Cocoa trees can reach up to twelve meters high, but are grown to a height of four to five meters only to make harvesting easier. Each of the approx. 500 grams of heavy oval fruits contains 25 to 50 beans, which are embedded in long rows in the fruit pulp. Several steps are necessary in order to extract cocoa from the seeds, which have a high level of bitter substances and do not taste of chocolate.
- The fruits, which grow directly on the stem, are cut from the tree using machetes. Due to the tropical and thus disease-promoting climate, the tree bark must not be damaged in order to prevent the penetration of pathogens.
- The harvested fruits are then opened with machetes and spread out to dry on banana leaves or placed in vats. The white, sugary flesh of the fruit, the pulp, then starts to ferment very quickly and develops temperatures of about 50 °C. The initial germination of the seeds is stopped by the alcohol produced in the fermentation process and the beans lose some of their bitterness. Over about ten days of fermentation, they develop their typical taste and aroma as well as their colour.
- Drying traditionally takes place in the sun, but due to climatic problems in some areas of cultivation this may also take place in drying furnaces. However, drying in conventional furnaces is disputed, since any smoky flavour that appears can make the beans unusable for chocolate production. This problem was only solved with modern heat exchanger systems.
- After drying, the beans are only approximately 50% of their original size and are then packed in sacks and shipped to chocolate-producing countries, which are mainly located in Europe and North America, or directly processed on site on a smaller scale.
- The first step in the further processing consists of roasting the beans and then breaking them up to be able to separate the shells from the kernel. The fragments of the kernel are called cocoa nibs and are occasionally offered as snacks or ingredients for baking and cooking. Grinding the nibs gives you cocoa mass, which can be refined to form chocolate. Otherwise, the cocoa butter is separated off by pressing the mass and the remaining de-oiled pressed cake can continue to be ground to cocoa powder.