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Coffee Basics : What is Liberica Coffee

in Bean Basics, Beans

What is Liberica Coffee

It’s common knowledge that most of the coffee beans produced commercially come from two varieties: Arabica and Robusta. But did you know that there are actually other lesser-known varieties of coffee bean? One of them is Liberica, which accounts for less than 2% of commercially-produced coffee worldwide. Originating from Liberia in West Africa, the Liberica coffee plant produces larger, irregular-shaped cherries compared to Arabica plants. It’s said to have a floral and fruity aroma, but when made into coffee, has a full-bodied, woody taste.  

What do they taste like?

Those who have been lucky enough to try Liberica coffee say it tastes, unlike any coffee they’ve had before. Thanks to its complex flavor profile, Liberica beans are often added to coffee blends to give it more dimension. Among enthusiasts, Liberica coffee has a controversial and polarizing reputation for wild inconsistency. Those who’ve tried this rare variety either love it or hate it. Some coffee drinkers adore the unusual, nutty, woody flavor and sneaky backbite on the finish. Others compare the flavor to burnt garbage. 

In the 1890s, the Liberica coffee plant was transported and cultivated in other parts of the world, including the Philippines and Indonesia, following a mass die-off of Arabica plants around the world due to a disease known as “coffee rust”.

Caused by the fungus Hemileia vastatrix, the disease gets its name from the light brown and powdery appearance of the fungus, which looks like iron rust. Once infected with the fungus, the plant eventually loses all its leaves, as well as its ability to produce beans.

Compared to the Arabica coffee plant, the Liberica plant is hardier, as it is adaptable to hot climates, resistant to pests and disease, and can grow at low altitudes.

However, since the coffee rust outbreak in the 19th century, the Arabica variety has recovered and now holds the crown as the most prevalent coffee bean in the market. Today, it is Liberica plants that are considered endangered due to its low rates of cultivation.

Where can you buy Liberica beans?

Perhaps the most renowned Liberican coffee is found in the Philippines, where it’s known as “kapeng barako” (Barako coffee), which translates to “macho stud” in Philippine culture. Typically served black with sugar, this hard-charging Liberican brew is not for the faint of heart. Considered somewhat of a relic from an older generation, kapeng barako is still widely available on the shelves of local supermarkets and served in coffee shops across the Philippines. In fact, outside of Southeast Asia, your best bet for finding Barako coffee (or Liberica beans) is in a market that caters to the Filipino ex-pat community.

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