Arabica vs. Barako: Which Coffee Bean Suits Your Tastes Better?
Coffee connoisseurs the world over will debate at length about the virtues of their favorite coffee beans. There is no doubt that gourmet drinkers will often name an Arabica blend or single origin coffee beans from Africa, South America, Indonesia or Vietnam.
Though originated in Liberia, West Africa, hence its namesake, Liberica is widely known as a southeast Asian bean. There is a growing movement to spread the good word about Liberica beans. Because its cultivation is so limited – mostly to countries like the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia – not enough is known about it outside of Asia. Nonetheless, small, prized quantities can be found in specialized trade fairs and are exported to high quality purveyors in the US and Europe.
Today, it is highly in demand by the most curious and sophisticated drinkers. Liberica is only consumed by 2 percent of the entire world’s coffee-consuming market, so its unique aromas and flavors are not yet widely appreciated.
So what is so special about Liberica beans? And why should you drink it?
Flavors on the Palate
Just like wine, chocolate or cheese, developing a palate for coffee is a matter of taste. If you have been drinking coffee for many years, you have probably come to know some of Arabica’s most common characteristics - a strong, front palate aroma, followed by a light, often citrusy brightness. In stark contrast, Liberica comes on strong, with intense, woodsy flavors and a lengthy aftertaste.
In the Philippines, Liberica is known as Kapeng Barako because of its rustic, “macho” character. It’s even considered something of a workman’s drink. You might have read somewhere that many think it tastes so strong it doesn’t seem like coffee.
Liberica didn’t catch on with mainstream and gourmet coffee drinkers for many years because of its old-fashioned image. Part of it also has to do with the way it used to be locally roasted: dark, to the point of almost tasting burnt – in polar opposite to today’s increasing preference for medium, or even light roasted coffee.
Caffeine and Acidity
Although many Batangas and Cavite growers still produce and roast Liberica in classic fashion, many gourmet coffee roasters and independent shop owners have revisited the way Liberica is treated at the roasting stage, altering how kapeng barako will now taste in your cup.
Acidity might not be a good basis for comparing Arabica and Liberica, because acidity levels are dependent on processing (especially in the fermentation stage), roasting and even brewing methods. However, Arabica can extract more acidic flavors than other types of beans.
If the amount of caffeine you consume daily matters to you, you should know that a Malaysian study determined that there’s about 1.61g of caffeine per 100g of Arabica beans vs. Liberica’s 1.23g. Despite its big, broad flavors, Liberica has a lot less caffeine per cup than Arabica.
(The study also said Robusta had 2.26g/100g of coffee – twice the amount of caffeine compared to Liberica.)
Liberica or Arabica: Which Should You Choose?
In the end, which coffee varietal you choose to drink is up to you. Arabica is an all-day pleaser. Liberica might be just the drink to wake you up in the morning.
There are plenty of coffee beans from many places – and only one lifetime to enjoy them. And should you chance upon the coffee bean supplies you trust, look for Liberica once in a while after you’ve ordered your Arabica coffee beans.
Keep enjoying your coffee journey!