Cocoa to chocolate
Cocoa Tree – Theobroma Cacao grows in warm and humid latitudes within 10 ° N and 10 ° S of the equator. Although the origin of the tree is debatable, it can be traced to tropical regions of Venezuela, Honduras and Mexico. Some believe it originally grew in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, others in Mexico, scientific evidence shows more and more that its original cradle of cocoa and chocolate lies in the Ulua Valley of Honduras.
Today, however, cocoa is grown globally in a narrow belt around the equator: in carefully cultivated plantations in tropical rainforests in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The largest cocoa producing countries are the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Indonesia. Today, Africa is the most important global cocoa supplier, with 75% of the world’s cocoa crop. In small farms in many tens of thousands of African villages, cocoa cultivation is an important source of income.
The perfect setting for the cocoa tree – Theobroma Cacao – is found in the tropical warmth of the forest in the equator. Younger cocoa trees thrive only in tropical temperatures in the protective shade of tall plants such as bananas and palm trees. Both the blazing sun and strong winds are relentless enemies for this fragile tree. From the fifth or sixth year of their life, the trees begin to bear fruit. This is limited to 25 years, after which it is time to replace them with younger trees.
There are three different species of cocoa trees. The ones we see in cultivations today are usually cultivated or random hybrids, each with its special characteristics:
- Criollo, also known as the prince among cocoa trees, produces beans with a very thin shell. Cocoa has a very pale color and a unique refined scent. This diversity gives small harvests and is also very fragile.
- Forastero is a stronger type of tree that is easier to grow and produces larger beans. Cocoa beans from Forastero beans are often called bulk cocoa, as it gives the chocolate a typically recognizable basic aroma. This cocoa is therefore a basic ingredient in most chocolate chocolates and accounts for 80% of the cocoa mixture.
- Trinitario is an intersection of both types of trees and has the properties of the two before: it has a strong but quite refined scent and also very easy to grow.
The cocoa tree flowers in two cycles of 6 months all year round.
Thousands of white (female) and pink (male) flowers adorn the stem and branches. Only a few will be fertilized, naturally or by hand, and no more than a few will develop into cocoa beans. These are similar to an oblong, green melon.
After 6 months the cocoa fruit is full-grown and has changed color from green to yellow-orange. With great care that does not damage branches, the beans are harvested by plantation workers. This occurs twice a year, in most African countries such as the Ivory Coast, the main harvest lasting from October to March and the interim harvest from May to August.
The cocoa fruit ripens a few days after the harvest. Its outer shell opens with long knives and with a very precise cutting motion, without touching the beans. The fruit contains valuable cocoa beans that are removed from the shell and collected in large baskets.
The beans then, depending on the type, are fermented for five to seven days. This happens on the ground or in boxes where the beans are covered with banana leaves.
Fermentation is important because this process naturally removes the remnants of the remaining pulp that comes naturally with the beans. The beans change color from beige to purple and develop their aroma.
After fermentation, they are spread out and left to dry in the sun for about six days. The beans are turned regularly so that they retain only a fraction of their water content (± 3%). Drying is important, both for stopping fermentation and for storage.
When the beans are dry, the cocoa farmers take their noble harvest to a collection center where the beans are classified. A selection of 100 beans is taken from each farmer’s harvest, these are opened and the quality is then determined, his harvest is assigned a quality code.
After weighing and packing beans in bales of 50-60 kg, the jute bags are sealed and the quality of the beans is guaranteed. Thousands of cocoa bags are sourced from collection sites and large warehouses, their origins being recorded. After a second quality check, these are transported to various Barry Callebaut centers. The beans are packed in sacks or containers and shipped to their new destinations.