Cocoa beans harvesting flow
Cocoa Harvesting

Every part of cacao farming, from planting to harvesting to fermenting, is best done by hand, not machines. Pods must be removed from the trees individually, by hand, because not all ripen at the same time. Farmers generally use machetes or large knives attached to poles to slice down the ripe pods, taking care not to hurt nearby buds.

The pods are split open by hand. The beans are scooped out and the outer shell is discarded. If you tasted a bean at this point you would notice a sweet, lemony flavor from the pulp. The actual bean would be bitter and hard to eat.


Once the cacao beans are scooped from the pods, they are fermented and dried in the two-step curing process that sets in motion the development of the flavor nuances which make tasting chocolate so exciting. Fermentation is the first critical process to develop the beans’ flavor. The beans, still covered with pulp, are placed in large, shallow wooden boxes.

Once fermentation begins, the sugar in the pulp is converted into acids that change the chemical composition of the beans. Fermentation generates temperatures as high as 125° F, activating enzymes that create the flavor precursors which are the beginning of chocolate as we know it. The fermentation process takes anywhere from two to eight days.


The next key process is drying. The best way to dry cacao beans is to lay them on bamboo mats and let them bask in the sun's warming rays.

In some humid, rainy climates, beans are dried inside or by blowers circulating hot air which can pose problems. If the beans dry too quickly some of the chemical reactions started in the fermentation process are not allowed to finish and the beans taste acidic or bitter. If the drying is too slow, mold and off- flavors can develop.

The drying process takes several days during which the beans lose nearly all their moisture and more than half their weight. Once the beans are dried, they are ready to be shipped to chocolate factories around the world.

Final Cocoa Bean

Farmers take the fermented and dried cacao beans to collection sites where they are mixed with beans from surrounding farms. The beans are loaded into 200 pound sacks and transported to shipping centers.

Buyers sample the quality of the crop by cutting open a number of beans to see if they were properly fermented. The beans should have a brown center and be aromatic.

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