What creates a hard bean?

March 21, 2007

Adam Jaime

Growing coffee is not rocket science (it certainly is not easy either) but much of what I hear and read with the exception of producer trade journals, needs to get put through the myth busters show. Because I think there’s alot of myths floating around out there. Elevation is one of those that topics that often gets mutilated in coffee. Elevation does not produce higher yields in coffee (in fact quite the opposite), it does not guarantee quality, higher elevations are not the SOLE cause of a denser harder bean or sweetness or acidity etc.. So what does elevation mean? It means you have thinner air, you’re closer to the sun, you are not at sealevel and things tend to grow a bit slower. THE ONE VARIABLE THAT IS A MUST TO PRODUCE DENSITY IS TIME. You can’t produce a dense bean quickly. (And of course.. don’t get absolutist on me, time does NOT guarantee a harder bean). For example look at the chart below from Anacafe that labels out growing seasons. It is broken down by elevation and bean type. These associations are mostly acurate, but slightly misleading becase it is in fact a generalization.

COFFEE

TYPE – ALTITUDE – HARVEST SEASON
Strictly Hard Bean 4300 feet 1300 meters January/April
Hard 4000-4300 f, 1220-1300 m December/January
Semi Hard 3500-4000 f, 1070-1220 m October/November
Extra Prime 3000-3500 f, 915-1070 m September/October
Prime 2500-3000 f, 760-915 m September/October

This is not to say you can produce great hard beans with out any elevation, however here is an example of breaking the rules of the above chart, and sticking to the time rule.

If you are growing your coffee under shade this means it will be achievable to be organic if you choose as the lack of sun means it will both drink less water, and require less nutrient. So by not having sun and being fed natural fertilizers, the growth process is slowed down compared to the growth spurt the tree experiences each year with heavy fertilizer, heavy sun and good ground water. It is this slowing down of the process that allows further developement of the bean. Generally a more dense bean has the potential to be more complex because there is more to be tasted. Again this does not guarantee quality, rather hint towards a higher likelyhood of it being present.

So if you were strict to break down types only by altitude as the chart above dictates, you will be surprised when you find a shade grown organic Semi Hard bean, be HARDER/DENSER than a full sun conventional Hard. You may not know this until you can closely analyze the beans visually, put them through a densitometer and cup them. And again this is because of TIME.

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