The Cocoa plant

Cocoa beans in a pod

The scientific name of cocoa is "Theobroma Cocoa", assigned in 1753 by Carl Von Linnè, a Swedish scientist of the 17th century. The cocoa tree requires a warm, damp climate (between 25°C and 30°C), and thus it fluorishes only in a tropical environment, between 20° North and 20° South of the Equator: inn Central America, in the Northern part of South-America, in Central and Western Africa and in some area of the Asiatic South-East.

As the cocoa plant is very delicate, small plants are generally grown in nurseries or green-houses first, and then transplanted in plantations or reproduced by cuttings. If left to grow spontaneusly, the cocoa plant reaches up to 10-18 meters in height but, in order to simplify harvesting in the plantations, plants are kept at a height of 5-6 meters.

For protection against the sun and sudden changes in temperature, and because they require very damp soil, these plants are placed in the proximity of other, bigger trees, such as the banana, coconut, baobab etc. and this system in known as "shading" or windbreaking.

Cocoa fruit cabosse

Thanks to the climate in equatorial and tropical areas, the cocoa tree is always full of flowers - with colours that range from yellow-white to shades of pink - and fruits: both grow on the main trunk or on the biggest branches. The first, shell-shaped fruits appear starting from the third/fourth year of life and are called "cabosse".

These are either grey or dark red when unripe and bright red or golden when ripe. They are 15-20 cm long and, when ripe, their skin is as hard as sole-leather. The "cabosse" fruits contain up to 40 seeds, otherwise known as beans. These are placed in 5 rows and sunk in a white, mucilaginous sugary pulp.

The cocoa beans are made uo of a capsule-shaped almond, with two cotyledons and a germ, all wrapped in a tannin-rich tegument. The most popular variety of cocoa trees among the many cultivated species are "Criollo", "Forastero" and "Trinitario": these three give different varieties of "cru", according to the soil where they live. "Criollo" is the most precious type o cocoa, but is very difficult to grow. It has an intense, aromatic and refined scent, is generally used to reinforce the quality of a cocoa blend and is widespread in Venezuela, Colombia and Mexico.

Cocoa beans

"Forastero" originates from Northern Amazonia, has a strong taste, due to his rich tannin content, and a quick productive growth. Because of the characteristics of both types, the are usually grown together, in order to combine the values of both qualities.

Finally, "Trinitario" is the hybrid species obtained from crossing "Criollo" with "Forastero". Originating in Trinidad, it is still cultivated in South America, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. It produces excellent cocoa with a high fatty content, and the best quality most certainly comes from the island of origin.

The soil where these plants grow has a freat influence on the cocoa seeds, giving them a specific aroma or a more or less marked character. In order to obtain good chocolate, you need to have a blend of different qualities of precious cocoas, and this is a secret the Slittis keep jealously.