Sources and References

The links below were all used as a reference to aid in my research, and give better insight into the chocolate industry, from the start to finish of production.

Who doesn’t love chocolate?


Cacao: Production and Harvesting

Before it can be made into the products that we like, the Cacao beans have to go through their own process.  Despite the popularity of  Cacao back in the 1500’s and the popularity of chocolate now, this plant is very hard to grow. This is because it only thrives in climates 20 degrees north and south of the equator which means they have to be planted on a larger scale because growing regions are limited.  The illustration below depicts where cacao is produced.

 It must be planted next to taller trees whose leaves will protect it from direct sun and high wind, which makes these areas great for their growth. Cacao needs to be harvested manually in the forest so the use of heavy machinery is a no-no, as the machines will damage the trees and prevent any further growth and seed production.  The seed pods of cacao will first be collected; the beans will be selected and placed in piles and then the cacao beans will then be ready to be shipped to the manufacturer for mass production.


Amount produced

Percentage of world production

Côte d’Ivoire 1.23 million tons 34.7%
Ghana 730 thousand tons 20.6%
Indonesia 490 thousand tons 13.8%
Cameroon 210 thousand tons 5.9%
Nigeria 210 thousand tons 5.9%
Brazil 165 thousand tons


This table shows the world’s leaders in Cacao Production.

Cacao goes through three major steps before being manufactured into all the goodies we love today; Harvesting, Fermentation and Drying. The entire process is very labour intensive and is a very delicate one every part of cacao farming is done by hand, not machines. During harvesting the pods are collected into baskets by removing them from the trunk of the tree by hand and with the use of a machete for easy removal and because not all pods are ripen at the same time .

 Cacao Harvest

After pods are collected, they go through a fermentation process where in the end they change from white to brown.  They are sometimes placed in large, shallow, heated trays or covered with large banana leaves on the ground.  If the weather is right they can just be simple heated by the sun, they are stirred periodically so that all the beans can be equally fermented.  The heat of fermentation, which can reach up to 120 degrees, causes the white pulp to melt away from the beans and this process takes about 5 to 8 days to complete.

Cacao Fermentation

The final stage before the seeds get shipped of to be come wonderful treats is the drying process.  During this final process the seeds have to be dried so that they can be easily packed and scooped into sacks so that it easy for them to be shipped to the manufacturing factories.  Cacao seeds are laid on bamboo mats so that they can soak up all the warmth from the sun.  If the beans are dried too quickly some of the chemical reactions started in the fermentation process will not be allowed to finish and the beans will taste acidic or bitter and if the drying is too slow, mould and off- flavors can develop.

Drying of the Cacao Beans

Seeds packed in sacks getting ready to be shipped to manufacturing companies.

Once this final process is done, the seeds will be on their way to a manufacturing company to be turned into the wonderful treats that we love.  I would have to give lots of credit to the farmers that make this a profession.  Even though the conditions are not the best and the pay really isn’t much, they make it very possible for us to enjoy cacao beans to their full extent. Long Live Chocolate. 

European Introduction and Influences

While the Mayans and Aztec civilization had their own way of life and ways of using and developing the uses of the Cacao bean, it wasn’t until the Europeans came to Central and South America that the “full” potential of the Cacao bean was reached.

It was believed that Christopher Columbus was the first European who brought back cacao beans to Europe back in 1502 after he robbed a trading vessel of a Mayan native.  He didn’t know the importance of the beans just yet but he heard that they were pretty valuable; but compared to all his other spoils of conquest they were really minor.  Columbus was exposed to the frothy chocolate drink but he wasn’t impressed with it;  guess he didn’t know what he was missing.


Columbus receiving the chocolate drink

Since Christopher Columbus passed on a great opportunity to actually see the value of the Cacao beans, it was finally discovered by Hernando Cortez a Spanish explorer who saw all the great possibilities that could come from this small treasure.  When Cortez set sail in 1517 he was in search of fame and fortune that he was sure to get when discovering the wonders of the “new world”. He ended up landing in Mexico where he encountered the Aztec Empire and their Emperor Montezuma.  It was said that Cortez wanted to see the famously talked-about riches that Montezuma possessed.

Hernando Cortez meeting  Aztec Emperor Montezuma

Like Christopher Columbus, Cortez was introduced to the very popular chocolate drink by the natives, even though it was to bitter for their taste , he saw many great things that he could do with this drink. Montezuma was who introduced the drink to Cortez by serving it in a golden goblet.

When Cortez returned to Europe in 1528 he brought with him an abundance of seeds and chocolate drink making supplies. While he was in Mexico City, he learned how to add flavour to the bitter drink to enhance its taste and he that back to Spain with him. Once back in Spain, a revision of the chocolate drink was made to suit the taste buds of the Spanish, this was done by monks in monasteries who were  known for their pharmaceutical skills. Additives such as cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar were added and chilli pepper was omitted from the drink and after some tests it was discovered that chocolate tasted even better served hot; so the drink was served hot. Much like the Aztec civilization, the drink and ‘chocolate’ became very popular and was only reserved for the rich and noble and since the beans were in short supply the chocolate drink recipe was kept secret of the Spanish for almost 100 years.

Like many before him, an explorer by the name of Francesco Carletti, was one of the first that broke the Spanish monopoly. When he visited Central America he to witnessed the making of this heavily guarded drink and brought back beans and the secret of making this drink back to Italy.  So by 1606, chocolate was very established in Italy and this was the beginning of the spread of chocolate in Europe.  There was a slow spread throughout Europe, but with a royal wedding and secret sharing of chocolate and its wonders it became very popular very fast and needed to be acquired.  Germany was introduced to chocolate around 1646 when brought by visitors.  Chocolate ultimately reached England in the 1650s, where King Charles II found it to be on of his most-valued treasures.  In 1684, the French conquered Haiti and Cuba and started their very own cocoa crop plantations, with this being done a great supply for chocolate in the French market was established.

A London Chocolate House

After England’s introduction to chocolate in the mid 1600’s, the very first Chocolate house was opened where the wealthy and elite could enjoy drinking their chocolate drinks.  The most famous was White’s Chocolate House in the fashionable St James Street, opened in 1693 by Italian immigrant Frances White.  The chocolate drinks were made from blocks of solid cocoa, probably imported from Spain since Spain had a longer working knowledge of the product and had many years to manipulate and process the beans to met demands.  These chocolate houses also sold a pressed cake from which the drink could be made at home. Chocolate was now being provided in many new forms and recipes.  A porcelain cup designed especially for chocolate was created in 1700, and at this time milk was added which improved the drink.

Chocolate Pot used for pouring the hot chocolate drink

By the end of the 18th century, London’s chocolate houses began to disappear, many of the more fashionable ones becoming smart gentlemen clubs. White’s Chocolate House remained an exclusive gentlemen’s club.

Chocolate House/Gentleman’s Club

 Since the demand for chocolate and its products were so high at the time a pound of chocolate was prized around 10 -15 shillings. This made it a luxury commodity only affordable to the rich. The value of cocoa grew so great it surpassed money through out the countries and it was used for trade and worth the weight of gold. So as much as the Europeans where ‘advanced’ they mirrored the Aztec and Maya civilizations, using  cacao as currency for trade and taxes.

As time passed and the demand for chocolate and chocolate products got greater, cocoa plantations were needed and many were set up in the West Indies on a larger scale to supply the demand. In 1828, the Dutch chocolate maker Conrad van Houten invented a hydraulic press to make cocoa powder, and an alkalizing process used to mellow the taste, and to make the powder easier to mix with water.  This process is now known as the  “dutch process” or “dutching process”.

Some of the earliest cocoa makers were apothecaries (early chemists) who became interested because of cocoa’s supposed medicinal properties.  They had the equipment to heat, measure and blend the ingredients as well as the necessary skills. In 1847, Fry and Sons of England created the first solid eating chocolate using a process similar to that used today this was dark chocolate.  Apothecaries founded by Fry’s of Bristol and Terry’s of York, later became two well-known names in chocolate production.

Fry’s of Bristol

Terry’s of York

As time passed, other manufacturers became involved in cocoa making through the grocery trade. John Cadbury began by dealing in tea and coffee in his Birmingham shop, while Rowntree’s of York was founded by branching out from the family grocery business.Cadbury’s Birmingham Shop

The art of making chocolate and chocolate products became very successful and given the technology that was around, discovering, inventing and improving ways of making chocolate was important.Cadbury’s began business operations in England in 1860.  Tobler was making hand-made chocolates in Switzerland in 1864 and by 1876 the Swiss were adding dry milk to the formula to make milk chocolate.  Lindt invented the conch in 1879 while Milton Hershey began operations in 1894; and in 1899, Lindt and Sprüngli were formed and Tobler opened its first factory.The Original Lindt Chocolate Factory

Model of Lindt’s conche

Tobler Chocolate

Hershey’s Factory

Humble beginnings started from the Theobroma Cacao Tree, being transformed into a sacred drink by natives and being manipulated and converted into a sweeter and better quality, chocolate has really stood the test of time.  It is one of the most loved foods around, it was loved back then and loved even more now. After all the years chocolate making and getting everything precise, I must say that chocolate is the greatest invention ever.

Pre-European Influences

The natives of Central and South America – the Aztecs and the Mayans  – both viewed the cacao as a divine food, and they also believed that ‘Gods’ discovered this plant.  In the Aztec civilization, the word Theobroma means “food of the gods”, and it was treated as such.  It was considered a divine gift, a source of power, a form of currency, and a health food by the peoples of ancient Mesoamerica.

The Mayans were considered the most culturally advanced among the Mesoamerican civilizations, and because of this advancement they were able to do many things with the cacao plant.  With the seeds from the Cacao tree, the Mayans brewed spicy, bitter-sweet drinks by roasting and pounding the seeds with maize and chilli peppers and letting it ferment.  They called this frothy drink chocolatl.  Within their culture, this drink was reserved for ceremonial uses and was consumed only by the wealthy and religious elite and soldiers.


Along with this spiced drink, they were able to make a variety of porridge-like meals that varied in thickness from very thin and watery to thick and solid.  These dishes were high in nutrients and very healthy.  They also were inedible by our standards and a far cry from the chocolate we eat today, but since they had an abundance of cacao trees growing in their region, they made and created many uses for this plant.

ImageMayan Chocolate God

The Mayans harvested cocoa beans from the rain forest trees, and then later cleared areas of the forest to make way for the first known cocoa plantations.  The Mayans knew a good thing when they saw it, and worshipped the cacao bean as an idol.  Along with the Aztecs, the Mayans used the beans as a form of currency; so when trading with other civilizations the Mayans developed their very own trading system.  Four cocoa beans would get you a pumpkin, 10 a rabbit and 100 would buy you a slave.

An Aztec Cacao Tree Drawing with Codes

While the Mayans were are culturally advanced society, the Aztecs were  considered an aristocratic society and they had a higher value for the Cacao beans; because the Aztec’s lived further north in regions that have higher altitudes, they were unable to cultivate the Cacao tree, because the climate was not suitable.  They had to acquire these beans through trade or rewards from war.

Since the beans were so hard to acquire and they valued them so highly, they were their form of currency.  The price in trade difference between the Mayans and the Aztecs is quiet evident.  For the Aztecs, 100 beans bought a Turkey or a slave, 30 cacao beans gave you a small rabbit, 3 cacao beans gave you 1 turkey egg, and 1 cacao bean gave you 1 large tomato, and the Mayans’ value was slightly lower because they had access to the seeds in abundance.   Along with this trading system, taxes and tributes were paid in Cacao beans to the Aztec Emperors.

Aztec Chocolate God

Even though the Mayans and Aztecs had differences in cultural development and advancement, they both had a common love for the Cacao bean.  They both found common uses for this special fruit, forming it into currency which later down the line help changed they way the world ran.  By the time the Europeans arrived, both civilizations had the Cacao beans in heavy circulation and use, which made them even more interesting to the Europeans.

Theobroma Cacao Tree

The Theobroma Cacao tree is a native of the South American Basins, deep in the rainforests.  It produces flowers that grow directly on the trunk or on old branches of the tree.  These flowers appear in clusters and while most plants and flowers that are pollinated by bees, birds and butterflies, this particular flower is pollinated by tiny flies called midges. Image

After pollination occurs a fruit called ” cacao pod” is produced, it contains up to 20-60 seeds in each pod that is produced. During the maturing and  ripening stage, the pods change from green in colour to yellow-orange, a red or purple colour once it is fully ripened.  Also with the colour change during maturity, the pods change and vary in size, shape and texture.  Their sizes usually range between 10cm-40cm in length and they mostly resemble an American football; just to give you and idea of how they look.

Maturing Cacao Pods

Ripened Cacao Pods

Three Variations of Cacao Pods

The seeds are the main ingredient of chocolate while the pulp that surrounds them is often used to make juice in certain countries.  The seeds are normally white in colour but as the drying process happens they change colour.

Seeds while in the pod.

Dried Cacao Seeds.

Origin of Chocolate.

Chocolate is made from these beans.

Whenever we hear the word chocolate, most of our mouths start to water because it is one of the most loved foods around. I don’t think we take the time out to actually find out where our chocolate originated from, but before we can enjoy the different types of processed chocolate, we have to know where it comes from.  After doing the research, it amazed me to know where chocolate originated from and all the different jobs and attributes it had before it became actually known.

We all know ‘Cocoa’ but do we really know the difference in words. Cacao: pronounced Ka-Kow. Refers to the tree, its pods and the beans inside. The Theobroma Tree, while Cocoa: pronounced Koh-Koh. Refers to two by-products of the cacao bean – cocoa powder and cocoa butter. Both are extracted from the bean when it is processed in the factory.

Below is a video  that I found that gives you a brief  history and insight as to where chocolate comes from.

From a tree in a rainforest to the shelves of our supermarkets to our mouths, it is amazing to see where it all began.