Cacao trees are extremely demanding plants. They like a warm, wet climate and flourish only in nutritious soils. Equatorial countries provide precisely these conditions, which is why cacao plantations are mostly found in Africa and South America. Organic plantations allow space for the tree to grow through intercropping, which benefits not only the cacao tree but also the surrounding flora and fauna. The main fine cacao cultivations are found in South America. The principal exporter of organic cacao is the Dominican Republic.
The cacao fruit grows directly on the trunk and bears a yellowish-red colour when ripe. It is cut from the tree with a machete and, once cut, is between 15 and 20 cm long. In the Dominican Republic, April to July sees the main harvest for Forastero and Trinitario cacao. In Ecuador, the Arriba fine cacao is harvested between March and June.
After the harvest, the cacao fruit is opened, revealing the white flesh and about 30 to 60 seeds: the cacao beans. These are then separated from the flesh (which, incidentally, is edible), heaped on banana leaves and covered. Over the next 5 to 10 days, the fermentation process starts, laying the foundation for the cacao’s unique flavour.
After the fermentation the moist cacao beans are dried in the sun to avoid possible mildew. When the beans are completely dry the raw cacao can be put in sacks and readied for transportation.