Native to central and western Africa – specifically Liberia, hence its name – Coffea liberica is prized for its piquant floral aroma and bold, smoky flavor profile. This hardy species is frequently mixed with other varieties to add body and complexity, but rarely receives any credit. Unheard of in Western civilization before the late 1800s, Liberica gained a foothold with Southeast Asian coffee producers after a fungal disease (“coffee rust”) wiped out much of the region’s Arabica crops.
Growing from a much larger plant than Arabica or Robusta, most Liberica cherries tend to be irregular in shape and closer to Robusta in size and general appearance. It’s also tolerant of hot, humid climates and does well at low altitude. Now produced mainly in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines, the bean makes up roughly 2% of the world’s coffee supply. Over 95% percent of the Malaysian coffee yield is Liberica beans. However, it’s not commonly found in North American and European markets.
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.
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.