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Chiroso: An up-and-coming competition coffee?

Chiroso: An up-and-coming competition coffee?

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In recent years, demand for rare and exclusive varieties has increased in specialty coffee – mostly as a result of their presence at high-level coffee competitions

There are, however, still some varieties which we know much less about. Nonetheless, they still have the potential to become more popular because of their unique flavours and high cup quality. 

Chiroso – a relatively unknown arabica variety – is one of these coffees. Although there is a lot of myth surrounding the origins of Chiroso, information about where it comes from is becoming more readily available. 

So given that interest seems to be growing in this variety, could we see it more often on stage at competitions? And could the market for Chiroso grow in a similar way to other varieties like Pink Bourbon or Sidra?

To find out, I spoke to Pedro Miguel Echavarría, manager at Pergamino, Emery Conger, co-founder of Shuv Coffee, and Lucas Cuadros, co-founder of Unblended Coffee.

You may also like our article on Pink Bourbon.

Coffee beans drying on the ground on a coffee farm.

What is Chiroso & where does it come from?

As with many other rare varieties and species, the exact origins of Chiroso are unknown. It is, however, commonly grown in Urrao – a municipality in southwest Antioquia, Colombia.

Initially, Chiroso was believed to be a natural mutation of Caturra, but with longer-shaped cherries. Because of this, many local producers referred to the variety as Caturra Chiroso.

Pedro Miguel Echavarría manages Pergamino Coffee, a roaster and exporter in Medellín, Colombia – which also grows its own coffee. 

Chiroso is a slang word in rural Colombia for something that’s slightly elongated,” he says. “It’s not a very common word, but because of the variety’s elongated beans, producers gave it that name.”

Some research institutions, however, have found that Chiroso is not related to the Bourbon-Typica group, which would mean it’s not a mutation of Caturra. Instead, the studies (which have yet to be scientifically verified) found Chiroso to be genetically linked to Ethiopian landrace varieties

Understanding Chiroso’s origins

Lucas Cuadros is a co-founder of Unblended Coffee, an importer that specialises in supporting young producers in Colombia. He tells me that he has carried out his own research about Chiroso in partnership with a research organisation.

Based on genetic testing, he also says Chiroso comes from an Ethiopian landrace variety. Moreover, Lucas has identified two types of Chiroso trees in Urrao: one with deep red cherries and the other one with more yellow fruit. Both trees also have different-shaped leaves. 

Even after conducting this research, it still remains unclear how the variety made its way from Ethiopia to Colombia.

“There has been no reliable research that explains it,” says Pedro. “It’s all part of the myth of the variety.”

A Colombian coffee farm with a variety of vegetation types.

Growing the variety

Pedro tells me he and his team discovered Chiroso in 2012 at a Cup of Excellence Colombia auction. He explains they decided to buy – and also grow Chiroso themselves – because of its desirable sensory characteristics and cup quality.

“We currently grow about 40 ha of Chiroso, and we have encouraged producers in other parts of Colombia to also plant it,” he says. “It grows similarly to Caturra, for example, but it’s very different from Castillo or Colombia, which are less productive at higher altitudes or colder temperatures. 

“The plant also has very similar characteristics to Caturra – short, light green leaves, large yields, and susceptible to coffee leaf rust (or la roya),” he adds.

A sign for a café named after Chiroso coffee.

What does it taste like?

Chiroso often stands out among green coffee buyers and roasters for its sweet and complex flavour profiles, much like Ethiopian landrace varieties and Geshas.

“It has a floral component that Geshas can also have, but Chiroso is often more herbal,” Pedro explains. “It also has more sweetness and more body than a Gesha.”

Emery Conger is a co-founder of Shuv Coffee, which has previously sold Chiroso sourced from Lucas’ farm. Shuv also sold a Chiroso produced by Carmen Cecilia Montoya – with all profits from sales going towards the Trans Mental Health Fund.

“The Chiroso coffees that I’ve tried have a silky mouthfeel, lots of floral notes, and a great balance of citric acid and sweetness,” Emery tells me.

Lucas, meanwhile, says the flavour and complexity of Chiroso can vary depending on where it grows. 

“When processed well, the variety has a well-structured cup profile, more so than Gesha in my opinion,” he tells me. “It has a silky body that a lot of the Geshas don’t have. Depending on the region it grows in, the flavour profile can range from a peach-like fruitiness to acidic like lemongrass.”

Roasting Chiroso

Emery says Chiroso is a more flexible coffee, so you can take a number of different approaches when roasting it.

“The Chiroso coffees we have roasted can handle a good amount of heat up front – probably thanks to its density, the elevation it’s grown at, and its Ethiopian genetics,” she tells me. “I would also recommend stretching out the Maillard phase to increase the sweetness.”

Chiroso coffee cherries on a countertop.

Could Chiroso become more popular?

Although Chiroso was discovered around the same time as Pink Bourbon – another “rediscovered” arabica variety grown in Colombia – it has yet to receive the same level of attention. 

The market potential for Pink Bourbon is only growing, with interest in this variety steadily rising year after year. It was also used by two competitors during the final round of the 2023 World Barista Championship – including winner Boram Um.

Pedro explains why he believes Pink Bourbon has slowly started to become more prominent in the specialty coffee market in recent years.

“When you play the popularity game, it creates a lot of noise,” he says. “It then becomes easier to sell these coffees. But less experienced cuppers may not be able to tell much difference between Pink Bourbon and Chiroso.”

Lucas, meanwhile, believes part of the reason why Chiroso is still relatively unknown in the wider industry is because it was considered to be a type of Caturra for many years.

“Producers were growing Chiroso because it produces high yields,” he says. “People weren’t aware that it had this amazing flavour profile.”

Potential challenges ahead

Despite its high yields and desirable sensory profiles, it’s clear there’s a way to go before we see more Chiroso available in coffee shops and roasters.

“The variety is definitely popular among the roasters that we work with – they are usually aware of it and want to buy it,” Pedro says. “But it’s the same with any other variety, there are some Chirosos that taste spectacular and some that aren’t so different from a standard Caturra.”

Lucas tells me that he has been working on a personal project to share more information about Chiroso with other Colombian producers.

“There’s a lot of value in growing Chiroso, but a lot of farmers don’t know enough about this variety,” he concludes.

Coffee beans dry out under a shade screen.

The story of Chiroso is a fascinating one, and will no doubt continue to generate interest as we learn more about this unique variety.

It will take some time, however, before more producers start to grow this coffee and we see more available in the market. In the meantime, it wouldn’t be a surprise if more baristas start using it at competitions.

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on how ultra-rare varieties rise and fall.

Photo credits: Unblended Coffee, Santiago Caro

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