A guide to roasting liberica coffee

Nuvin Sithanen
July 19, 2022
liberica coffee

Due to their recent use in the World Barista Championships and World Brewers Cup events, exotic coffee varieties are rapidly gaining popularity.

This has opened the gates for specialty coffee professionals to experiment with other rare and unique species, such as roasting liberica coffee.

Liberica coffee has become quite an enigma in the specialty coffee sector, thanks to its rarity, unique flavour profile and aroma. Notably, liberica is one of the rarest and most sought after coffees, accounting for just 2% of the world’s overall coffee consumption.

The difficulty of harvesting and processing liberica coffee beans is one of the reasons it is so rare. As a result, some producers have begun planting hybridised liberica plants that are less flavourful, but easier to harvest.

This means pure liberica coffee plants are in danger of becoming extinct. Therefore, those who have the chance to work with this highly prized coffee should ensure they are roasting liberica correctly to highlight its inherent characteristics.

Find out more about roasting liberica coffee and how this unique offering may help boost sales.

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Image of harvested liberica coffee beans in a woven basket, showing how they are picked before roasting liberica coffee.

A brief history of liberica coffee

Liberica coffee originates from the West African country of Liberia, which unfortunately, no longer grows its indigenous coffee species.

Due to the popularity of robusta and arabica, the production and demand for liberica coffee has dropped dramatically. Now, it is most commonly grown in Southeast Asia and accounts for less than 1% of global coffee production.

During the late 19th century, an epidemic of coffee leaf rust spread from Sri Lanka, destroying almost all the arabica plantations in the world. As a result, liberica coffee was circulated globally, and spread across countries in Southeast Asia.

It is commercially cultivated and consumed in the Philippines and other Asian markets, however, liberica has struggled to gain momentum on a global scale – despite it being a species that holds great potential in the specialty coffee market.

The rarity of this species stems from multiple factors. First, liberica is a relatively low-yielding crop compared to other coffee species.

Therefore, the same amount of arabica cherries will yield up to three times more green beans than liberica cherries. This contributes to the premium price tag that often comes with liberica coffee.

Second, a lack of knowledge on cultivating, processing, and roasting liberica coffee has created a polarised outlook on the flavours it produces.

In the past, liberica coffee has most commonly been used to create blends for instant coffee. This often meant specialty coffee professionals would disregard arabica’s forgotten cousin quickly.

That said, liberica took center stage at the 2021 World Barista Championships. Australian barista champion Hugh Kelly placed third place after using a liberica blend for his milk beverage.

Kelly partnered with Malaysian liberica producer, Jason Liew of My Liberica, to explore the potential of liberica and highlight its unique flavours.

During his time on the world stage, Kelly showcased the incredible potential that lies within exotic coffees such as eugenioides and liberica.

Image of espresso machine pulling double shot of espresso into glass beaker, showing the characteristics that can come from roasting liberica coffee.

What are the characteristics of liberica coffee?

It is important to note that certain flavours in coffee can be manipulated through intentional processing and fermentation techniques.

While the processing methods for liberica are the same as those used for arabica, the main difference would be the speed at which fermentation happens.

Liberica coffee is typically planted in lowlands, and its tree, leaves, and cherries are bigger than arabica and robusta, and it has a higher pulp content.

While Liberica flavour profiles range widely from tropical fruits to savoury notes, the underlying characteristics across the board remain a unique sense of sweetness with a long finish.

Additionally, liberica has a lower caffeine concentration compared to arabica and robusta. This opens up a possibility for roasters and coffee shops to market the bean to the low-caffeine specialty niche market.

Liberica has the lowest caffeine content, with only 1.23g (0.04oz) of caffeine for every 100g (3.52oz) of beans. On the other hand, robusta contains 2.26g (0.07oz) of caffeine for every 100g of beans, while arabica has 1.61g (0.05oz) of caffeine for every 100g of beans.

Furthermore, liberica is more robust than arabica, providing farmers with a chance to cultivate it alongside other crops.

Disease resistance and its ability to thrive in different soils are the main reasons why liberica was adopted in other regions. With climate change threatening global coffee production, the species’ robustness could offer a natural alternative.

The majority of arabica and robusta cherries are hand-picked. However, liberica trees tend to grow taller than 6 metres (19ft) and, as a result, often require specialist harvesting equipment.

Liberica cherries are also larger compared to arabica, which can make them more difficult to harvest.

More so, the high pulp to parchment ratio means liberica cherries require a different processing method. This is because they are likely to ferment faster than other coffee varieties, due to their high sugar content.

Close up birds eye view of roasted liberica coffee beans, showing the result of roasting liberica coffee.

Finding the optimum roast profile for liberica coffee

As with any other coffee, the approach to roasting liberica will depend on certain factors that the roaster must take into account.

For instance, it is worth investigating how the inherent differences in the fruit itself will affect the roasting process, and, consequently, the flavour profile in the cup.

In order to investigate the optimal roasting conditions for the global adoption of liberica coffee, researchers presented samples to a panel of 30 Malaysian and international tasters.

During the experiment, the only parameters that were manipulated were the roasting time and temperature. Everything else was kept constant throughout.

The temperatures ranged from 160°C (320°F) and 220°C (428°F), while the roasting times ranged from 15 to 30 minutes.

For a sample of 150g (5,2oz), optimal roasting parameters were found to be 197°C (386°F) for 12 minutes and 30 seconds.

This matches similar experiments done by roasters who were experimenting with roast profiles in order to highlight the highly-sought flavours found in liberica.

These flavours are similar to what specialty coffee consumers often look for: fruity and sweet with a smooth and pleasant finish.  

Due to its high sugar content and the beans porous nature, it is recommended that liberica is gently eased into the Maillard phase with a short development.

Past experiments have noted lighter roasts are more suited for liberica coffee, due to this uniquely high sugar content. A light roast profile will help highlight the fruit and floral notes that are similar to high-scoring arabica lots.

It is worth noting that the flavour profile of liberica is affected by the processing method, just like arabica.

Liberica’s flavour often includes fruity flavours that range from strawberry to exotic jackfruit and durian – flavours that are well appreciated in Southeast Asia.

A lighter roast tends to complement the inherent high sweetness and lingering finish that liberica coffee has.

Conversely, darker roasters are, in part, the cause of the love/hate reputation liberica coffee has garnered. They tend to develop a cheesy flavour with woody, smoky notes and a heavier mouthfeel that may be overwhelming for some palates.

Image of couple enjoying coffee made from roasting liberica coffee, with a multilayer kraft paper coffee bag in foreground.

That said, there is still some ground to cover in terms of experiments with roasting liberica coffee. By letting their creativity go wild, roasters can unlock a treasure-trove of flavours and aromas that are sure to appeal to the ever-expanding specialty coffee market.

However, in order to reintroduce consumers to the unique flavours of liberica coffee, its freshness must be preserved through to the final cup.

At MTPak Coffee, we can provide specialty roasters and coffee shops with a range of high-quality, recyclable, compostable and biodegradable packaging solutions. Our line of coffee bags are made from renewable resources such as kraft paper and rice paper.

Additionally, we are able to digitally print custom coffee bags to convey the unique characteristics of liberica coffee. We offer a 40-hour turnaround and 24-hour shipping time, as well as low minimum order quantities (MOQs) no matter what packaging size or material used. 

For more information on sustainable coffee packaging, contact our team.

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