Liberica Coffee Beans: What You Need to Know
Home Grounds tells you otherwise if you thought all coffee beans were either Arabica or Robusta. Liberica coffee could be your new favourite coffee bean you’ve never heard of. It’s big on flavour but limited in production, with just a couple of countries growing it.
Keep reading to discover what Liberica coffee is and what makes it so unique from other types of coffee beans.
What is Liberica coffee (coffea liberica)?
Liberica coffee is one of the four main coffee bean varieties grown for consumption out of the nearly 120 species of the coffee plant. If you’ve never heard of Liberica coffee, it’s not surprising. It accounts for less than 2% of the global coffee crop, while Arabica and Robusta combined make up the rest.
Liberica coffee stands out as the largest of these three, growing on tall trees that can reach up to 17 meters tall. The beans are also larger, with a long, oval shape. Liberica plants have a comparatively low yield, making them less attractive as a crop, though the rarity of the beans means they often fetch a higher price.
What is Kapeng Barako?
Kapeng Barako, or Barako coffee, is a variety of Liberica beans grown in the Philippines. The term barako comes from the Tagalog word for “boar” or “stud bull” – a fitting label for the strong, unique flavour of Liberica beans.
The production of Barako has declined over the years as farmers replace their trees with higher-yield varieties. The younger coffee drinkers also prefer a smoother tasting coffee, leaving the strong Barako to their grandparents. In some areas, the term “barako” can now refer to any coffee served strong (1).
What is Excelsa?
Excelsa was once considered a separate species of coffee but has recently been reclassified as a variety of Liberica coffee beans. There is still some debate about the classification, and you’ll often see Excelsa listed as a separate species (2).
Excelsa grows on similarly large trees to Liberica and in the same climate, but the beans and the coffee produced are quite different. Excelsa coffee beans are smaller and rounder in shape, similar in appearance to Robusta beans. When grown in favourable conditions, Excelsa can have a complex flavour profile of berry and fruits, with notes of chocolate emerging with a darker roast.
A lack of awareness around Excelsa coffee means there is only a small market for this bean, and in many cases, farmers keep the crop for their consumption.
Where is Liberica coffee grown?
Liberica beans are primarily grown in Malaysia, the Philippines, and Indonesia but have their origins on the opposite side of the map of coffee-growing regions.
Coffea liberica is native to countries in central and west Africa, including Liberia, where the bean got its name.
It’s believed that Liberica was first introduced to the Philippines in the 1700s, but it didn’t become a key crop until the late 19th century. Coffee rust disease wiped out most of the Arabica plants in the region, but the Liberica survived. It was then introduced to Indonesia after the problems with coffee rust there. Later, Liberica made its way to Malaysia with Javanese immigrants.
Today Liberica makes up the bulk of coffee crops in Malaysia, which is too low-lying for the production of good Arabica. In the Philippines and Indonesia, Liberica is just a small percentage of coffee grown, with both countries favouring Robusta.
Related: Why coffee is called java
What does Liberica coffee taste like?
Liberica coffee beans have a unique and well-developed flavour profile that is often divisive. When grown well, it is a delightful coffee. It offers floral aromas, flavours of syrupy stone fruit, and an unusual woody aftertaste. In poor quality Liberica, this woody, smoky aspect can become more prominent and even off-putting, which has given the coffee a mixed reputation.
There is no one to judge Liberica coffee, and no organisation or association to build a standard for speciality Liberica.
Fans of the bean say that greater awareness is needed to prove to the coffee-drinking market that quality Liberica can be as good as any single-origin Arabica.
Arabica vs Robusta vs Liberica
All of the main types of coffee vary in their physical characteristics and flavour profiles and, ultimately, how you consume them.
Arabica coffee is the big hitter, accounting for more than 60% of all coffee grown worldwide. Arabica includes a vast range of varieties, each with its flavour profiles, but in general, it’s a sweeter, better-tasting coffee. The coffee bean itself is flat and oval and dark in colour.
Robusta coffee beans are generally considered inferior to Arabica beans but are still grown for some of their specific characteristics. They have a higher caffeine content and a bolder taste, making them a popular addition to blends. They also grow at lower altitudes that aren’t suitable for Arabica crops. Robusta coffee beans are round and pale.
Liberica beans barely get a look-in on the global scale but play a vital part in the coffee culture of a few countries, particularly Malaysia and the Philippines. Outside of these countries, roasters sell it as a speciality coffee. Liberica coffee has the lowest caffeine content of the three. Liberica beans are instantly recognizable for being larger than others, with an asymmetrical teardrop shape.
The best way to brew Liberica coffee is with a pour-over brewer, which will allow you to experience the unique taste of the beans. The strong, bold profile also stands up well to brewing as an espresso. In The Philippines, Barako coffee is prepared by boiling the grounds in water, often with muscovado sugar.
Rare coffee beans are not just rare species like Liberica but also rare varieties of Arabica or Robusta. These include kopi luwak, Hawaiian Kona, Jamaica Blue Mountain, and Panama Geisha. The rarity and quality of these coffees mean they are often considered some of the best coffee beans in the world.
The countries that produce the most coffee are Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, and Ethiopia. Brazil, Colombia, and Ethiopia grow mainly Arabica beans, while Vietnam and Indonesia grow more Robusta beans. Brazil accounts for almost one-third of coffee production worldwide, with an annual output of around 3.78 billion kilograms.
- Barako Blend – Philippine Liberica with Arabica and Excelsa. (n.d.). Len’s Coffee LLC. Retrieved May 15, 2022, from https://lenscoffee.com/barako-blend-philippine-liberica-with-arabica-and-excelsa/
- SanMax, I. M. (2021, May 12). What is excelsa coffee? Perfect Daily Grind. https://perfectdailygrind.com/2021/05/what-is-excelsa-coffee/