The Cocoa Plantation
Where and how does cocoa grow?
The Cacao Tree
The cacao tree, also called Theobroma Cacao originates from the rainforests in the Amazon and Orinoco rivers regions. Originally it was the Mayas who started growing cacao trees on the Yucatan peninsula and sold cocoa beans to the Aztecs living in today’s Mexico.
The best climate to grow cocoa trees today is in the tropical belt, up to 20 degrees south and north from the equator. The main producers of cocoa are Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria, Indonesia followed by Cameroon, Brazil, Ecuador and many others with smaller production.
Cocoa tree requirements
It is a rather demanding plant to grow, it requires stable warm temperatures and lots of rain. Cocoa tree seedlings need to be protected from the sun and wind.
Farmers often grow cocoa trees together with other tropical plants such as banana coconut trees.
Growing cocoa usually starts from seeds and plants grow up to 15 metres of height. However, farmers often restrict the growth up to around 7 meters to make harvesting easier. The trees start producing fruits after five years.
Cocoa tree fruits
Cocoa tree fruits are a kind of pod which contain inside rows of white seeds (also called beans). The pods grow on the tree near the trunk or on bigger branches. Ripe pods are yellow to deep brown.
Cocoa tree varieties
There are two main varieties of cocoa plant: Forastero (producing higher yields being more robust) and Criollo (which is more delicate).
Most cocoa plantations harvest the fruits every 6 to 9 months, usually twice a year. The Main harvest takes place during the winter, before the dry season, and the second, at the end of the rainy season.
Fruits are cut off the tree with a machete or a long pole.
The yield per tree can be 40 – 50 fruits from and this produces around 3 kilograms of dried cocoa beans.
Processing of the cocoa fruits
The cocoa pods are sliced open with a knife or a machete to split them in halves. Next they are moved to wooden containers where they refment for 6 days under banana leaves. This is an important stage of developing the flavour and aroma of cocoa beans.
Drying of the beans
Cocoa beans are dried in open air under roofs to protect them from the rain. Once they are dry, they are packed, shipped and sold in cocoa markets in New York, London or Paris.
Further processing of the cocoa beans
Cocoa beans are roasted and crushed to separate the nibs from the shells. After that cocoa nibs are ground, becoming a liquid cocoa mass due to a heat produced in this process.