The Theobroma Genus is believed to date back many millions of years, while Theobroma Cocoa as a species may be no older than 10-15,000 years.
The International Cocoa Germplasm database includes over 14,000 cocoa clones.
Criollo is the most rounded cocoa of all to the palate: the annual quantity of ultra-high purity cocoa makes up less than 0.01% of the global harvest. Criollo cocoa has exceptional roundness, very low astringency and great persistence. From the aromatic point of view, it generally has strong notes of dried fruit and the aroma of bread, jam and cream.
The Forastero cocoa has flat and violet shaded fresh beans with a high astringency. Forastero quality is lower than Criollo and Trinitario, though its global market of Forastero is 90% of all cocoa. How come? Forastero is a very resistant and highly productive plant, making it very affordable from an economic point of view. In contrast, Criollo is a very delicate plant that requires constant care and attention and has a much lower yield. It is enough to say that at the London and New York Commodity Exchanges, the average daily cocoa value is calculated only for Forastero. The fine cocoa listing doesn't exist. On average, the price of Criollo is 2 to 4 times higher than that of Forastero. In terms of taste, we can say that Forastero has all the exemplary cocoa flows - acidity, bitterness and astringency.
Trinitarian descends from hybridization between Criollo and Forastero. It combines some aromatic and sensory characteristics of the Criollo with the vigour and high yield of the Forastero. About 8% of the global harvest is Trinitario cacao.
From the point of view of quality, cocoa is divided into:
- aromatic cocoa (also called fine, special or sweet);
- non-aromatic or bulk cocoa.
The first group includes Criollo, Trinitario and Nacional (a Forastero but classified as aromatic cocoa). Nacional cocoa accounts for around 2% of the global harvest.
Cocoa is a tropical tree whose natural habitat is the lower layer of the rainforest. All cocoa species live between the 18° N and 15° S parallels, where the heavy rains, the temperature and humidity are high, and the deep shadows.
The plant grows vertically, reaching a height of 2 metres. The branches then extend horizontally to form a roof. The average size of the plant is between 3 and 6 metres. When the cacao plant reaches about 2-3 years of age, it can produce flowers. Small flies (midges) pollinate as they reproduce in the decomposing vegetation. Cocoa fruits in a continuous cycle and generally provide two crops: before and after the rainy season. Fruit takes about six months to mature.
The farmers remove the ripe fruit and open it to remove the beans wrapped in a sweet pulp. Then, depending on the country, the cocoa beans are fermented in baskets, wooden boxes or cylinders protected from light. It is during fermentation that the precursors of the aromas develop. Sugar, low pH, and anaerobic conditions encourage the activity of 16 species of yeast. These yeasts turn sugar into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This produces heat and raises the temperature to 50°C. In a subsequent aerobic phase, the bacteria oxidize the alcohol into lactic acid and acetic acid. Fermentation lasts from 4 days (for some varieties of Criollo) up to 7-8 days.