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.
In this article, we’ll tell you all you need to know about the world’s rarest type of coffee.
What’s so special about Liberica?
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.
Those who have been lucky enough to try Liberica coffee say it tastes unlike any coffee they’ve had before. Thanks to its complex flavour profile, Liberica beans are often added to coffee blends to give it more dimension.
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 get Liberica coffee?
Interested in brewing Liberica beans at home? Experts suggest buying roasted whole beans, so you can grind just the right amount for the day and enjoy it as its freshest.
However, Liberica beans are difficult to get a hold of, due to the low number of coffee producers planting it. So where can you find these specialty beans?
Liberica accounts for 95% of the coffee grown in Malaysia, which is why those who are regulars at kopitiams are already used to the kaw (“strong”) taste of Liberica coffee, where it is often used. It is also the most accessible place to get your hands on some Liberica beans to brew yourself.
The largest Liberica bean producer in the country is My Liberica, a homegrown company that not only owns a coffee plantation and processing mill in Kulai, Johor, but also operates a roastery in Johor Bahru and several cafes in Johor Bahru and Kuala Lumpur. You can order their beans online.
Known locally as “Kapeng Barako” (Barako coffee), Liberica beans are typically grown in the provinces of Batangas and Cavite. It comprises about 4% of the nation’s coffee harvest.
Traditionally served black or sweetened with muscovado sugar, Barako coffee is considered the morning staple among older generations. However, the coffee’s bold flavour is making a comeback among local coffee enthusiasts. You can find it at Cafe de Lipa, with outlets across the Philippines.
Indonesia is one of the world’s largest coffee bean exporters and can grow all the main varieties of coffee bean. Liberica beans were brought to Indonesia by European colonialists, but fell out of favour with farmers with the arrival of Robusta plants, which require less maintenance and are smaller in size.
Liberica beans are still commercially produced today, though mainly in the provinces of Riau and Jambi. The Liberica coffee in Indonesia is sold locally by smallholders, but you can find them via online retailers such as Tokopedia and Lazada.
There are many other types of coffee beans to discover. Here are 5 you need to try.