How Chocolate Is Made (Part 1): Growing Through Export

How Chocolate Is Made (Part 1): Growing Through Export

Whether it is a combination of African and Latin American cacao, the process for creating chocolate is pretty much the same. And it all starts with the tree, a pod, and a bean…

Cacao Cultivation, Growing the Trees

Chocolate starts with a cacao tree (Theobroma cacao). It grows inside 20 degrees north and south of the Equator, and thrives on a mixture of warm temperatures, shade, and rain.

Every tree bears pods, or oval fruits, that are around 5” to 12” in length. Every pod contains 30 to 50 seeds. It is those seeds everyone knows as cacao (cocoa) beans.

The pod, tree, and seed/bean are typically called “cacao,” whereas the term “cocoa” is reserved for a bean after it has been roasted, dried, and fermented.


A cacao pod is ripe when it turns a bright orange/yellow shade. Typically, ripening pods are harvested twice a year, although they may be harvested on a continuous basis.

After being chopped off, the pods are opened and their seeds are extracted. Every seed is around the size of an olive. These seeds (“beans”) grow within five columns that are surrounded by a white pith or pulp.

As early as 3,000 years ago, within Latin America, the pulp, named baba, was used to make fermented cacao wines.

Preparing and Fermentation

Beans will be cleaned by hand, with its baba left on to help develop flavor. Exposed to light, its cream-colored beans will turn a purplish color.

They’re then prepared for fermentation. The “heap method” of fermentation is popular within Africa, where beans are heaped in piles. Within Latin America, systems of cascading boxes are favored.

In both methods, the beans are covered with banana leaves. Within the 2 to 9 days of fermentation, the beans start taking on color and a few of the flavors you’d recognize as “chocolate.”

Drying and Shipping (Exporting)

Fermented beans have to be dried carefully. They’re placed on either bamboo mats or wooden boards anywhere from 7 to 14 days beneath the sun, and are continuously turned over and raked for frequent drying. When dry, the beans are then graded, packed inside sacks, bundled, and quality-checked. Then they’re shipped and traded in the international marketplace. Or, with direct trade, beans are directly exported to the chocolate manufacturer.

For more information on how your chocolate is made, contact Kakosi Chocolate at 617-335-6475.