Introducing Liberica


A conversation around the potential of different coffee species has been simmering in the last few years and the success of Eugenioides at the last World Barista championship certainly stirred the pot.

Two species have made up the coffee-landscape for the majority of its history. These two species have then been broadly separated in terms of how they have been treated and understood, with Robusta representing a higher-yielding lower-value crop and Arabica representing a species with more potential value and desired cup-profile, albeit from a less hardy species.

The speciality movement has then focused on the detail and exploration of the breadth of genetic variety within the Arabica species, looking at the profiles possible from different cultivars and varieties.

There are many reasons to be interested in the potential of different species within coffee. The most obvious for the boutique sector is the potential to discover new sensory experiences, whether through a new discovery or redefining the possibilities of what already exists. The exploration of different species also introduces a level of risk-mitigation against climate change, as well as increased opportunities for cultivation in different environments compared to the more demanding conditions required for Arabica.

We met Wycliffe Sande a few years ago when he was introduced to us by a friend who was keen to connect us. Wycliffe had been working on a coffee project called Blue Turaco in his home country of Uganda. Having picked coffee as a child to pay for his schooling and food, the project is named after the birds that would sing above him in the canopy. Now based in London with his family, Wycliffe has been focusing primarily on the potential of high-quality robusta to provide a livelihood to farming communities.

On a recent trip to Uganda Wycliffe sent us back some samples and excitedly explained how he couldn’t wait for us to try some of the experimental lots they had been producing.

We tasted the coffee not knowing what it was and whilst impressed by all the cups, one in-particular stood out.

It transpired this cup was the Liberica species, which Wycliffe had recently moved his attention to cultivating. I had tasted a few of these before and found them interesting, but with more prominent cedar-like, resinous notes. This lot still had spice notes, but paired with an intriguing fruitiness and a creamy mouth-feel.

Like all species there will be variety and mutation from origin to origin. The Liberica plants are very much trees rather than shrubs, with thick trunks, far less akin to the plants of Arabica. The leaves are big and the fruit is large and fleshy. The species has been growing in the region since the 1930s and these beans were grown at 1300 meters above sea level. The coffee was naturally processed.

We were lucky to get our hands on a very small amount of this coffee and are releasing it on Monday in 100g bags.

There is a great deal of experimentation in coffee at the moment with post-picking process, plant type and more. Eugenoidies won the world barista championship but is still very challenging to grow with low yields. Robusta and Liberica are more interesting in this regard. Some experimental Robusta has been popping up in coffee competition blends and doing well. The in-cup profile potential of these species is still open to question but some of the results definitely get you thinking. Each time we sample different species the framework of how we consider a cup-profile changes. If you pick up some of the Liberica, let us know what you think.