From tree to bean: the cacao harvest

The last few days have been spent learning, researching and understanding all about the cultivation of cacao right from the tree to the bean.

As I am shown round some of the local cacao farmers’ fields, I begin to understand how cacao needs to be cultivated and harvested to obtain high quality cacao, which will ultimately influence the taste of fine chocolate.

Looking at the cacao tree, it is hard to imagine that the world’s favourite delicacy starts from here.

The main cacao variety grown in this area is CCN-51, which stands for Coleccion Castro Naranjal, where 51 stands for the cross number of this variety. The CCN-51 is a clone introduced from Ecuador. About 80% the cacao production in the region of San Martin is CCN-51 variety.

This specific variety was mainly introduced as an alternative crop to coca because of its high productivity levels. In comparison to other cacao varieties which take five to six years before it will bear fruit, the CCN-51 only takes two to three years. In addition the CCN-51 has high productivity levels and is more resistant to diseases.

Each cacao tree in this particular area produces around 2 kilos of dried cacao. This is particularly high, in comparison to the “criollo” or the “cacao aromatico” which renders about half of that amount.

In comparison to the CCN-51, the cacao pods of the Criollo variety (as shown below) are yellow and smaller.

The pods of the CCN-51 variety are bigger and a darker colour. Each pod contains about 40 to 50 beans. The beans are covered in sticky white, sweet tasting pulp, which will be critical for the ultimate development of the bean’s flavours during the fermentation process.

Along the shady aisle of cacao trees, tall trees have been planted especially to provide shade and protect the cacao tree from the direct sunlight. In this field, papaya and guava trees have been planted to provide shade. The types of trees planted in the cacao fields also influence the flavors and aromas of the beans. Hence, why some chocolatiers use the same concept to that of the terroir as in wine-making. However I must admit that this is not something that has particularly stood out as being critical for the production of high quality cacao. Perhaps it is a given fact here. In my view, the cacao variety, its harvest and post harvest are critical for bringing out the best flavours of cacao.

The cacao tree flowers in cycles of 6 months. After 6 months the cocoa pods are full-grown and change colour from green to yellow-orange or dark red depending on the variety. It is important to pick the pods when they are just right, as this will also influence the quality of the cacao beans.

With great care, to not damage the branches, the pods are delicately selected and removed from the trees individually, by hand. The pods are then carefully split open by hand or with a “machete”.

The almond looking beans are scooped out and the outer shell is discarded.

The outer shells of the pods serve as natural soil fertilizers. What amazes me about cacao, is that right from the moment it is picked and its process of becoming chocolate, every part of this magical fruit is recyclable and has an important use.

The pulp and the juice surrounding the beans is sweet and a real delicacy. As I savour the the beans, I taste a sweet, lemony flavour from the pulp. The actual bean is bitter and hard to eat.

Categories: Cocoa, Cocoa production, Peru, Plantations

61 replies

  1. super interesting Juliet – love you are in the thick of it: all so colourful. Looking forward to next episode. Rupert

  2. I want to live in a cacao forest. I’m pretty certain that would be the happiest place on earth…

    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed! 😉

  3. Wow! What a fun post! I just enjoyed some healthy cookies today that I made with cacao nibs…neat to actually “see” the cacao plants! Would love to see a close-up picture of the inside of one of those pods!

  4. How cool is that. Never knew or thought about where cacao came from. Thanks for informing me.

  5. I grew up enjoying cocoa fruit on Java, what fun to have my memories jolted by your pictures! (: Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

  6. Such an interesting (though it sounds like a relatively tedious) process! Great photos, too — love the last one…


  7. Wow, the size and color of the beans a real surprise. Great post!

  8. Fascinating, this process has always been interesting to me… thanks for posting and congrats on being freshly pressed!

  9. That’s so cool. I don’t recall seeing photos of it at this stage of the process. Congrats on being freshly pressed.

  10. Thanks! Cool post. It still amazes me that delicious chocolate comes from those beans!

  11. I feel like people should have to read a post like this about any food that we ever want to buy, ever! It is so easy to pretend that you buy a little bag of crushed up cacao and it appears like magic; but seeing the faces of the people who make your food and the plants that it comes from are incredibly important if you are not going to grow it yourself, I think 🙂 Especially because depending on where your food comes from, the pictures would have different amounts of smiles in them.

  12. I love cacao fruit I remember when I was a child my aunt had some in her backyard. We eat the fruit then dry the beans and make a homemade, no preservatives pure cocoa. It brought wonderful memories when I saw your post 🙂

  13. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!
    Man! I’ve always wanted to try the Pulp on one of those! I know I’d probably wouldn’t like it as much as the chocolate but ever since I read about Cocoa Beans in sixth (or was it fifth? One or the other) grade, I wanted to try the pulp.

  14. This post is joyous. Thanks for sharing part of the process. Very cool!

  15. It’s really very interesting post, we become aware about the origin of the cocao which finally used in World’s most sweetest and tastiest delicacies. Thanks for sharing information.

  16. Wow, I’m glad I found this blog! The entire chocolate process is so fascinating. I’m very jealous that you get to do this project!

  17. Wow! That’s fascinating, and it’s something neither of us knew anything about. Loved the report and the photos! Congrats on FP. 🙂

  18. Yum I love cocoa fresh off the tree! I tried it when I was in Bolivia, and disagree that the beans are bitter, the ones I had were lovely and sweet! Delicious!

  19. Your post reminds me of my childhood in the Philippines. My grandmother grew cacao trees. My bigger cousins would help me open the pod and I would have the chance to taste the seeds warned that I should not swallow the seeds or else a cacao tree will grow inside me. We would dry the collected seeds in a mat and my grandmom would grind the seeds. A few processes after, we would enjoy native hot chocolate drink. 🙂

  20. I saw a really cool program on Australia’s ABC TV just last week about Aussie farmers giving ‘chocolate’ production a go.

    Thanks for the great photos – made me think about where our food REALLY comes from.

  21. very inspirational. thank you!

  22. Great! Good informations and pics!

  23. What a complicated process. The photos makes the process come alive.

  24. Oh wow this is a little more complicated than I thought/skimmed through. Especially that they plant other trees for shade and flavor – so interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  25. We have a cocao tree at my granma’s yard… Making (and eating!) homemade chocolate was one of the best things we did as kids.. am I happy to find your blog! 🙂

  26. My grandparents used to have a cacao plantation; back when I was a kid, me and my playmates used to climb the trees and ate those ripe cacao fruits. Now, I miss the taste of it. My grandfather used to make chocolate syrup out of it -ahhh… nostalgia overload! 😀

  27. Reblogged this on BAYELSA NEW MEDIA TEAM NEWS and commented:

  28. Thanks for sharing! I didn’t realise the pods were so big. The pulp would be something I would like to taste for sure.

  29. I’ve tried the pulps before…I love the taste. But of course, the end result taste better….

  30. This was a truly interesting look as to how chocolate becomes, well, chocolate as well know it. I can’t wait to see what happens next in the cacao bean’s journey to becoming the popular confection! Thanks for sharing!

  31. WOW! My favorite delicacy is a gorgeous colorful plant!

  32. Very informative. Yo, anyone ever say you look like that actress Streep?

  33. Love this post! If you find out the next step-creating something from the bean, please post! I have one that I was given and would love to learn how to use it!!

  34. Reblogged this on The Biotank and commented:

  35. very interesting. congratulations! keep going! 🙂

  36. Interesting site… A couple of years agoI visited a cocoa plantation in Papua, Indonesia, I also tasted some fermented cocoa beans: they are very bitter!

  37. very nice photos. thank you for sharing.

  38. This is fantastic, great to see more about the cacao production.
    I just wrote about caco farm tour I took last week! cheers, Rachelle founder @

  39. You are obviously very good at gathering data and writing it in clear terms for your readers. I like your unique take on this topic and I agree with you on a lot of it.

  40. Reblogged this on anthonyvenable110 and commented:
    If you love chocolate, check this out!

  41. Wowie! Looks like a fun thing to experience! Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  42. WOW, I want a cacao tree! I made sugar free(ish) chocolate with cacao yesterday and I’m totally smitten.
    Excellent stuff and super healthy. So glad I ran into your blog!

  43. how beautiful! thank you for sharing.
    we blend cacao in some of our teas. i would love to repost on our blog.

  44. Maybe one day you’ll consider expanding this to the discussion of child labor and trafficking in large parts of cocoa production.

  45. So interesting! Thank you for sharing 🙂

  46. I am so blessed that I was able to do this job before, planting and harvesting was fun job.

  47. Thoroughly enjoyed the post, the writing style and the pictures gave good insight into the cocoa harvest process.

  48. The CCN-51 tree is a cocoa tree on steroids. It is almost desease-resitant and produces a lot more, but also demands a lot more. CCN-51 depletes the soil, therefore agressive fertilizer is needed which has a negitive effect on the environment, like algaeblooming in nearby creeks, ponds and rivers.
    Every cliche mistake possible in agriculture is now being made on these cocoa farms, and in a few decades these farmers will pay the price.

    The bigger yield is ofcourse the reason large chocolatemanufacturers force this tree onto the farmers. And according to specialist chocolate manufacturers, the cocoa quality coming from it is not even that good.
    For further info, check


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