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.
At higher altitude the coffee is grown in cooler air and therefore takes longer to mature, flower and produce its berries. This longer maturation period allows more time for the bean to develop and enhance its flavour. The bean (seed of the fruit) absorbs more of the fruitiness of the surrounding pulp. It also gets harder, hence the occasional use of the second term, SHB, representing the hardness of the bean.
The harder, more dense, beans can usually be roasted darker without destroying the nuances in flavour. You'll see a range of roast levels from these beans from light to quite dark.
There are of course downsides to these high-grown coffee beans, particularly for the coffee farmer. You see, in order to get your coffee trees growing higher you need to plant them 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.
It also means that the slower time for the fruit to mature means a later harvest and limits the farm to only one harvest per year. At lower elevations, the fruit is ripened more quickly resulting in a harvest earlier in the season. This leaves more time for the possibility of a fly crop to maximise the earning potential of the farm.
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:
Coffee beans are cultivated between 900 and 1,200 metres above sea level resulting in a mild flavour with some fruity overtones.
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.