What is Strictly Hard Bean (SHB)?
Strictly Hard Bean (SHB) or Strictly High Grown Coffee – A coffee tree grows between 1,200 and 1,370 meters above sea level. Coffee plants have a long growth cycle at altitudes above 1200m. Therefore, accumulating nutrients in coffee beans takes longer, resulting in beans with a strong structure and a deeper and more balanced flavor.
In addition to Strictly Hard Bean, we also have Strictly Soft Bean (SSB) produced at low altitudes (under 4,000 feet). Coffee plants planted at lower elevations mature quickly and yield lighter, less thick beans.
So the terms hard and soft refer to the density structure of coffee beans; the dense the coffee beans, the more complex the beans will be.
Coffee Bean’s Density
Density describes how dense a substance is. You compute it by dividing an object’s mass by its volume. In the case of coffee beans, density is the weight-to-volume ratio expressed in units of (g/ml) or (g/cm3). Because lab densitometers are expensive, it’s a good idea to estimate the particle density yourself first.
Usually, you can tell which coffee beans are more complex and robust merely by looking at them. If the break in the middle of the grain is straight and slightly open, the grain may be more porous (less dense). If the fissure is sinuous and closed, the grain may be thicker.
Bean density is a significant criterion for assessing and grading green coffee by quality by coffee professionals worldwide. As usual, more complex, denser nuts will be favored, and growers will typically receive a premium.
How does the density of green coffee affect the flavor of roasted coffee beans?
Coffee beans are made of cellulose, like wood. The structure of coffee beans is like a honeycomb, containing nutrients to nourish the germ inside the bean. So, we can understand that the denser the grain, the more nutrients it has, and vice versa.
The denser the beans, the more natural sugars and compounds that will transform into flavor after roasting, resulting in a more pronounced and richer taste of the coffee. At the same time, the data of our coffee also show that dense beans produce better-roasted coffee beans with a better body.
However, it does not mean that only hard beans make quality cups of coffee. The consistency of the beans is only a relative factor. The creation of delicious coffee cups also depends on how it is roasted and prepared.
What makes Strictly Hard Bean Coffee?
Roasters frequently worry about whether coffees are cultivated at high altitudes, indicating that the beans are denser. The cooler temperature in the upper mountains, especially at night, delays the ripening of coffee cherries. Longer time on the plant results in more cells replicating inside the seed, resulting in increased density.
Coffee ripening is caused by the Krebs cycle – A series of redox reactions to generate energy from carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. The Krebs cycle occurs more slowly at higher altitudes. That’s why coffee cherries ripen more slowly – Peter Gakuo from Perfectdailygrind
However, altitude alone does not determine density or grain quality. We’ll get back to you on that.
Expansion beyond altitude and latitude coffees
We know that the respiration of the coffee plant decreases as it ascends, implying that the coffee stores more of its sugars and minerals. This technique has a direct impact on the final flavor of the cup. So, ideally, the coffee tree’s taller, the better, right? Both are correct and incorrect.
Authentic, the higher the height, the better the taste, but when it is too high, the tree has to cope with frost difficulties. So the standard height for coffee production is usually no more than 2,200m — although this is in places near the equator, such as Ethiopia and Kenya (see more about the effect of altitude on coffee trees).
When coffee farming crosses the equator’s 20-degree north/south latitude, frost can readily destroy plants, resulting in a natural coffee belt between 23.5 degrees north/South latitude around the equator.
Other factors influence particle density.
Coffee farmers can use altitude to increase seed density by reducing plant respiration. However, this only provides for a limited amount of arable land. Furthermore, the following elements will have a greater or lesser impact on grain density (directly affecting temperature rise/fall in the coffee-producing area):
- Shade for coffee plants: Various shade plants can give shade to help chill the plant and boost seed density after ripening (see also shade grow coffee).
- Plant Density: This is determined by whether you want the coffee tree to shade itself. Standing close together keeps the plants cooler, and less stressed from the sun. As a result, the greater the seed density, the closer the plants are to one another.
- Slope: If feasible, plant on the north side of a mountain so that the sun does not directly reach the tree. It can result in lower temperatures, slower cellular respiration, and higher particle density.
Strictly Hard Bean: Roasting coffee with different densities
There is no particular recipe for roasting hard or spongy beans. There are too many things to consider. However, there are a few rules you can follow when mixing particle density with a variety of other factors:
Firstly, solid granules have a tighter, more sophisticated cellular structure. This structure increases the likelihood for sugars and acids to form during roasting. If you roast beans of varied sizes or densities, they will develop differently during the roasting process. To get proper consistency, separate and roast them separately.
Second, thick beans carry heat more efficiently and usually roast faster. Sponge beans may take longer to burn because heat transfer occurs more slowly inside the beans (porous beans contain more air). Excessive roasting temperatures might result in burning and uneven development.
For a given grain size, more energy is needed to penetrate the core of a denser bean. Higher feed temperatures are generally appropriate for these dense beans – Scott Rao, The Coffee Roaster’s Companion, 2014
Scott Rao also mentions that wet-processed coffee is denser and requires more thorough roasting. Meanwhile, dry-processed coffee burns more easily when roasting. It is because processed coffees are naturally richer in sugar, leading them to burn quickly and readily. As a result, when roasting such beans, utilize a lower input temperature and air setting.