From the field to the sack

The cocoa tree generally grows in the shadow of other trees such as banana trees. The fruit of the cocoa tree is the cocoa pod, and inside this pod are the beans, covered in a pulp which serves the important role of an initial fermentation. Once the cocoa pods are gathered, they are opened and the harvested beans are dried out in the sun to ensure they are fully fermented. Once thoroughly dried (after several days), they are then put in canvas sacks to be transported by boat.

All varieties of cocoa originate from the Upper Amazon. The first variety to be domesticated was the Criollo bean, found in Mexico and Central America. The Criollo bean is fine cocoa with a good aroma, but the tree is fragile and not very productive. Currently, it accounts for just 1% of the global production of chocolate. Another variety of bean, the Nacional, has a floral 'Arriba' aroma and is only grown in Ecuador. The most tapped variety of bean is the Forastero which alone accounts for 80% of global chocolate production and is mainly found in Africa and Brazil. Lastly, the Trinitario (20% of production) is a hybrid of the Forastero and Criollo beans.

 The fruit of the cocoa tree - the 'pod' - resembles a little rugby ball around 20 centimetres long. The pods grow on the tree trunk and the large branches in flower clusters which bear flower buds, flowers and fruit simultaneously all year round at different stages of their growth.

The ripe pods are harvested using machetes, secateurs or pruning hooks, and are then opened (breaking) using a stick or a machete and the seeds are removed. The seeds are encased in a white, mucilaginous pulp, which undergoes a series of fermentations essential to the quality of the cocoa. Rich in sugar and citric acid, the pulp is sown naturally by micro-organisms in the surrounding air. This results firstly in alcoholic fermentation, then acetic fermentation. The acetic acid soaks into the seeds and encourages biochemical reactions which produce new molecules - the precursors of the chocolate flavour.

After fermentation, which last between 4 and 8 days depending on the varieties and conditions, comes the drying phase. The beans are laid out in the sun where their humidity reduces from 60% to 7%, allowing for their preservation. Once dried, the beans are packed into 60kg sacks and sent to factories in consumer countries. And that's commercial cocoa, the chocolate industry's raw material. Chocolate obtained in this way is subject to a cocoa tax which varies between 60-70%.

On the map:

Chocolate-producing countries 
Share of each country in the global production of cocoa 
Cocoa is produced from beans within the cocoa pod which grows on the cocoa tree 
Côte d’Ivoire/Ghana/Nigeria/Indonesia/Cameroon/Ecuador/Brazil/Peru/Togo/Dominican Republic