Heat, humidity and shade
The cocoa tree is cultivated in plantations situated on both sides of the Equator, the band that encircles the globe between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn.
This delicate tree, with a trunk of around 20 cm in diameter, a height ranging between 3 and 8 metres, but exceeding 12 metres in the wild, grows in hot and humid climates, in semi-obscurity, in the shade of tall-growing plants and trees.
An altitude of 400 to 700 metres is needed for ideal growth and development. It bears simultaneously white flowers and fruit, which it shelters in its dense and tapered foliage.
The tree begins to flower after around 2 to 5 years, reaches its maturity after 12 years and continues to bear fruit for 30 years. One tree bears 50 000 to 100 000 flowers per year. Approximately one in 100 of these will be fertilised and become a fruit – the cocoa pod.
Oblong in shape, the cocoa pod is 15 to 25 cm in length. On the same tree, young pods can be yellow, green or almost violet in colour. Mature pods ready for harvest are also varied in colour. On the inside of the fruit, beneath a tough skin, is found a white pulp called the “mucilage” from which grains are extracted. These grains become almond-shaped beans (20 to 40 per pod).
It is these beans that contain the precious cocoa. One cocoa tree can produce between a kilogram and a kilogram and a half of beans per year.
The chocolate tree has conquered the whole world with the richness of its fruit.
From a word meaning “creole” in old Spanish, this species of cocoa tree gives the finest cocoa. Very aromatic, only slightly bitter and with a long-lasting flavour, this exceptional cocoa makes up only 5 to 10 % of the world’s production. It originates from Central and South America, in particular from Venezuela, Nicaragua, Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia, as well as the islands of Trinidad, Grenada and Jamaica.
Originating from upper Amazonia, this species gives the most common and the most robust cocoa, with a bitter flavour and an acidic aroma, often used in cocoa mixes. An exception is the “amenolado” variety of Forastero, delicate, fragrant, and cultivated in the Equator. The Forastero makes up 80% of the world’s cocoa production, due to the faster maturation of the trees and a greater amount of fruit. This is African cocoa par excellence, introduced to the Sao Tomé Island and also grown in Brazil, the West Indies and Central and Latin America.
The island of Trinidad gave its name to this cocoa species. Its story originated in Venezuela, “the land of chocolate”, from a natural hybrid of the Criollo and the Forastero. The Trinitario gives a fine cocoa rich in oil and represents 10 to 15 % of the world’s production. It is cultivated mainly in Central America, South America, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.