Harvesting and Processing Cocoa Beans

'Theobroma Cacao' – The Cocoa Tree

The Cocoa Tree

In the 18th century the Swedish botanist, Carolus Linnaeus, renamed the cocoa tree giving it the Greek name Theobroma Cacao, now its official botanical name, which literally means 'food of the Gods'.

Cocoa trees resemble English apple trees. They grow best under the canopy of tropical rainforests, seldom reaching more than 7.5 metres (25 feet) high. To flourish they need to be shaded from direct sun and wind, particularly in the early growth stages.

The cocoa tree has broad, dark leaves about 25cm long, and pale-coloured flowers from which bean pods grow.

A native of the central and South American rainforests, cocoa trees are now cultivated in many tropical locations around the world. Two methods are generally used to establish cocoa tree plantations.

Young trees are interspersed with new permanent or temporary shade trees such as coconut, plantains and bananas, following the clear-felling of the forest. In large Asian plantations, cocoa trees and coconut trees are planted together and both crops are harvested commercially.

Alternatively, forest trees are thinned out and the cocoa trees are planted between established trees.

Cocoa trees begin to bear fruit when they are three to four years old. They produce pink and white flowers throughout the year, growing in abundance after before the rain starts. However the pods grow straight out of the trunk and the main branches, which is most unusual. Only a small proportion of the flowers develop into fruit over a period of about five months. The trees are carefully pruned so that pods can be more easily harvested.

Each tree yields 20-30 pods per year. It takes the whole year's crop from one tree to make 450gms of Chocolate.

Cocoa Pods & Beans

Cocoa Bean

The cocoa tree bears two harvests of cocoa pods per year. Around 20cm in length and 500gms in weight, the pods ripen to a rich, golden-orange colour.

Within each pod there are 20-40 purple, 2cm long cocoa beans covered in a sweet white pulp

We buy quality cocoa beans from Indonesia, Malaysia and Ghana. The raw beans undergo a lengthy process to prepare them for chocolate making.

Types Of Cocoa Pods

There are three broad types of cocoa - Forastero and Criollo, as well as Trinitario, a hybrid of the two. Within these types there are several varieties.

Producing the greater part of all cocoa grown, Forastero is hardy and vigorous, producing beans with the strongest flavour. The Forastero variety most widely grown in West Africa and Brazil is Amelondaro. It has a smooth yellow pod and pale purple beans.

With its mild or weak chocolate flavour, Criollo is grown in Indonesia, Central and South America. Criollo trees are not as hardy and produce softer red pods, containing 20-30 white, ivory or very pale purple beans.

Plants are not found in the wild as they are cultivated hybrids of the other two types. Trinitario cocoa trees are grown mainly in the Caribbean, but also in Cameroon and Papua New Guinea. The mostly hard pods contain 30 or more beans of variable colour, though white beans are rare.

Harvesting and Splitting Cocoa Pods

The harvesting of cocoa pods is very labour-intensive. On West African small-holdings the whole family, together with friends and neighbours help out.

Ripe pods are gathered every few weeks during the peak season. The high pods are cut with large knives attached to poles, taking care not to damage nearby flowers or buds. The pods are collected in large baskets, which workers carry on their heads, and piled up ready for splitting.

The pods are split open by hand and the seeds or beans, which are covered with a sweet white pulp or mucilage, are removed ready to undergo the two-part curing process - fermentation and drying. This prepares the beans for market and is the first stage in the development of the delicious chocolate flavour.

Processing the Cocoa Beans



Processing cocoa beans ready for chocolate making involves six main steps:


During fermentation the cocoa pulp clinging to the beans matures and turns into a liquid, which drains away and the true chocolate flavour starts to develop.

Fermentation methods vary considerably from country to country, but there are two basic methods - using heaps and "sweating" boxes.

The heap method, traditionally used on farms in West Africa, involves piling wet cocoa beans, surrounded by the pulp, on banana or plantation leaves spread out in a circle on the ground. The heap is covered with more leaves and left for 5-6 days, regularly turned to ensure even fermentation.

In large plantations in the West Indies, Latin America and Malaysia, strong wooden boxes with drainage holes or gaps in the slats in the base are used, allowing air and liquid to pass through. This process takes 6-8 days during which time the beans are mixed twice.

In Nigeria, cocoa is fermented in baskets lined and covered with leaves.

Drying and bagging
When fermentation is complete, the wet mass of beans is dried, either traditionally by being spread in the sun on mats or using special drying equipment. The cured beans are packed into sacks for transportation to Singapore, where we process the beans. After quality inspection they are shipped to our processing factory in Singapore, which produces the basic ingredients from which Cadbury chocolate products are made.

On arrival at the factory, the cocoa beans are sorted and cleaned.

The dried beans are cracked and a stream of air separates the shell from the nib, the small pieces used to make chocolate.

The nibs are roasted in special ovens at temperatures between 105-120 degrees Celsius. The actual roasting time depends on whether the end use is for cocoa or chocolate. During roasting, the cocoa nibs darken to a rich, brown colour and acquire their characteristic chocolate flavour and aroma. This flavour however, actually starts to develop during fermentation.

The roasted nibs are ground in stone mills until the friction and heat of the milling reduces them to a thick chocolate-coloured liquid, known as 'mass.' It contains 53-58% cocoa butter and solidifies on cooling. This is the basis of all chocolate and cocoa products.

The cocoa mass is pressed in powerful machines to extract the cocoa butter, vital to making chocolate.

The solid blocks of compressed cocoa remaining after extraction (presscake) are pulverised into a fine powder to produce a high-grade cocoa powder for use as a beverage or in cooking.

The cocoa mass, cocoa butter and cocoa powder are then quality inspected and shipped to our factories in Australia and New Zealand, ready to be made into chocolate.