What is SHG Coffee?

You might be asking what the term SHG (or SHB) stand for. Well, the terms are used interchangeably usually depending on which country the coffee beans come from.

SHG means "Strictly High Grown".

SHB means "Strictly Hard Bean".

In both cases, what it essentially boils down to is the altitude at which the coffee is grown.

SHG means High Altitude Coffee

When you see these terms, it means that the coffee was grown at high altitude, usually over 1,200 metres above sea level. Higher altitudes mean cooler air, especially at night, and more rainfall.

Much like mother bear, the coffee tree doesn't like temperatures that are too hot or too cold. That's why most coffee is grown in the region between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Tropic of Cancer, where temperatures remain more stable throughout the year.


The Effects of Altitude on Coffee Production

There are of course downsides to these high-grown coffee beans, particularly for the coffee farmer. In order to get coffee trees growing higher they need to be planted on mountain sides.

This means the coffee is less accessible and harvesting is much harder and time consuming because only manual picking methods can be used. It's therefore more expensive to collect those beans for processing.

The Effects of a Lower Altitude on Coffee Flavour

Cultivating coffee at lower altitudes impacts its growth and flavour profile in several significant ways.

At these elevations, the climate tends to be warmer and drier, which accelerates the growth cycle of coffee plants. While this quicker growth can lead to a higher production volume, the rapid maturation prevents the beans from fully developing their complex flavours and aromatic qualities.

As a result, the beans often have a flatter, less vibrant taste, with reduced acidity and a more muted overall flavour profile.

Economically, the increased yield tends to lower the market price, particularly affecting Robusta coffee, which is commonly grown at lower altitudes.

Additionally, beans grown at lower elevations have a softer cellular structure, making them less suitable for longer, darker roasts as they are prone to damage during the roasting process.

This inability to withstand dark roasting means missing out on achieving rich, chocolatey notes that are often desired in espresso blends and other dark roast coffees.

The Effects of High Altitude on the Coffee Bean

High elevation coffee, grown at altitudes around 1,200 meters, boasts numerous distinctive attributes contributing to its reputation for quality. The cooler temperatures within this altitude range, typically between 16-23°C, slow down the growth rate of the coffee plants.

This gradual development allows the beans to fully mature, enhancing their natural sugar content which contributes to a rich flavour. These beans are denser compared to those grown at lower elevations, which is a factor in their complex flavour profile that often includes floral, acidic, and spicy notes.

Additionally, the beans are usually of the arabica variety, recognized for their superior taste and quality.

Found primarily in countries like Colombia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua, high elevation coffees are celebrated for their distinctively floral and robust flavours.

SHG is a Grade of Coffee

Many Central American countries use the altitude at which the coffee is grown as a grading method. The higher the altitude, the better the quality and, because the seed or bean has been in its pulp for longer, a fruitier flavour.

The other grades of coffee bean used widely in addition to SHG are:

High Grown

Coffee beans are cultivated between 900 and 1,200 metres above sea level resulting in a mild flavour with some fruity overtones.

Central Standard

Coffee beans grown up to 900 metres above sea level and tend to be very mild, with little fruitiness.

So there you go. Higher altitude generally means higher quality but at the expense of greater cost. As always, you get what you pay for. 

How Does Altitude Affect the Caffeine Content?

Coffee beans' caffeine content tends to vary with the altitude at which they are grown. Typically, beans cultivated at lower altitudes contain more caffeine compared to those grown at higher elevations. This variation can be attributed to the environmental pressures encountered at different altitudes.

In lower altitude regions, coffee plants face more challenges including a greater incidence of pests and fungi, along with higher temperatures. To cope with these harsh conditions, Robusta coffee beans, which thrive in these environments, have evolved to contain higher levels of caffeine. Caffeine acts as a natural deterrent to pests, enhancing the plant’s ability to survive and proliferate under such demanding circumstances. For instance, a single Robusta bean contains approximately 2.9 milligrams of caffeine.

Conversely, at higher altitudes where the climate is cooler and pests are less prevalent, Arabica beans dominate. These beans have naturally adapted to these conditions with less caffeine, since their risk of pest damage is lower. Arabica beans typically contain about 1.9 milligrams of caffeine per bean. The reduced caffeine content contributes to the milder, more balanced flavor profile characteristic of Arabica coffee, which is often described as having a nuanced sweetness. This adaptation showcases how altitude directly influences the chemical composition and taste of coffee beans.