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   Growing Chocolate

The cacao tree (Theobroma Cacao) flourishes in the warm and humid tropical rainforests near the equator. The origins of the tree can be traced to the tropical regions of Venezuela, Honduras and Mexico. Some believe that it originally grew in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil or Mexico.

Although scientific proof indicates that the real origins of cocoa and chocolate lies in the Ulúa valley in Honduras. Today cocoa is cultivated globally in plantations in the tropical rainforests of Latin America, Asia and Africa.

The largest cocoa producing countries are Ivory Coast, Ghana and Indonesia. Today, Africa is the main cocoa supplier, with 75% of the world’s cocoa crop. For the small farms in African villages, cocoa cultivation represents an important source of income. The perfect environment for this small tree is the tropical rainforests, where it receives just the right amount of rain, shade, humidity, wind, and nutrients. Young cocoa trees thrive in the tropics within the protective shadow of banana plants or palm trees the leaves of upper canopy trees create a sheltering umbrella that filters out the harsh sun and wind for the shorter trees below. Both the burning sun and the strong winds are deadly enemies of this fragile tree. The cocoa tree flowers in two cycles of 6 months the whole year round. Thousands of white (female) and pink (male) five-petalled and minuscule flowers adorn the stem and branches. Only a few will be fertilized, naturally by animals, insects, and other organisms. For example, tiny flies called “midges” pollinate the cacao tree’s flowers so that pods develop these animals depend upon cacao; cacao trees perform an important function. They provide food and homes for other valuable animals and organisms. Other wise they are fertilized by hand, and no more than forty will develop into cocoa pods. These resemble elongated, green melons. After 6 months the cocoa pods are full-grown and have changed colour from green to yellow-orange. With great care, the pods are harvested. This takes place twice a year. The cocoa pods ripen for a few days after the harvest. The outer peel is opened using long knives and a very precise cutting movement, without touching the beans. The pulp containing the precious cocoa beans is then removed from the pods and collected in large baskets. The beans are then, depending on the type, left to ferment for five to seven days. Now the cocoa seeds are spread out and left to dry in the sun.

When the beans are dry, the cocoa farmers bring their harvest to a collection centre where the beans are graded. From each farmer’s harvest a sample of 100 beans is cut open, the contents of the beans are graded and his batch is allotted a quality code. After weighing and packing of the beans into bales of 50-60 kg, the jute sacks are sealed, the source and quality of the beans assured. The beans packed in sacs or by container set off to the port, to be shipped to their new destination and to you.

       
       

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