Strictly High Grown (SHG) Coffee is defined as coffee grown above 1,200 meters (4,000 feet). The term Strictly Hard Bean (SHB) is also used interchangeably.
Why Is It Important?
Coffee beans grown at higher elevations (SHG especially) are typically sought after because the higher elevations mean slower bean development, resulting in more nutrients being delivered to the coffee and therefore a more nutrient-dense bean. More nutrient density means more flavor and healthy organic compounds in the coffee.
The higher the elevation, the more labor is typically involved in moving equipment up to the elevations and transporting harvested coffees down to ports for shipping. This results in a slightly higher cost to the farmers but isn't necessarily reflected in the market price - the higher prices for SHG coffee is instead usually due to the better quality from growing at a higher elevation.
This is the same case with the slowing growing process, having fewer crops per year results in less overall volume of coffee being produced, which should in theory drive up prices, but the higher prices are really a reflecting of the higher quality.
Other classifications referring to altitude include "High Grown" and the lower "Standard" (or "Central Standard") grade. While there's a general correlation between growing altitude, it's not an absolute rule. Jamaica's Blue Mountain coffee for example is grown at lower than SHG elevations but commands a premium in the market. The altitude is just one of many factors that affect the quality of a coffee bean, including soil and climate conditions and the coffee varietal.
Standard / Central Standard
(Central) Standard is defined as an elevation between 500 and 900 meters. These coffees tend to be more mild, simple, and soft on the taste buds.
High Grown / Hard Bean
High Grown coffees range from 900 - 1,200 meters. These coffees are typically sweet and smooth, and may start developing typical citrus, vanilla, nutty and chocolate flavors.
Best Strictly High Grown Coffees
Strictly High Grown Varietals
Certain varietals of coffees grow best at higher altitudes - for example, Bourbon coffee beans are ideally grown between 1,100 and 2000 meters above sea level, so they can be "High Grown" but are best at SHG levels.