The cacao starts as a seed, as all things do, and grows into little seedlings which are then transplanted into an ideal growing condition amongst other companion trees such as banana, vanilla, coconut and coffee to name a few. With careful care, most cacao trees begin to bear fruit in the fifth year, although some cacao trees can yield pods in the third and forth years. A cacao tree reaches peek production in approximately 10 years and will continue producing pods at a high level for an additional 12-13 years. It is not uncommon to find trees 30-40 years old, still producing pods.
Thousands of tiny, waxy pink or white five-pedaled blossoms cluster together on the trunk and older branches. But only 3% to 10 % of these blossoms will mature into full fruit.
The fruit grows as green or maroon pods on the trunk and main branches. Shaped like an elongated melon tapered at both ends, these pods ripen to a golden or sometimes scarlet hue with multicolored flecks.
Once the fruits are ready to be harvested, which is indicated by the colour of the pod, they are cut off the tree, collected and cut open with machetes. One person can collect up to 650 pods a day. The beans are then scooped out and removed from the flesh. Some raw cacao companies might ferment the beans, but most do not. The moist beans are then laid on clean, hot roofs and raked over throughout the days to assure even drying. Once dried, the beans form a skin which needs to be removed before any further production can be done. In order to remove the skins, the beans are shot against a wall with a fan blowing on them; as the beans shatter and skins comes off, the fan blows the skins away to be discarded and the nibs fall into a large container.
These nibs are now either packed to sell to individuals, shipped off to chocolate companies who use them raw or roast them in house or further processed. The next processing stage is to make cacao liquor. In order to do this, the nibs are cold pressed (for raw production) into a liquid which then hardens into a smooth paste. This is also used in chocolate production, both raw and cooked. If the goal is to make cacao powder and cacao butter, this liquor -- consisting of fat (cacao butter) and mass (cacao solids) -- will have the fat removed from it, giving us cacao butter, and the remaining mass is dried and made into cacao powder.