So you wanna learn about Liberica coffee, do you? I’ll tell you one thing: you’ve never tried it. Not at that coffee shop down the road, that doesn’t sell it. Not if you’re reading this in English (which I assume you are).
But just because it’s not sold in the States — or other Western countries — doesn’t mean we can’t learn a little about this elusive coffee bean, does it? Read on for the deets. I’ll tell you where you can get some. I’ll even tell you how it tastes. And yes, I’ve put this stuff in my mouth. (Spoiler alert: you’re not missing much.)
What is Liberica coffee?
Liberica is a species of coffee bean. It makes normal, brown coffee, and is 2% of the world’s total consumption of the drink. You can compare it to other species of coffee bean you have heard of like Arabica or Robusta. You might wonder what it tastes like? Especially compared to those other two beans.
Liberica — scientific name Coffea Liberica — is hard to get hold of in the US. Or, indeed, most countries. You can find it in a few countries in Asia like Malaysia or the Phillipines. Liberica tends to be grown, processed and consumed all in the same place — pretty unusual for coffee. It suits the climate better in these countries though so it works out cheaper.
What Does It Taste Like?
Liberica, to put it bluntly, is not a good tasting coffee. In the West, where nearly all the coffee we drink is silky smooth Arabica, we don’t like the taste. Hey, you thought there was another reason you can’t get it here?
The taste is like Robusta coffee, if you’ve tried that. Think bolder, earthier, darker, more caffeinated. Personally, I found it bitter and unpleasant. I was drinking it black, however.
If you want something more descriptive — I’m no poet, sadly — how about this one guy who described it like “liquid tobacco”? Sound nice? It might do… especially if you’re into your hyper-burnt dark roasts.
Another description I heard was it was like tasting “car tire and burning plastic”. Sums it up, nicely, that.
I will say that I’ve seen respectable roasters put out Liberica offerings in recent years. Wrapped up in pretty colours like all the new Third Wave beans are.
Have they found a way to coax incredible flavour from this coffee bean? I’m skeptical. It seems more like a cool gimmick than anything.
Like… yo come spend money cos we used this uh new species of coffee.
But hey? You got a tenner burning a hole in your pocket, go pick yourself up a bag (more on this in a sec).
What is the origin of Liberica?
Liberica coffee was originally discovered in Liberia — hence the name. It was discovered around the same time as other species like Arabica and Robusta but didn’t catch on as much as those varieties. With a few, notable exceptions. Let me explain.
Where do people drink Liberica?
Liberica is popular in a few countries in South East Asia, namely Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines. The folks in these places drink this type of coffee regularly, and honestly, the story behind it is fascinating. Listen to this.
In the late 1800s, a pathogen devastated coffee crops in those countries I mentioned. It was a parasitical fungus (ugh) and they called it “coffee rust” (lol). The problem was the traditional Arabica crops the farmers were growing couldn’t stand up to it.
So what did they do?
Well, the solution was to bring in our old friend Liberica. The plant was hardier, so was able to resist the “coffee rust”. Fast forward a few years and this part of the world grows and drinks basically all the world’s Liberica.
It is worth pointing out that Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines don’t have quite the same Third Wave coffee culture. Artisanal roasts, quirky Moka Pots, bushy beards and forearm tattoos (j/k)… You get what I mean. (Correct me if I’m wrong by the way, I went years ago and it hadn’t took off then.)
The point is that coffee in these countries is more on the cheap, mass-produced side. Liberica doesn’t need to taste that good if you drown it in enough sugar. And that’s also explains why this coffee hasn’t found itself anywhere else.
Where Can I Buy It?
After all my bad-mouthing of Liberica, you still wanna try it, don’t you? Well, let’s have a look at your options.
Resellers on Amazon
The first and easiest step is to check out what some of the resellers have available on Amazon.
That link searches Amazon for “liberica coffee”. The results change month-to-month but there’s usually stuff on there. Look for results with other languages. They’ll be imported, so likely authentic.
Asian coffee specialists
You can also find Liberica through specialist sellers with their own websites. One that looks promising that I found through Google is Len’s coffee. This place specialises in “exotic coffees from around the world”. Happily enough, that includes Liberica at the time of writing. You can even get green coffee beans, too.
There’s also the option of eBay. As a large-scale online marketplace, there is loads and loads of goods for sale there.
A quick search as I write this shows up some nice looking Liberica from the Phillipines. Yum!
Third wave roasters
Finding a high-quality roasters will take a bit more effort, as the vast majority of coffee roasters do not sell Liberica. But it’ll probably be the best tasting stuff you can get. Here’s one I’ve found that looks promising. Looks really good, actually. I’m feeling tempted, even.
Other coffee beans (Arabica, Robusta… and more?)
So there you have it. Liberica. The hard to find, odd tasting, red headed stepchild of the coffee family. Wanna learn more about Liberica’s sisters and brothers? I dish the dirt on Arabica and Robusta here.
I gotta admit… I had a pretty poor view of Robusta once upon a time. I have a newfound appreciation of the stuff these days for two good — if a little weird — reasons. Read the article for more.
And if you really wanna learn more about coffee it’s all about where in the world your coffee bean comes from. We’re talking the difference between a Costa Rican and a Kenyan coffee. Warning: once you learn this stuff, there’s no going back. “Coffee Nerd” status will be on its way to you.