The origin of the cacao (pron. Ca-cow) tree is in dispute. Some say it originated in the Amazon basin of Brazil; others place say it is native to Central America. We do know that during his conquest of Mexico, Hernando Cortez, the great Spanish explorer, came upon the Aztec Indians using cocoa beans to prepare their royal drink which they called "chocolatl" (meaning warm liquid). Excited about this new product, Cortez took some beans back with him to Spain. With some added cane sugar, the chocolate drink became very popular, especially among the Spanish aristocracy. Spain wisely started to plant cacao trees themselves which developed into a very profitable business. Remarkably, the Spaniards succeeded in keeping the art of the cocoa industry a secret from the rest of Europe for nearly a hundred years.

Spanish monks, who had been involved with the processing of the cocoa beans, leaked the secret out finally and soon Europe started to develop their own cacao bean industry. Throughout Europe, the delicious chocolate drink became hailed as a health-giving food. In 1657, chocolate drinking houses started to open up, but mainly served only the rich, since the cost to make chocolate was still very expensive. As inventors created machinery, and thus eliminated the need for grinding the chocolate with ones hands, the manufacturing process became more efficient, thus less expensive, and produced an even better tasting chocolate. By 1828, the great taste of chocolate expanded to a wider audience although it wasn‘t until 1847 that the first "candy bar" was invented and 1876 that the first milk chocolate was invented.


The cacao tree is very delicate and sensitive. It needs protection from wind and requires a fair amount of shade under most conditions. This is true especially in its first two to four years of growth. A newly planted cacao seedling is often sheltered by a taller growing tree for shade. Trees such as banana, plantain, coconut, rubber or just tall forest trees are very popular choices. Once established however, cacao trees can grow in the complete absence of shade but they must have well distributed rainfalls and rich, well drained soil. Cacao trees usually are started in nursery beds where seeds from high yielding trees are planted in fibre baskets or plastic bags. The seedlings grow so fast that in a few months they are ready for transplanting, container and all. When a cacao tree is full grown it usually measures 15 to 25 feet high, though it has been known to reach as high as 60 feet or more. How old the cacao tree can get is not known although there are individual cacao trees known to be over 200 years old.

In three to five years the cacao tree will start to produce flower clusters, then flowers; the cacao tree is very colourful with these pink and white five-petaled blossoms. Thousands of these flowers form, which must be pollinated to produce what is called a pod. Unfortunately, though, only 1 in 500 flowers goes on to produce a pod. The pod is known as the fruit of the cacao bean tree. Green, maybe maroon, these pods contain the seeds that will become the cocoa beans.


Before chocolate is made, the pods need to be picked. The job of picking ripe cacao pods is not an easy one. The trees are so frail and its roots so shallow that to climb the tree is too dangerous. Long handled steel knives are used to reach the highest pods and snip them off without wounding the soft bark of the tree. Training and experience is needed to recognize which fruit is ripe and ready to cut. Ripe pods are found on trees at all times since the growing season in the tropics is continuous.

Once the pods are cut they are gathered in baskets and transported to the edge of the field where the pod breaking operation begins. One or two lengthwise blows from a machete usually split open the woody shell. A good ‘reaker‘ will open 500 pods per hour. (Bet they‘e ready for a chocolate bar after that!).

A great deal of patience is required to complete the harvesting. Anywhere from 20 to 50 cream-colored beans are scooped from a typical pod and the husk and inner membrane are discarded. Dried beans from an average pod weigh less than two ounces and approximately 400 beans are needed to make one pound of chocolate.

The cocoa beans (also known as seeds) which are removed from the pods are put into boxes or thrown on heaps and covered. This next process, known as fermentation, is the beginning of the making of chocolate, although the beans are still many steps away from becoming chocolate.


Left out in the heat of the day, the fermentation lasts from three to nine days. It is a simple quot;eastingquot; process in which the sugars contained in the beans are converted to acid, primarily lactic acid and acetic acid. Visually, a layer of pulp starts to form around the beans; it almost looks like bubbling. Here the beans become darker, less bitter and begin to develop the chocolate flavour. During the high temperature of the fermentation process, the germ of the bean is killed and enzymes are activated to form the compounds which produce the chocolate flavour.

The beans are then dried to prevent mould and mildew. In some countries, the beans are simply laid out on trays or bamboo mats in the hot sun. Otherwise, the beans can be dried indoors with hot air pipes. During the drying process, which takes several more days, the beans are turned frequently and continually examined for foreign matters or flat, broken beans. When completely dried, the beans are packed in sacks, inspected by buyers and shipped to factories for the making of chocolate.


When the picked, scooped, fermented, dried and inspected beans finally arrive to the chocolate making factories, the final art of making chocolate begins; a process comparable to the skill and finesse of the world’s greatest chefs. The manufacturing process requires much time and painstaking care. Just to make an individual sized chocolate bar, for example, takes from two to four more days.

Manufacturing methods will differ in detail from plant to plant, but there is a general processing pattern that prevails everywhere. It is this pattern that makes the chocolate industry distinctive from every other industry. For example, all manufacturers carefully catalogue each shipment according to its particular type and origin. This is very important, because it enables them later to maintain exact control over the flavour blending of beans for roasting.

Basically, this is what happens to make chocolate:

  1. After sorting and cleaning, the cocoa beans are roasted for up to two hours.
  2. The cocoa beans are then shelled. What remains are chocolate nibs, which contain 54% cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is the natural fat of the bean.
  3. As the nibs are ground, cocoa butter is released, transforming the solid nibs into the free-flowing substance known as chocolate liquor. Chocolate liquor (not alcoholic, just liquid) is the essence of all real chocolate products.
  4. The chocolate liquor is passed through huge presses to remove a desired amount of the cocoa butter to be used later. Cocoa butter is an amazing vegetable fat that resists rancidity and oxidation and can be kept for years without spoiling. A small amount of cocoa butter is sold to the cosmetics industry.
  5. After the cocoa butter is removed, a pressed cake is left. This is the cocoa powder. The cocoa powder can still contain up to 10% of cocoa butter and will be sold bulk or as an ingredient for bakers, along with chocolatiers.
  6. Solid chocolate is made by adding back together the different parts -cocoa butter, cocoa power -and other ingredients - sugar, perhaps milk and vanilla - to achieve the individual manufacturer’s desired finished taste.
  7. The mixture then travels through a series of heavy rollers until there is a refined smooth paste ready for conching.
  8. Conching is a flavour development process which ”kneads” the chocolate.
  9. The final step is tempering, a process that gradually raises, lowers and then raises the temperature again to set degrees. FINALLY, this finished product is poured into many shapes from candy bar sizes to ten pound slabs.


You already know how to do this!.