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Cocoa Beans

The Cocoa Bean Crops

Characteristics

Origin and history

Description of cocoa and technical characteristics

Crop Harvest

Quality

Types of cocoa

International Cocoa Standards

 

Uses

Cocoa beans

Cocoa powder

Cocoa butter

Product

The cocoa tree is a tropical plant grown in hot, rainy climates with cultivation concentrated on

a narrow band of no more than 20 degrees north or south of the Equator. Although it is best

known as the principal ingredient in chocolate, there are actually four intermediate cocoa

products that may be derived from cocoa beans: cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, cocoa cake and

cocoa powder.

Origin

The cocoa tree is thought to have originated in the Amazon basin, spreading to Central

America, particularly Mexico. It was known and used by the natives in this region, for

example the Olmec and the Mayas and was considered as the “food of the gods”. In particular,

cocoa seeds were used as currency by the Aztecs who also enjoyed a type of bitter chocolate

drink. Christopher Columbus discovered cocoa beans in America, but the beans did not

become popular in Europe at the time. Some 20 years later, Hernando Cortes discovered the

bitter drink used by the Aztecs and sent the beans and recipes back to King Charles V. The

Spanish refined the recipes adding sugar and heating the ingredients to improve the taste.

By 1828, the cocoa press was developed, allowing the extraction of cocoa butter. Later on

(around 1879), the Swiss developed both milk chocolate and solid chocolate.

Description – technical characteristics

The cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao L. of the Sterculiaceae family) is usually a small tree, 4 to 8

meters tall, although when shaded by large forest trees it may reach up to 10 meters in height.

The stem is straight, the wood light and white and the bark is thin, somewhat smooth and

brownish. The fruit (pods) reach up to 15-25 cm in length. Each pod contains about 30 to 40

seeds, which after drying and fermentation are known as cocoa beans. The seeds are reddishbrown

externally and are covered by a white, sweet pulp.

For ideal production, cocoa trees need rainfall between 1,150 and 2,500 mm per year and

temperatures between 21°C and 32°C.

There are three varieties of cocoa trees. The most common is Forastero, which account for

90% of the cocoa beans produced in the world. It is found widely in West Africa and Brazil.

The second group is the Criollo, which produce “fine and flavor” beans, mostly grown in parts

of the Caribbean, Venezuela, Papua New Guinea the West Indies, Sri Lanka, East Timor and

Java. Finally, there is the Trinitario variety, which is a cross from Criollo and Forastero.

5

Crop

Although fruits mature throughout the year, usually two harvests are made: the main crop and

the intermediary crop (also called mid-crop). The mid crop is usually much smaller than the

main crop, however the relative size varies according to the country.

From fertilization to harvesting the fruit requires 5 to 6 months. Harvest season lasts about 5

months. Harvesting cocoa consists of cutting the ripe pods from the trees, breaking the open

(mostly with a machete) and extracting the seeds from the pods. These seeds are then allowed

to ferment from 2 to 8 days before drying in the sun. Beans are then bagged and shipped.

Cocoa is typically produced through smallholder or family subsistence farming. However,

plantations and large farms can be found in West African Countries such and such Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Malaysia and Brazil.

Cocoa is planted in rows, spaced of about 3 meters, giving a plant density of around 950 to 1330 trees/ha depending on soil fertility and climate.

Temporary and permanent shade trees should be planted 6 to 9 months before the year when

cocoa will be planted. Cocoa planting should be carried out in the first half of the rainy season

to give it enough time to establish before the next dry season. Although cocoa is mature 24

months after the initial planting, cocoa trees become productive about five years after planting.

Yields peak at the eighth or tenth year, but acceptable yields are produced for several decades.

Traditional trees yield between 300 and 500 kg/h per year, under normal circumstances.

Hybrids present higher yields, above 1000 kg/h.

Weather conditions and diseases are the main factors affecting production. It has been

estimated that up to 30% of world production is lost due to diseases. Among the most

common diseases affecting cocoa we have the black pod, witches’ broom and swollen shoot

virus.

 

Quality

There are two types of cocoa beans. More than 90% of cocoa produced annually can be

considered as bulk (or basic) cocoa. Bulk cocoas mostly come from Africa and Brazil, mainly

of the forastero variety. Fine and flavour cocoas have distinctive aroma and flavour

characteristics, sought after by chocolate manufacturers. They represent only 5% of world

cocoa production.

The International Cocoa Standards require cocoa of merchantable quality to be fermented,

thoroughly dry, free from smoky beans, free from abnormal or foreign odours and free from

any evidence of adulteration. It must be reasonably free from living insects, broken beans,

fragments and pieces of shell and foreign matter and reasonably uniform in size.

Throughout the world the standards against which all cocoa is measured are those of Ghana

cocoa. Cocoa is graded on the basis of the count of defective beans in the cut test. Defective

beans should not exceed the following limits:

Grade I

Cocoa Cost

  COCOA BEANS GRADES NET BAG PER KILOGRAM METRIC TONNES DEDUCTION PER BAG IN KILOGRAM DIRECT BUY FROM FARMERS PER TONNAGE RELEVANT COST IF BUYING DIRECT FROM FARMES WHOLESALE PRICE PER TONNAGE A 62.25 16.064 1.75 N670,000.00   N690,000.00 B 62.25 16.064 1.75 N660,000.00   N680,000.00 C 62.25 16.064 1.75       OBTAINING GRADED …

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