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Postby Scapistrant » Fri May 27, 2011 9:42 am

I tend to agree, is it something we really need? However, I do believe it puts terroir into context on a much larger scale. Something grown at 500 meters is vastly different than 4000 meters. Or am I crazy?
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Postby N3Roaster » Fri May 27, 2011 10:04 am

You aren't crazy. While altitude isn't the cause of the difference, it does strongly correlate and, since it's easy to measure, is still useful.
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Postby ChrisSchooley » Sat May 28, 2011 11:22 am

Tim D. says
Details are great, knowing how to link multiple details together, hypothesize and test assumptions is the only way to lend context to the constants.


Tim says it best., but I want to go back to my original questions and see if anyone will take a stab at answering them.

How would you rank info about a coffee in terms of usefulness/being informative to a green buyer? What about to a consumer?
ChrisSchooley
 
Posts: 174
Joined: Mon Mar 01, 2010 3:35 pm
First Name: Christopher
Last Name: Schooley
City: Fort Collins
State: CO
Zip Code: 80526
Company: Coffee Shrub
Occupation: Roaster, Micro-Seller of Green Coffee
Roasting Since (Year): 2001
Website: http://www.coffeeshrub.com/.
Location: Fort Collins, CO.


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